Fisheries ministers risk damaging our natural resources by consistently fishing over and above the limits recommended by scientists. Deep sea fisheries are the focus of the second in our briefings series to identify which countries are standing in the way of more fish, profits and jobs for European citizens.

Deep sea fish species tend to grow slower, mature later, live longer and spawn fewer offspring than most other species. As such, deep sea populations are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

Several deep sea fish stocks in EU mwaters are currently being managed below their potential; producing fewer fish than if they were allowed to recover. Allowing EU fish stocks to return to their maximum sustainable yield (MSY) could deliver food for an additional 160 million EU citizens; an extra €3.2 billion in mannual revenue and up to 100,000 jobs across the continent.

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 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 to restore and maintain biomass above levels capable to produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY). The corresponding fishing mortality is to be achieved by 2015 where possible and by 2020 at the latest for all stocks. Following scientific advice and ensuring full accountability with recorded catches 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.

The Landing the Blame briefing series reveals which member states and ministers are behind decisions that go against the EU public’scollective 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.

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