Scientific advice exceeded in 68 per cent of EU quota decisions

EU fisheries ministers are often accused of disregarding science when setting fishing quotas. New research shows just how much political decisions exceed scientific advice.

In one case, the hake TAC was set 1100 per cent higher than advised.

A group of researchers analysed the decisions taken by EU fisheries ministers on how much fish should be caught, total allowable catches (TACs), from 1987 to 2011.

TACs were set higher than scientific recommendations in 68% of decisions. On average, ministers adjusted TACs to be 33 per cent higher than recommended by fisheries scientists.

Data for 44 stocks of 11 important species all across Europe were included in the study.

For some stocks TACs were routinely set more than 100 per cent above scientific advice. In the Spain, Portugal and the Bay of Biscay fisheries zone, the TAC for hake was set 1100 per cent higher than scientists proposed in 1993.

Each year the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) makes recommendations on catches to the European Commission. Based on the Commission’s proposal, fisheries ministers in the Council then decide the TACs and quotas.

“This decision-making process leads to the paradox of ministers’ protecting national interests while attempting to allocate quotas among member states for mutual benefit and to achieve conserva- tion goals,” lead author Bethan O’Leary and her colleagues write in their paper, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

The paper quotes John Gummer, a former UK Fisheries Minister: “If you are a fisheries minister you sit around the table arguing about fishermen – not about fish. You are there to represent your fishermen. […] The arguments are not about conservation, unless of course you are arguing about another country.”

The researchers contend that the Commission’s proposed discards ban and introduction of transferable fishing concessions (TFCs) will not succeed in achieving sustainability “unless the process for catch allocation is reformed to place science at the heart of decision-making”.

Axel Naver

O’Leary, B.C., Smart, J.C.R., Neale, F.C.,Hawkins, J.P., Newman, S., Milman, A.C., Roberts, C.M. (2011) Fisheries Mismanagement, Marine Pollution Bulletin 62(12):2642-2648.

doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.09.032 (link to paper at

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