EU fisheries ministers have again agreed to overfish several species, including cod. This will make it impossible for the EU to achieve the goals it has set by 2020: to stop discarding unwanted catches, especially for vulnerable marine species, and to ensure that all fishing activities are catching fish sustainably.
At the annual AGRIFISH Council meeting held on Monday 16 December in Brussels, it was business as usual as ministers set fishing quotas above scientific advice, as it has done every year since the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was reformed in 2013. The AGRIFISH Council very rarely sets fishing quotas at more sustainable levels than the EU Commission proposes, despite a wide range of tools being available to improve fishing operations.
“Fishing is known to be an exploitative industry which destroys ecosystems and biodiversity, habitats and food systems. What people may not consider, however, is the experience of the fish. Capture can last for days, and causes great distress and pain. In many types of fishing, fish are pursued to exhaustion and crushed under the weight of others in nets,” said Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals. “We call on the Member States and the Commission to take the bold step of drastically reducing the allowable number of fish caught and to seize the substantial opportunity for commercial fisheries to develop systems for humane slaughter onboard fishing vessels, as well as more gentle methods of capture and landing of fish.”
Since 2015, fishing limits have been established for European oceans in the framework of the CFP to allow the marine population to be maintained in the long term, and to bring commercial fishing to sustainable levels by 2020. But its implementation is poor, with numerous fish stocks remaining over exploited and marine species being widely threatened by unsustainable practices such as bottom-trawling. A critical obligation established in the CFP is the Landing Obligation (Discards Ban), which says that fishing vessels must bring to land all their catches with the aim of reducing bycatch and dumping at sea. This is still viewed as a major challenge by many fishermen, even though there have been significant opportunities to employ more selective fishing gear.
2020 will be a crucial year for the EU’s fishing industry, as all Member States have agreed that all stocks must be managed sustainably. It is also obliged to have achieved Good Environmental Status for water – which has a clear impact on the welfare of fish – and four of the subgoals of Sustainable Development Goal no. 14, ‘Life Under Water’. But significant cuts in fish quotas and even closures of fisheries were needed now if the EU was going to meet its binding 2020 deadline to end overfishing.