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November 21, 2023

World Fisheries Day 2023: It’s time for government to end overfishing

UK fish populations are in a deeply troubling state, and we’ve written to the UK Government today to raise the alarm. World Fisheries Day seems the perfect opportunity to announce that this year, the UK will raise its game, set sustainable catch limits and safeguard our seas.

With annual negotiations on fishing catch limits underway, our letter urges ministers to follow the science and set next year’s limits at sustainable levels.

Overfishing is the major threat currently devastating the ocean and a core focus of Oceana’s work around the world. Here in the UK, over a third of our fish populations are overfished and a quarter depleted to ‘critical’ population sizes, our recent Taking Stock report found.

Yet, the UK Government refuses to heed the clear warning provided by the data: last year, 57% of catch limits were set above the sustainable levels recommended by independent science body ICES (the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea).

This level of overexploitation year-on-year is clearly completely unsustainable. Reckless short-term political decisions are putting fish populations, and the wider marine life which depends on them, at serious risk of decline and collapse.

Setting catch limits is often framed as a question of choosing between supporting industry and safeguarding wildlife. In reality, their fates are entirely intertwined: when fish stocks collapse, livelihoods and the prosperity of fishing communities go with them.

World Fisheries Day is held to recognise the value of the world’s fisheries and the importance of maintaining them for future generations. It is the perfect occasion to remind our politicians of their responsibility to restore and maintain thriving fish populations.

We are therefore asking the government once again to not only develop a clear and comprehensive strategy to end overfishing urgently but first and foremost to make an immediate commitment to set catch limits that do not exceed the expert advice provided by ICES.

Ideally, the government should be setting catch limits well below the upper limit advised. This would provide a buffer to ensure that fish populations are properly protected from threats such as the climate crisis and bycatch which they face on top of this targeted industrial extraction.

The UK Government promised to deliver ‘gold standard’ fisheries management once it left the European Union – but we’ve barely seen a glimmer of that yet. This World Fisheries Day it’s time to follow the science and safeguard our seas.

Read the full letter.