Why Are We Still Campaigning to End EU Overfishing?

In 2013, European Union fisheries ministers agreed to an ambitious reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), a historic decision that included a binding commitment to end overfishing and restore fish stocks—the simple policy requirements for a healthy marine environment, profitable fisheries, and viable coastal communities.

So why are we still campaigning to end EU overfishing?

In October and December 2014, EU fisheries ministers contradicted their own policy by legislating an increased rate of overfishing, demonstrating that change does not come easily. Why was this possible? Because the same ministers included enough wiggle room to delay action for up to five years. Once the reform process concluded, they continued much as before.

On April 20, they met to consider a European Commission proposal for the first of several multi-annual plans, this one for fishing in the Baltic Sea. Leading up to the meeting, ministers were reminded of the importance of reflecting the ambition, and potential, of the reformed CFP in their negotiations. In particular, they were encouraged to reflect the policy’s objectives to end overfishing and to restore fish stocks in this plan—without diluting them in any way.

Though Germany and Sweden stressed the importance of including the objective to restore fish stocks as defined in the CFP, the Fisheries Council agreed to a lower recovery target. As if this was not bad enough, ministers then included language that would allow them to set fishing limits in contravention of the legislation and result in continued overfishing.

In its response to the meeting results the European Commission reminded decision-makers about the importance of setting fishing limits, known as the total allowable catch. “Too high or exceeded TACs have contributed to fishing mortality leading to reduced yields and income,” the Commission statement said.

However, the Fisheries Council is not the only EU institution with a say on the plan. On April 28, the 751 elected members of the European Parliament can demonstrate their continued leadership in EU fisheries policy by supporting and strengthening their Fisheries Committee’s position on the Baltic multi-annual plan.

With a strong vote, the plenary of the European Parliament can make a decisive difference in the negotiation process that will follow as the European Commission, Council and European Parliament work to reach agreement on the plan. It is crucial that decision-makers continue to be supported and reminded to implement the CFP they agreed to so it can make a difference to life in and around the seas of north-western Europe.

Uta Bellion directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ European marine programme.

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