Fisheries ministers risk damaging our natural resources beyond repair by consistently fishing over and above the limits recommended by scientists. This is the first in a series of briefings to identify which countries are standing in the way of more fish, profits and jobs for European citizens.

Food for an additional 160 million EU citizens. An extra €3.2 billion in annual revenue. 100,000 new jobs across the continent. Far from being a pipe dream, this could be a reality if we properly managed one of Europe’s most significant natural resources – our seas.

If EU waters were properly managed – with damaged fish stocks allowed to return to their maximum sustainable yield (MSY) – we could enjoy their full potential within a generation.

Fishing limits vs. scientific advice

Every year fisheries ministers have an opportunity to make this a reality when they agree how much fish should be caught in EU waters – the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for each commercial fish stock. Scientific bodies bodies like the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) provide information about the state of most stocks and recommend maximum catch levels.

But for many years scientific advice has not been given the attention it deserves. Between 1987 and 2011 TACs were set higher than scientific recommendations in 68% of decisions; and 33% above scientifically recommended levels on average. In 2012, 15 out of 69 stocks had TACs which were above scientific advice (ICES) rising to 30 out of 58 in 2013

The reformed Common Fisheries Policy that entered into force in 2014 aims to restore and maintain populations of fish stocks, with the ultimate goal of reaching their maximum sustainable yield (MSY). The MSY objective is to be achieved by 2015 where possible and by 2020 at the latest for all stocks. Following scientific advice is essential if we are to achieve this goal, end overfishing and restore fish stocks to healthy levels.

Agreements behind closed doors

Ministers negotiations at the Fisheries Council are not public, only their outcomes. This lack of transparency means it is not possible to identify those ministers that ignore scientific advice and give priority to opaque short-term interests risking the health of fish stocks for future generations.

This new briefing series will reveal which member states and ministers are behind decisions that go against the EU public’s collective interest. We do this by analysing the outcome of the negotiations, estimating which member states end up with a higher share of stocks fished above scientific advice. We can assume these countries are the main drivers of overfishing either because they are actively pushing for fishing limits to be set above scientific advice or by failing to prevent it.

This is the first in our Landing the blame’ series of briefings

Click here to read the second briefing on overfishing in deep sea water

Click here to read the third brifing on overfishing in northern European waters

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