The statement

Statement of the scientific community asking for fishing limits at sustainable levels

This December, EU fisheries ministers will decide during the European Union Fisheries Council the total allowable catches (TACs) for 2017 for most commercial fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and adjacent waters. It is a key decision to end overfishing and to restore fish stocks to healthy levels.

The reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)[i] governing European Union fisheries entered into force in January 2014. It requires an end to overfishing, with legally binding targets and deadlines. Specifically, Article 2.2 requires that:

The CFP shall apply the precautionary approach to fisheries management, and shall aim to ensure that exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species above levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield.

In order to reach the objective of progressively restoring and maintaining populations of fish stocks above biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, the maximum sustainable yield exploitation rate shall be achieved by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks.”

Unfortunately, the 2015 deadline has expired and the decisions on fishing limits made until now by EU Fisheries ministers remain far away from delivering these objectives of the CFP.

For many years fisheries ministers have set fishing limits above what scientists recommended, leading to overfishing and lost economic potential, and last year’s decision was not an exception.

Despite improvements over the last twenty years, the decisions made by European Fisheries ministers have increased overfishing in the most recent years (see Figure 10 of the STECF-16-05 report)[ii]. Most recent analysis shows that 48% of Atlantic stocks are subject to overfishing[iii] . Ministers -and particularly the minister for Spain, which has the biggest fishing industry in the EU- must make significantly more progress in setting TACs for 2017 in line with the CFP’s requirements in order to realise the benefits of ending overfishing.

Yet, around 50% of stocks in the North-East Atlantic and adjacent waters are data limited. Accordingly, we consider that the lack of data should not remain an excuse for overfishing and it is up to ministers to take action to ensure appropriate data collection programs, so that stocks can be managed sustainably and fishing opportunities set in line with the principles below.

The undersigned scientists who subscribe to this statement request that the Spanish government do the following:

  1. Where scientific advice is available, do not exceed the scientific advice provided by ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) or STEFC (Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries). Special attention should be paid to the advice related with stocks below biological safe levels or precautionary limits, and the advice related with the maximum sustainable yield by 2017.
  2. If Ministers assess that it is not possible to achieve the objective of setting fishing limits in line with maximum sustainable yield by 2017, they must present early in the discussions evidence of the socioeconomic impacts to the public, and a proposed action plan to fulfill the MSY goal as soon as possible, and by 2020 at the latest.
  3. For some stocks, due to their economic importance, Spain has the dominant interest in the stock’s sustainability. In this case Spain should set an example and demonstrate its commitment to the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy, such as northern and southern hake stocks, megrim in the waters of the Iberian Peninsula and the Bay of Biscay, and anglerfish in the waters of the Iberian Peninsula.
  4. For those stocks for which no scientific recommendation exists, we request -where possible- improved data collection and/or specific research. In addition, fishing opportunities for stocks without MSY analytical assessments or corresponding proxies should be established according to the precautionary approach[iv].
  5. As set in the CFP, the precautionary and the ecosystem-based approach must be implemented in fisheries management. The CFP also requires limiting environmental impacts of fishing activities, and avoiding and reducing as far as possible unwanted catches.
  6. The methodology used to calculate the landing obligation quota adjustments must to be clear and ensure that adjustments do not increase fishing mortality or jeopardise the achievement of the CFP’s objectives to end overfishing.
  7. The Spanish government must ensure a good use of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)[v] to increase data collection and monitoring, as well as national cooperation. Spain must ensure long-term research programs and guarantee accurate, timely, reliable biological, environmental, technical, social and economic data.
  8. The Spanish government must also increase its commitment to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) of EU marine waters before 2020, the main goal of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive[vi], and implement the Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP).
If you agree with this declaration, and you are a scientist, please sign the statement. We will send it to the Spanish Minister before the next December Fisheries Council:

[i] Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy. Link.

[ii] Monitoring the performance of the Common Fisheries Policy (STECF-16-05). Link.

[iii] COM(2015) 239 final. Consultation on the fishing opportunities for 2016 under the Common Fisheries Policy. Link.

[iv] ICES. 2012. ICES Implementation of advice for data-limited stocks in 2012 in its 2012 advice. ICES CM 2012/ACOM 68. Link.

[v] Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. Link.

[vi] Directive 2008/56/EC establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive). Link.