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Oceana urges EU to finally deliver on its duty to stop overfishing

European Commission proposes some catch limits in line with scientific advice, but is half-hearted on data-poor stocks

Press Release Date: October 27, 2020



Emily Fairless | email: efairless@oceana.org

Today the European Commission published its proposal on 2021 fishing opportunities for over 23 stocks in the Atlantic and the North Sea. The proposal covers catch limits for stocks present exclusively in EU waters. While all the proposed catch limits for the fully assessed stocks are in line with the best available scientific advice, around half of the scientific recommendations for data-poor stocks have been ignored.

“It is obvious that the Commission proposal is fully committed to respecting scientific advice for those stocks that count with a strong analytical assessment, which is a positive sign. However, the Commission did not extend the same commitment to all stocks with precautionary assessments said Javier López, Campaign Director for Sustainable Fisheries at Oceana in Europe. It makes no sense to request and pay for scientific advice which is then not taken seriously or simply ignored. Data limitations notwithstanding, the best available scientific advice should be fully respected if the aim is to comply with the law and to put an end to overfishing”.

EU law, via the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), sets a clear legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020, to ensure all EU exploited stocks are restored above healthy levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY). The CFP further stipulates that stocks included in fishing agreements with third countries are exploited as well according to similar standards.

A binding decision on catch limits for EU fish stocks will be taken on 15-16 December at the Council of EU fisheries ministers. Another 70 catch limits for stocks shared with the UK will be subject to the outcome of the EU-UK negotiations in a wider, post-Brexit deal, 2021 being the first year when the UK will not be subject to EU law.

Oceana univocally and continuously urges the European Commission, EU fisheries ministers in the Council of the EU and the UK Government to:

  • set catch limits (Total Allowable Catches) following the best available scientific advice
  • meet the legal requirement to stop overfishing by 2020
  • make the decision-making process more transparent and demonstrate accountability.


Under the Common Fisheries Policy, a collaborative effort of EU countries based on common objectives has resulted in the overfishing rate in the North-East Atlantic dropping from 75% to 40%. This progress must continue if overfishing is to become a thing of the past.

The United Nations IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warned that overfishing has been the biggest cause of marine biodiversity loss in the last 40 years. Overfishing also critically undermines fish stocks’ resilience to impacts of the climate crisis. Oceana highlights that overfishing is a problem that can be relatively quickly fixed by political will and consistent decisions in accordance with the best available scientific advice.

The UK and EU should keep current environmental standards, prioritise science-based management and legally commit to fishing at or below maximum sustainable yield limits, in any future agreement. Shared stocks need to be managed according to a joint methodology and the advice of an independent, international and widely acknowledged scientific body, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).


Learn more:

NGO recommendations for the European Commission and the EU Council on the setting of Northeast Atlantic fishing opportunities for 2021

NGO reply to European Commission consultation on CFP progress and fishing opportunities for 2021

Oceana’s recommendations for the EU-UK Fisheries Agreement

Oceana’s press release: post-Brexit fishing rules still up in the air