EU faces court showdown for dangerous overfishing despite ban pledge – Will pay price

Brexit: Spain left dependent on Scotland after overfishing

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EU ministers representing each member state in the EU Council are meant to set fishing limits which protect species from being overfished. Europe had a legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020, but NGO Client Earth says fishing limits set for this year were above the sustainable scientific advice for one third of the commercial fish stocks managed by the EU and UK.

Arthur Meeus, a fisheries lawyer with Client Earth, said: “It’s really important – you need to fish sustainably and follow the best scientific advice.

“We want fish stocks to be in a good state. We want fish to do the work of a carbon sink. [Fish] plays a big role in biodiversity and mitigating climate change.

“It’s important the law is respected.”

A 2019 report shows that 40 percent of fish stocks in the north-east Atlantic are still overfished, meaning they are fished faster than they can breed and recover their numbers.

In a legal first, ClientEarth is bringing two cases against the European Council, one focused on EU only fishing stock limits and a second case for those negotiated between the EU and the UK in British and European Union waters.

The NGO alleges current fish stock limits are illegal under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Under the CFP, the European Council fixes annual limits and should set them according to the best available scientific advice.

The independent International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) provides such advice for each stock.

Client Earth argues that current limits exceed the scientific advice. This includes the Council setting a limit of 1,851 tonnes of pollack in the Bay of Biscay despite an ICES recommendation totalling 905 tonnes.

For West of Scotland cod, at dangerously low levels for almost 30 years and close to an all time low due to overfishing, ICES advised a zero limit.

However, a limit of 1,279 tonnes has been adopted for the shared stock which is in UK and EU waters.

Mr Meeus, of the limits in general, said: “Fishing limits are set at unsustainable levels. We are relying on those [legal] grounds.”

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Client Earth wants the Council to carry out an internal review of its fishing limits decision-making and expects to take the case all the way to the European Court of Justice.

The environmental law charity wants its action to create a precedent which would ensure the Council respects sustainability and scientific advice when setting future limits.

It anticipates a ruling by the ECJ next year. The action comes after Client Earth brought a case at the High Court of Ireland in order to trigger a review of fishing limits at the EU level.

The judge in that case called on the ECJ to decide if EU ministers illegally set unsustainable fishing limits.

It came after a challenge by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) supported by ClientEarth to end overfishing after the EU missed the binding 2020 deadline to do so.

The case questioned the validity of a regulation that set total allowable catches for 2020.

Overfishing threatens the numbers of certain fish species and the ecosystems they live in.

A declining species will impact the rest of its food chain as well as the biodiversity of the area and the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon.

Mr Meeus said: “If ministers don’t follow the science and protect stocks, the price will be paid not only by fish and fishers, but by all of us – in climate and food security terms.

“This case is about holding EU fisheries ministers collectively responsible for illegally setting unsustainable fishing limits.

“We want to make sure they stop ignoring the law and focus on what is beneficial for us and future generations.”

The European Council has been approached for comment.

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