European Commission Proposes 2015 Fishing Limits

Fisheries ministers should end overfishing without delay

The European Commission published proposed 2015 fishing limits Oct. 28. These total allowable catches, or TACs, are the levels set for fish allowed to be caught by European Union vessels in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent waters, including those west of Scotland and Ireland, and the Irish, Celtic and North seas.

The proposal includes many TACs for which the Commission followed scientific advice, but a significant number for which it has not.

TACs are set annually for most Atlantic stocks and should conform to the EU’s reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which entered into force in January 2014. The new policy requires that fishing limits for all stocks be sustainable by 2015 where possible and by 2020 at the latest. The 2015 target can be delayed only in exceptional cases in which meeting it would seriously jeopardise the social and economic sustainability of an affected fleet. In those instances, catches must be reduced incrementally and progressively to end overfishing of the stocks as soon as possible.

The Commission receives scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the Scientific, Technical, and Economic Committee for Fisheries to inform the setting of these catch limits. In December, the Council of Fisheries Ministers, made up of the 28 EU member state ministers responsible for fisheries, will negotiate and agree on the 2015 TACs. The ministers can agree to changes to the proposal for any fish stock and set limits that heed the scientific advice.

For Europe’s north-western waters, the Commission proposes 19 limits that follow scientific advice. However, it proposes continued overfishing for a number of other stocks, including six for which scientists recommend no fishing of this stock, which would mean none of these could be caught. Several of these are in the Irish Sea, including a severely depleted cod stock.

“While the Commission is moving in the right direction, Pew is concerned that in a number of cases it has proposed fishing limits that exceed the scientific advice. We call on EU fisheries ministers to match the ambition they demonstrated in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and set limits which will end overfishing in 2015,” said Uta Bellion, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ European marine programme. “Ministers should delay this deadline only if there is unambiguous evidence that ending overfishing of a specific stock would seriously jeopardise the social and economic sustainability of the fishing fleets involved.”

For fish stocks in Europe’s north-western waters, the Commission’s proposal would:

  • Follow the scientific advice for 19 TACs, including herring in waters west of Scotland and in the Irish Sea, cod west of Scotland, and haddock and several plaice and sole stocks in the Celtic Sea.
  • Keep the 2015 TAC at the same level as 2014 for 18 others, despite scientific advice to reduce the allowable catches.
  • Set allowable catch limits for six stocks, including cod and whiting in the Irish Sea, despite scientific advice there should be no fishing of this stock in 2015.

“The longer ministers yield to short-term interest and delay ending overfishing, the greater the loss to communities dependent on these fisheries and to the marine environment. Deciding to continue overfishing may be a politically easier decision for ministers to make but it harms the fish stocks, risking the viability of the fishing sector in the long term,” Bellion said.