UK Government guilty of overfishing, says UK Government

April 11, 2024


In a time of pollution, plastics and climate change, overfishing remains the single biggest threat to marine life and ocean health. In light of this reality, it is staggering that the government’s own scientists have published a report that 54% of catch limits have been set at unsustainably high levels.

Every year the UK sets catch limits known as Total Allowable Catches (TAC) for most commercial fish stocks, which determines the volume of fish caught. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is the independent scientific body which provides advice for fish stocks. However, the process of agreeing and sharing these catch limits is quite complex, where some stocks get negotiated with other countries. It is at this point of the process where countries choose to simply ignore the scientific advice which inevitably leads to stocks declining and ultimately collapsing. One of the most egregious examples of this is the cod population in the Celtic Sea. In the last 10 years the Celtic Sea cod population has declined by an unforgiveable 93%. What is most extraordinary about this is the TAC has now been set at the entirety of the adult population, suggesting the government have given up any attempt to restore this population. For a government that committed to restoring all fish stocks, it is unclear, to say the least, how catching all adult fish from a population would achieve this.

The lack of progress in recovering some of the most depleted fish stocks in the UK is inexcusable. This year we saw an additional two stocks, Channel pollack and Irish Sea sole, receiving ‘zero catch advice’. They join an existing cast of populations, that includes stocks of cod, whiting and herring. ICES only advise zero when a stock is in a truly abysmal state. Without enforcing fisheries management designed to eradicate the possibility of this happening, this will almost always be the result. It is, therefore, astonishing that the same mistakes keep getting repeated.

It is clear when scientific advice is followed, stocks recover, where it has not, stocks decline. Blue Marine Foundation is therefore taking the government to court over this ongoing failure of management to protect valuable marine life and the small-scale fishing industry which relies upon them. Considering the increased public concern about ocean health, declining biodiversity, and ambitious sounding governmental commitments, it is as disappointing as it is unbelievable that the UK government continues to prioritise short term political expediency over long term sustainable management.

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