AGRIFISH: EU Decision to Continue Overfishing Branded “Shameful”



Brussels, 17 December 2020:- Today’s EU Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers decision to continue overfishing in its own waters is “a shameful move that undermines global progress towards achieving a healthy ocean and the EU’s commitment to sustainable fisheries management”, said Our Fish Program Director, Rebecca Hubbard. Two leading fisheries scientists also called the EU move to roll over 25% of 2020 quotas for stocks shared with the UK “not acceptable”, as it could cause overfishing it will prove “difficult to reverse”.

Of the TACs (Total Allowable Catches – quotas) set for approximately 30 EU-only fish stocks, it appears that around 30% have been set above scientific advice for sustainable limits, as provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) [1]. For both the severely unhealthy fish stocks of cod in the Kattegat and roundnose grenadier in the deep sea, ICES had advised zero catch, yet both received “bycatch” TACs (supposed quotas for ‘untargeted’ catch). A number of other TACs, which the European Commission had proposed in line with ICES advice, including southern hake, and sole and pollack in the Bay of Biscay, were pushed above scientific advice by EU fisheries ministers [2,3].

“EU fisheries ministers don’t seem to have gotten the memo. Whilst EU leaders are running around signing pledges, waxing lyrical about revolutionising our relationship with nature and taking climate action, EU fisheries ministers have today signed off on another year of overfishing that will continue wrecking ocean health – which will subsequently impact human health”, said Hubbard.

“Unfortunately, today’s outcome shows how far EU member states are from delivering on their promises to their citizens – including our children, who will inherit the legacy of their decisions. EU fisheries ministers willingly lock themselves into this abusive cycle, which helps nobody – not the fish, the ocean, the climate or the fishers. After a year of horrendous warning signs that ongoing destruction of nature will have serious repercussions, today’s outcome is not just unbelievable, it’s shameful”, concluded Hubbard.

It appears that fisheries ministers stayed up all night specifically haggling over how to water down the (already weak) Commission proposal for reducing demersal fishing effort in the Mediterranean Sea from 15% to just 7.5% – a pitiful outcome for the beleaguered Mediterannean, which led to vilification of France, Italy and Spain by EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius during the AGRIFISH press conference, who said that he regretted that “fisheries ministers were not ready to fully take into account consideration scientific advice” [4].

In addition, fisheries ministers agreed on the Commission’s proposed roll over of 25% of 2020 TACs shared with the UK and Norway, as a contingency plan for January – March 2021 (to ensure fishing of shared stocks can continue until a more permanent agreement for fishing in 2021 is made).

“The EU decision to ‘roll over’ 25% of 2020 quotas for fish stocks shared with the UK for the first quarter of 2021, which disregards scientific advice for sustainable fishing limits, exposes the true depth of the EU’s fisheries myopia”, said Hubbard. “While this rollover is clearly aimed at dealing with short-term political problems, it is not based on scientific advice for 2021 fishing limits, and ultimately makes the next set of decisions even harder, leaving fish populations in an even worse state.”

“It is absolutely fundamental that the EU does not go ahead with setting these contingency TACs unless the UK and Norway agree; setting quotas unilaterally will break with the international law of the sea and turn the ocean around Europe into the wild west”, she added.

“While I understand the need for pragmatic measures to set preliminary TACs for 2021, this should not be an excuse for ignoring scientific advice to avoid overfishing”, said Dr Rainer Froese, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany. “For example, ICES recommended a 17% reduction in the 2021 catch of North Sea cod, and this reduction should be applied to the preliminary TAC. A rollover approach that leads to overfishing in the first quarter will be difficult to reverse later on.”

“This 25% ‘roll over’ rule is clearly not acceptable. The Commission suggests to do even worse than the already outdated and insufficient Maximum Sustainable Yield approach. While we should urgently move toward a more precautionary ecosystem-based approach, the EU Commission is proposing to not follow the scientific advice for at least the first quarter of 2021. For some stocks it will be too late, with detrimental effects on fish populations, fishers and marine ecosystems,” said Didier Gascuel, Director of the Center for Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries at Agrocampus Ouest in France.

A recent Our Fish analysis of 20 years of the EU-Norway Agreement on shared stocks shows that on average, the EU, Norway and UK have exceeded scientific advice on fishing quotas by an average of 11% [5].



Dave Walsh, Our Fish Communications Advisor,, +34 691 826 764

Rebecca Hubbard, Our Fish Program Director,,+34 657 669 425



[1] As this press release was published, detailed analysis was ongoing on the outcomes of the meeting. Please contact for more details.

[2] Agriculture and Fisheries Council, 15-16 December 2020

[3] Commission proposes fishing opportunities in the Atlantic and North Sea for 2021

[4] The EU Council Press Conference, 17/12/20

Commissioner Sinkevičius press statement after AGRIFISH Council, 17 December 2020, Brussels

[5] Ending the Blame Game Carousel: 20 Years of EU, Norway and UK Overfishing

A new analysis of joint EU, Norwegian and UK fishing practices demonstrates how for the last 20 years, the EU, along with Norway and the UK, have consistently set annual fishing limits for shared stocks above scientific advice. This clear proof of overfishing, usually comes with well-worn excuses of how the other parties are to blame. Norway blames the EU and UK for uncontrolled discarding of fish at sea, while the EU blames Norway for pushing fishing limits above Maximum Sustainable Yield

Blue Implosion – How EU Failure To Enforce Fish Discard Ban Could Drive Fisheries Management System To Collapse

A new paper, The Unintended Impact Of The European Discard Ban, has found that an increase in annual EU fishing quotas of up to 50% was applied to ‘support’ the implementation of the Landing Obligation (LO) – the rule to reduce fish waste – in EU waters in 2020, despite widespread failure to enforce the rule and the continued discarding of fish


About Our Fish

Our Fish is working to end overfishing and restore a healthy ocean ecosystem. By collaborating with others, and deploying robust evidence, we are calling for an end to overfishing as a critical and significant action to address the biodiversity and climate crisis.