Fisheries ministers squander the economic potential of our seas by consistently fishing over and above the limits recommended by scientists. This is the third 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. This could be the reality if EU waters were properly managed and damaged fish stocks allowed to return to their maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

Fishing limits vs. scientific advice

Every year fisheries ministers have an opportunity to unlock this potential when they agree how much fish should be caught in EU waters – the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for each commercial fish stock. Scientific bodies like the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) 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 advice in on average 68% of decisions; and 33% above the scientific advice.

Unfortunately there are few signs of this changing. For the 2014 TACs, 31 out of 69 stocks were fished above scientific advice. TACs for the Baltic Sea and deep sea waters in 2015 were also set exceeding the scientific advice (see previous two briefings of this series).

The reformed Common Fisheries Policy that entered into force in 2014 aims to restore and maintain populations above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yeild. The MSY exploitation rate is to be achieved by 2015 where possible and by 2020 at the latest for all stocks. Following scientific advice is essential to achieving this goal.

Agreements made during ministerial 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 push for short-term interests, risking the health of fish stocks for future generations.

This briefing series reveals 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 member states 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.

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