On the 4th of February 2021, Europêche released a statement on their website that claimed 99% of the landings from EU-managed stocks were fished sustainably. Research shows the claim is mostly false.
Europêche is an organization representing vessels and fishermen from ten European countries. They promote fluent communication between the European institutions and the fishing sector. Despite representing the fishing sector, Europêche has affiliations with the Union Armateurs Pêche de France (UAPF), which is registered as a lobby group. Moreover, Europêche has affiliations with Cluster Maritime Française with members such as ADAM assurances, AXA, BNP Paribas Fortis and Deter Oil.
After contacting the organisation, Europêche’s policy advisor Rosalie Tukker referred to a European report that mentioned the percentage of landings from EU-managed and sustainably fished stocks. The report’s introduction mentions that in 2019 “almost 100% of the landings from fish stocks exclusively managed by the EU were at maximum-sustainable-yield level.”
A report published by the European Commission in June 2020 says that it “is expected that in 2020 more than 99% of the landings in the Baltic, North Sea and the Atlantic managed exclusively by the EU will come from sustainably managed fisheries.” This report is a summary of what has been reported by the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STEFC).
Maximum sustainable yield
In an e-mail, Ann-Katrien Lescauwaert from the Flanders Marine Institute mentions that we can analyze the landings from EU-managed stocks and their sustainability by looking at the maximum sustainable yield assessments. The fishing stocks, landing obligations and the methodology used to calculate maximum sustainable yield are reported by several institutions such as the Common Fisheries Policy from the European Commission.
To consider fishing stocks as sustainable, the total allowed catch (TAC) needs to be in line with or below the maximum sustainable yield as mentioned by the European Union. “It is important to note that the European system which calculates the total allowed catches (TAC) only use data from commercially exploited species for which a formal and full assessment is available”, Ann-Katrien Lescrauwaet mentions.
However, the total allowed catches (TAC) do not include the discard or the bycatches, which should be, according to the international advocacy organisation Oceana. Likewise, the European environment agency’s report ‘The European environment-state and outlook 2020’ states that “bycatches of marine mammals, seabird and non-commercial fish is still a major threat for our environment”. A review by the European Commission and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) focusing on the landing obligations and its implications for fisheries published via the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) shows that discarding “is a common practice in fisheries. Total discards are estimated to be about 30 million tons, representing around 23% of worldwide catches.” Moreover, the European Commission estimates the discards from commercial fishing around seven to ten million tons. These discards have a big impact on the ecosystems and contribute to overfishing in the Europe. The total discards could be even higher than what is reported. These numbers do not take into account the number of discards which are not documented, such as the illegal, unreported and unregulated discards.
This shows that if the discards and the bycatches in the calculation of the TAC’s method are included, the results of sustainably fished catches in the European Union will most likely differ. In other words, not including the data on discards in the total amount of catches might influence the results. These missing numbers pose a threat to the accuracy of the reports by the European institutions.
To monitor the maximum sustainable yield and the total allowed catches (TAC), there needs to be full transparency from member states and fishing vessels, since both the European Commission and the European Council rely on data collected by member states for their reports. Transparency is necessary to determine if the reports are accurate and to ensure a proper decision-making process.
However, transparency is not always guaranteed. “The majority of the TAC-setting process, takes place behind closed doors”, environmental law charity ClientEarth writes, “This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for stakeholders to participate in the process, identify which Member State have advocated for unsustainable TAC’s, or hold them to account.” Likewise, the European Environment Agency shows that the European seas still faces big challenges in the ability to assess fishing stocks. It shows that an assessment was only possible for 6,5% of the total landings from the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea between 2016 and 2018. For the North-East Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, it was possible for 36%. This shows that the results in many European reports about the level of sustainably fished catches are not complete enough to have a clear view of the European seas as a whole.
Lastly, a study by two professors from the Heriot-Watt University, shows that we need to take European vessels fishing outside of European water into account. Nearly one third of the European catches stem from outside EU-waters. Those catches are set by agreements between different countries, called partner states. Agreements made between the European Union and partner countries are only possible if some criteria are respected. However, this study shows that those agreements and its monitoring have been problematic. According to the study, some cases have brought up questionable practices. For example, a partner country “cannot fish far offshore because their local vessels cannot reach far fishing ground. Although the EU pays for an access to this inaccessible water”, and that makes sense, the study shows it isn’t always fair and sustainable.
The claim is mostly untrue, because it neglects the bigger picture. The European Union could use a more accurate methodology when calculating the total allowed catches (TAC), which is a key parameter to calculate the level of sustainability. According to Oceana, the “TAC system is not working correctly because scientific advice is being systematically ignored.” Oceana estimates around 78% of the scientific recommendations have been ignored.
As our research shows, one can wonder if the results would be different if the numbers of bycatches and discards would be included. Moreover, data was not collected on all the landings managed by the European Union, which results in some blank areas.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Salsabil Fayed, Artevelde University of Applied Sciences, Belgium
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