For the third year in a row, Fundació ENT and Sciaena (member organisations of Seas At Risk), together with Ecologistas en Acción (a major Spanish environmental NGO), have compared and analysed European Commission reports on EU fisheries catch limits to assess their adherence to the legal requirement to stop overfishing. Analysis of the reports from 2015 to 2018 highlights some concerns about the methodology used by the Commission, and raises the possibility that the number of stocks assessed as being fished sustainably may have been overestimated each year.

In order to allow the recovery of fish stocks to sustainable levels, the Common Fisheries Policy requires an end to overfishing by 2015 where possible, with a progressive, incremental end to overfishing for all fish stocks by 2020 at the latest. At present, four years after the Common Fisheries Policy entered into force, it remains difficult to ascertain the real number of stocks that are no longer overfished in the EU (i.e. the number of agreed fishing limits in line with scientific advice based on the maximum sustainable yield).

Since December 2014, following the annual quota decisions by the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers, the European Commission publishes a list of stocks fished in the north-east Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic Sea for which the agreed catch limits for the following year are considered sustainable and ‘in line with the maximum sustainable yield’. These publications are essential to measuring progress towards ending overfishing, particularly for EU Fisheries Ministers when agreeing fishing limits. However, they contain significant inconsistencies that prevent comprehensive evaluation of the real progress made.

More specifically, several stocks that were reported as being fished sustainably (or in Commission terms, ‘in line with the maximum sustainable yield’) in 2015, 2016 and 2017 are no longer in that category in 2018. For instance, since last year, eight catch limits have lost their ‘in line with the maximum sustainable yield’ status. By contrast, the Commission reports that 15 new stocks are fished sustainably in 2018, despite earlier reports listing five out of those 15 stocks at least once in previous years. This trend of ‘two steps forward, one step back’ is not in line with the Common Fisheries Policy requirement for progressive and incremental movement towards sustainable exploitation rates.

According to the Commission, the total number of stocks that are fished sustainably is 36 for 2015, 38 for 2016, 47 for 2017 and 53 for 2018. However, according to the analysis published by Fundació ENT, Sciaena and Ecologistas en Acción, these numbers are not entirely correct, and the number of stocks sustainably fished and ‘in line with the maximum sustainable yield’ has, in fact, been overestimated. In their analysis, the organisations detail the reasons for such overestimation and conclude that Commission reports must incorporate substantial improvements.

It is remarkable that numerous fishing limits continue to be set above sustainable limits despite the looming 2020 deadline to end overfishing. In order to safeguard the future of EU fisheries, Member State Fisheries Ministers must re-focus their efforts on ending overfishing, in line with the Common Fisheries Policy.

2018 03 09 Fisheries ENT EC report analysis