EU fish stocks recover, but risks from climate change and IUU fishing

Fish stocks are recovering in some areas, but challenges include climate change, mortality, IUU fishing, and the war in Ukraine, says EU analysis.
Spanish fishing boat. Photo: Pesca España.
Spanish fishing boat. Photo: Pesca España.

The sustainability of EU fisheries is improving, with fewer stocks overfished, according to a recent European Commission report.

Released yesterday, the communication also sets out proposals for fishing opportunities looking ahead to 2024, and invites consultation with stakeholders across the EU. The aim, the authors state, is "to maintain stocks that have already reached sustainable levels while facilitating the recovery of other fish populations".

Bay of Biscay a success story for fish stocks

Based on independent scientific assessments, the report provides an overview of sustainability in EU fisheries based on the latest available data.

One of the notable achievements mentioned in the report is a marked improvement in fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic, where the latest assessments indicate the best sustainability results to date.

The Bay of Biscay, in particular, stands out as the first EU sea area to have no overfished stocks, which the report says demonstrates "the effectiveness of the EU's sustainable fisheries management decisions".

However, despite the advances made, significant challenges remain across the EU territory, say the authors, with the biggest risks posed by climate change, fish mortality, illegal fishing and disruption to supply chains due to the war in Ukraine.

Mediterranean and Black Sea face challenges in fishing mortality rates, climate change and IUU fishing

While the Mediterranean and Black Seas have also witnessed some progress in fish stock health, fishing mortality rates continue to present challenges. The latest available data from 2020 shows a decrease in fishing mortality rates; however, they still remain 71% higher than the recommended sustainability rate.

Fishing communities in these regions are also grappling with the impact of climate change, leading to uncertainties caused by the declining availability of EU fish stocks crucial for their livelihoods.

The report further underscores the need to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which affects legitimate fishers' access to adequate resources. Stronger measures and improved compliance are required, including collaboration with third countries, says Comission.

In the Baltic Sea, the situation remains challenging due to various pressures impacting fish populations beyond fishing. The Commission has pledged to continue taking measures to address these pressures and improve the Baltic Sea's ecosystem. However, it argues that Member States also need to play their part by fully implementing EU legislation to reverse the current situation.

EU consultation open on "future directions for fishing opportunities in 2024"

Last February, the European Commission unveiled an extensive array of measures designed to bolster the sustainability and resilience of the European Union's fisheries and aquaculture sector. These measures aim to tackle the economic and environmental hurdles faced by the industry.

In its report, the Comission highlights in particular the far-reaching impact of Russia's military aggression against Ukraine on EU fisheries, with the Black Sea region being most affected. Ongoing disruptions in fishing activities and trade flows have been observed, alongside significant repercussions on scientific advice and international negotiations.

To address these issues, the EC is actively seeking input from various stakeholders. Member States, Advisory Councils, the fishing industry, non-governmental organizations, and citizens are all urged to contribute their views on the current state of EU fisheries and future directions for fishing opportunities in 2024. An open online public consultation has been launched and will accept submissions until August 9.

Once the consultation period concludes, the Commission will present three proposals for Fishing Opportunities Regulations in 2024, spanning the Atlantic and North Sea, the Baltic Sea, as well as the Mediterranean and Black Seas. These proposals will be informed by scientific guidance from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and economic analysis conducted by the Scientific, Technical, and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF). The proposals are also expected to take into account multi-annual plans and adjustments resulting from the implementation of the landing obligation.

The Council will meet in October and December of this year to deliberate on the Commission's proposals and determine the fish quotas for 2024.

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