Ministers ignore EU legal deadline to ending overfishing by 2020

Published by Niall Sargent on

December 18th, 2019

EU fisheries Ministers have agreed to set various fisheries quota levels above scientifically suggested levels and will fail to meet their own legal deadline to end overfishing by 2020.

The EU AGRIFISH Council meeting closed in Brussels this morning following all-night negotiations as is typical in recent years, with the need to end overfishing a key concern for environmental organisations.

Overfishing has ravaged marine habitats biodiversity, fundamentally altered the balance within marine food webs, and aided the collapse of breeding colonies of seabirds who can’t food to feed their hungry chicks.

Overfishing has also impacted coastal fishing communities dotted across Europe as vessels chase fish populations dropping by the year. The Celtic Sea Herring fishery, for example, was forced to close this year due to the poor availability of stock and there are no signs it will open in 2020.

In order to counter these threats, the EU committed under the Irish Presidency in 2013 to end overfishing. The Common Fisheries Policy was amended to ensure that by 2020 total allowable catches (TACs) are set at or below levels based on the best available scientific advice.

An initial assessment of figures emerging from the Council meeting, however, suggests that a number of TACs have been set above scientific advice, including several vulnerable cod stocks such as west of Scotland and the North Sea and southern hake.

For vulnerable species such as cod in the Celtic Sea and West of Scotland, ministers also refused to introduce monitoring at sea that would ensure the industry ends illegal discards of surplus fish.

fishing nets Photo: DODODT

‘They just don’t get it’

The pan-European Our Fish campaign to end overfishing blasted the ministers for failing to adhere to the 2020 overfishing deadline as well as their refusal to address the climate and biodiversity crises. 

“They’re just not getting it,” said Our Fish Programme Director Rebecca Hubbard. “The EU Council of Fisheries Ministers refused to follow scientific advice, instead greenlighting another year of overfishing – missing both their own deadline for ending overfishing by 2020 and squandering a prime opportunity for EU leadership on decisive emergency climate action.”

“Today’s appalling outcome demonstrates that they cannot be entrusted with restoring healthy ocean ecosystems and that they are incapable of doing their bit to achieve EU ambitions for combating climate change,” Ms Hubbard added.

Michael Creed, Minister, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Ireland Photo: Aron Urb

Poor Irish Record

In a statement released this morning, BirdWatch Ireland (BWI) said that ministers, including our own Minister for the Marine Michael Creed TD, have “failed abysmally” to meet the legal overfishing deadline.

“It appears that even the law, science and public opinion are not enough to shift the status quo. EU fisheries were reformed in 2013 on the basis that fishing negotiations would transition away from the annual ritual of horse-trading behind closed doors,” the group said.

“The EU had promised under an Irish presidency that we would adopt sustainable fisheries management and a deadline to end overfishing was set for 2020. Despite this legal deadline EU fisheries Ministers like Ireland’s Michael Creed have again ignored the science, in favour of short-term profits.”

Research carried out by BWI and international groups show that our Government has one of the worst records in recent years at driving overfishing, arguing for fishing limits to be set above scientific advice, resulting in vulnerable stocks collapsing.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London