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EU Member States miss the deadline: European seas and fish populations not sustainably managed

02 January 2020
by WWF -- last modified 02 January 2020

The EU has failed to achieve its targets to restore the health of European seas and to fish sustainably in its waters by 1 January 2020.


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The EU committed for its fleets to make seafood catches within thresholds that allow species to replenish their populations, known as Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), and for its seas to achieve 'Good Environmental Status', where marine resources are accessed within sustainable limits, by 2020. However, recent studies (see below) demonstrate that, overall, fish caught within the European marine area are not being harvested sustainably and that objectives for healthy, productive and resilient European seas are not being met.

Further, the European Council and EU Fisheries Ministers have put themselves in an especially compromising position by making decisions in direct breach of EU law: to prolong overfishing of deep-sea stocks, Baltic Sea stocks and North-east Atlantic stocks beyond 2020, taken in November 2018, October 2019 and December 2019 respectively.

WWF calls on the European Parliament to strongly condemn the EU's failure to end overfishing by 2020, and urges the Council and Commission to fully implement the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and fall in line with EU environmental legislation which supports healthy seas, including the Habitats Directive, the Birds Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

Dr Anne-C├ęcile Dragon, Marine & Fisheries Policy Officer at the WWF European Policy Office, said: "In 2020, EU environment and fisheries ministers face their greatest test ever: will they finally secure an ocean where people and nature thrive, as committed to in the Common Fisheries Policy? It is fundamental for EU credibility, especially in the context of the European Green Deal and other looming environmental deadlines, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, that the EU and its Member States finally deliver on their promises."

A WWF assessment from December 2018 found that nearly three quarters (74%) of the assessed fish and shellfish populations in Europe's seas were not in 'Good Environmental Status', while only one Member State, Ireland, had made significant improvements to the sustainable management of its wild-caught fish.

A ClientEarth report from November 2019 confirmed that little had changed, with Member States in fact actively pushing to exceed sustainable fishing limits in the North-east Atlantic. The European Environment Agency's December 2019 report showed that Europe is facing environmental challenges of unprecedented scale and urgency.

The reformed CFP, which came into effect in 2013, had the explicit aim of making fisheries environmentally, economically and socially sustainable by 2020. Member States have blatantly failed to comply with articles of the CFP to achieve this objective and have fallen out of line of EU environmental legislation, putting the vision of seas full of life supporting a robust, sustainable Blue Economy in jeopardy.

A number of targets of UN Sustainable Development Goal 14  - Life Below Water - are due to be achieved in 2020, reflecting commitments by the EU to secure sustainable fishing and healthy marine environments beyond what is laid out in EU legislation. The EU and all Member States must take urgent action to deliver on their promises for the benefit of both present and future generations. In the face of the climate crisis and unprecedented marine biodiversity decline, overfishing, pollution and other devastating human activities in our ocean must cease.

The European Policy Office helps shape EU policies that impact on the European and global environment.

WWF