AGRIFISH: EU Fisheries Ministers Show Unsurprising Lack of Ambition to End Overfishing

Brussels, December 13, 2017:- Despite a legal commitment to end overfishing in European waters by 2015, or progressively by 2020 at the latest, EU fisheries ministers today agreed to forgo legal, scientific and moral obligations, and continue legalised overfishing for a number of fish stocks in the North Sea and Atlantic, according to campaign group Our Fish.

During the annual AGRIFISH Council meeting, which took place between December 11th and 13, EU fisheries ministers negotiated fishing limits for more than 120 fish stocks in the North Sea and Atlantic. In its initial summary statements, the Council announced that total allowable catch (TAC) for 53 fish stocks are now in line with scientific advice (a sustainable catch rate), up from 44 in 2017, equivalent to approximately two-thirds of the stocks that have sufficient scientific data to assess maximum sustainable yield (MSY).  

“While there appears to have been some progress towards reining in overfishing, EU fisheries ministers displayed an unsurprising lack of ambition to deliver sustainable management for all EU fish stocks”, said Our Fish Programme Director Rebecca Hubbard. “These late night AGRIFISH meetings still demonstrate a dangerous culture, with EU fisheries ministers treating the law as flexible, making decisions behind closed doors, and cherry picking winners and losers, instead of ending overfishing of all fish stocks.

“With just two years left until the 2020 deadline, fisheries ministers need to invoke some political courage to act on behalf of EU citizens, and the future health of European fish stocks – not just the interests of a few big industry players”, continued Hubbard.

“One of the biggest problems we are facing in European seas, is that despite a landing obligation coming into force, discarding isn’t sufficiently controlled. When discarding isn’t controlled and top-ups are added to total allowable catches, stocks are not safe”, said Sascha Müller-Kraenner, executive director of Environmental Action Germany (Deutsche Umwelthilfe). “Four years after the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy was agreed, we would have expected increased efforts by Germany’s agriculture minister Christian Schmidt to tackle the problem of overfishing – as obliged by law.”

Celtic Sea
During the Council meeting, ministers failed to recognise the Celtic Sea as a region that should be protected from overfishing. The EU Council set the quotas for whiting, cod and haddock significantly above the EU Commission’s proposal, including an extraordinary 23% increase for Haddock.

European Bass
Despite the fact that fisheries ministers did take some responsibility to limit bycatch of European bass in industrial trawlers, the big step to safeguard the future of seabass was missed. Scientists have been advising a zero catch for the European bass for the last two years, due to a plunge in stocks since 2010, to a level where the future of bass is severely endangered.

“Although fisheries ministers have theoretically taken a first small step towards adopting stronger measures to minimise the biggest threat to bass – being caught as bycatch by trawlers – effective monitoring and control of these measures will be key to put seabass back on the path towards recovery”, said Frederieke Vlek, Netherlands Campaigner for Our Fish.  

“For turbot, which has a combined TAC with brill, fisheries ministers have stretched fishing limits too far.  With the new TAC set at 5924 tonnes in total, fisheries ministers are putting the turbot stock at risk, and are failing to ensure the stability that the stock requires, with unclear consequences for brill”, said Vlek.

European Eel
With just 2% of stocks remaining, fisheries ministers crowned the critically endangered European eel as the biggest loser. Scientists have, for decades, recommended a zero catch, while the European Commission has call for a ban on fishing of adult eels.  

“How low do European eel stock levels need to sink to for EU fisheries Ministers to take action or responsibility”, asked Nils Höglund, Policy Officer at Coalition Clean Baltic.

“By fiercely defending the continuation of fishing for a critically endangered species, while disregarding the reformed Common Fishery Policy rules, Ministers are neither protecting the eel, or those who fish for it – instead, they are sending the message that it’s ‘ok to fish for endangered species’ and that we should teach our kids that it’s a good idea to eat that which we need to protect”.

“[Danish fisheries minister] ]Karen Ellemann and her colleagues in the Council have made a bad call for the environment and Danish fishermen by missing out on this opportunity to safeguard European eel with a ban”, said Birgitte Lesanner, head of campaigns at Greenpeace Danmark. “Unlike politicians, consumers and some supermarkets have already been doing a good job for years, by saying no to eel on their dinner tables and in their stores.”

“The only responsible thing would have been to ban all fisheries on adult and baby eels in Europe. Ensuring sustainable fisheries is not only possible, it is also a really good deal for our environment as well as for the economy of the fishermen.”


Photo & Video

Throughout the AGRIFISH negotiations, Our Fish has been posting video & audio interviews with MEPs, NGOs, politicians and others, along with  live broadcasts and other content to “Our Fish Eye” – visit

Download photographs of #endoverfishing projections in Brussels

Additional information

See also:

 Celebrities Pose Naked With Fish For Fishlove Campaign To End Overfishing

Commissioner Vella statement following AgriFish conclusions

Video: Agrifish (Fisheries) Council Highlights


Over 112,000 people have signed a new petition from Our Fish, Seas At Risk, WeMove.EU and others, calling on EU fisheries and environment ministers to implement European law, end overfishing and protect our seas. Thousands have tweeted their support and the campaign is growing, as the 2020 deadline looms.


Dave Walsh, Our Fish Communications Advisor, +34 691826764

Rebecca Hubbard, Our Fish Program Director, +34 657669425

Andrea Kuper, Ann-Kathrin Marggraf, Deutsche Umwelthilfe press office,, +49 30 2400867-20

Nils Höglund, Policy Officer, Coalition Clean Baltic,, +46708 679249

Christina Koll, Communications for Greenpeace i Danmark,, +4528109021

Birgitte Lesanner, head of campaigns, Greenpeace Danmark,, +4523951214

About Our Fish

Our Fish works to ensure European member states implement the Common Fisheries Policy and achieve sustainable fish stocks in European waters.

Our Fish works with organisations and individuals across Europe to deliver a powerful and unwavering message: overfishing must be stopped, and solutions put in place that ensure Europe’s waters are fished sustainably. Our Fish demands that the Common Fisheries Policy be properly enforced, and Europe’s fisheries effectively governed.

Our Fish calls on all EU Member States to set annual fishing limits at sustainable limits based on scientific advice, and to ensure that their fishing fleets prove that they are fishing sustainably, through monitoring and full documentation of their catch.

Follow Our Fish on Twitter: @our_fish