Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
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Ending overfishing: much to celebrate, much to do

Ending overfishing: much to celebrate, much to do

A decade of concerted effort focused on preventing fish stocks from collapsing and maximising sustainable yields in European waters is bearing fruit.

The good news

The European Commission’s consultation paper on 2014 fishing opportunities, published on 30 May, highlighted the progress being made towards ending overfishing. The number of fish stocks within safe biological limits in the northeast Atlantic and adjacent waters is now at its highest level since the early 1980s, rising slowly from 12 (29%) in 2003 to 24 (59%) in 2013. The percentage of overfished stocks in those regions dropped from 94% in 2005 to 39% this year. And whereas there were only two stocks fished at the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) rate in 2005, there are 25 such stocks today.

 

“We cannot rest on our laurels and we need to strengthen our efforts if we are to end overfishing by our agreed target date.”

 

Ending overfishing: much to celebrate, much to do - © European Union
Maria Damanaki, EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, says: “These figures show that responsible fisheries management measures can and do work. Nevertheless we cannot rest on our laurels and we need to strengthen our efforts if we are to end overfishing by our agreed target date.”

 

The depth and breadth of our knowledge of fish stocks continues to expand. Data gathering and compliance have greatly improved in the past decade, thanks to innovations by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Scientists now know the status of 50% of the fish stocks in the northeast Atlantic and surrounding areas, and can give advice on fishing opportunities for 77 fish stocks - the highest number in a decade.

 

The net profit from fishing increased by 41% in 2011.

 

Alongside the reduction in overfishing is an increase in profits. Due primarily to higher market prices, the net profit from fishing increased by 41% – from €324m in 2010 to €457m in 2011, according to the latest available figures. This rise occurred despite the higher fuel costs that have made it more costly to run fishing fleets.

 

The not-so-good news

Despite all the progress in reducing overfishing, several species are still being caught at unsustainable levels. 88% of fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea are overfished. The need for improved international cooperation for sustainable fisheries is highlighted by the case of north-east Atlantic mackerel. The disagreements between Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway and the EU are leading to conflict over unilaterally fixed quotas far exceeding scientifically advised Total Allowable Catches (TACs). As a result, the TAC of this species in 2013 was again 36% higher than scientifically advisable.

 

88% of fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea

and the Black Sea are overfished.

 

Discarding catch is contributing to overfishing and stock depletion. This wasteful practice of throwing fish back into the sea, either dead or dying, often occurs when fishermen attempt to respect quotas assigned for other species, trying to maximise the value of their catch or using small-mesh nets to try to catch smaller, but valuable species. The discard rate for cod in the North Sea has been dropping, but on average a quarter of the cod that are caught is still thrown overboard. Some species have an even higher discard rate – around 40% for plaice and 56% for whiting. To achieve a goal of near zero discards (some inadvertent catches are unavoidable in the industry), the EU will progressively phase in discard bans starting 1 January 2015. The effort is anticipated to take four years, during which time fishermen will be able to gradually adapt to this new system and to modify their equipment to improve fish selectivity.

Much work to be done

The Commission is aligning its approach to next year’s fish quotas with scientific advice, to ensure sustainable fishing within the Maximum Sustainable Yields. Before doing so, the Commission is consulting the fishing industry and the Member States about the best way to proceed. Consultations will also be held with Norway and other non-EU countries and more discussions are taking place during the second half of this year. The quotas will be fixed at the end of December.

Past Issues
March  2017 - Issue 74
November 2016 - Issue 73
August 2016 - Issue 72
June 2016 - Issue 71