Friends of the Irish Environment [FIE] will argue at an Oral Hearing before European Court of Justice [ECJ] today [Thursday 16 March, 2022] that meeting the 2013 European Union Regulations requiring the end of overfishing by 2020 is required not just by the EU Regulation itself, but by international law.
More than 300 scientists, including 50 Irish experts, asked EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, to take action on overfishing two years ago. The statement, which included signatories from UCC, UCD, NUI Galway, TCD, Galway-Mayo IT and Queen’s University Belfast among other leading European institutions, called for recognition “that ecosystem-based fisheries management is critical to the health of the ocean and its capacity to respond to climate change and that fishing limits must be set accordingly”.
According to the experts, overfishing reduces fish biomass, impacts biodiversity, alters the marine food web and degrades marine habitats. This makes the marine ecosystem more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The experts said that in the EU, it is estimated that at least 38% of fish stocks in the North East Atlantic and Baltic Sea, and 87% in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, are being overfished.
FIE’s case is that that Ireland is guilty of a systemic violation of a legally-binding EU deadline to end overfishing. Article 2(2) of the Common Fisheries Policy [CFP] European Regulations passed in 2013 required Member States to end overfishing ‘by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks.’ This measure was designed to restore all stocks above healthy levels capable of producing a ‘maximum sustainable yield’.
The ‘maximum sustainable yield’ is determined by the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES), the internationally accepted independent scientific authority. It is the amount any species that can be taken without impairing the reproduction process.
The action highlights what are known as ‘choke species’ such as Cod in the West of Scotland. These are ‘by-catches’ where the scientific recommendations for catches not to exceed 0 tonnes would require the closure of other fisheries which accidentally catch the Cod. ‘Scientists have been advising, in some cases for almost two decades, that there should be no quotas for these vulnerable species but Ireland’s Government and the industry have failed to prepare for the necessary changes’, FIE Director Tony Lowes said.
FIE’s test case was referred to the Luxemburg-based ECJ by Irish High Court Justice Barr after a three-day hearing in December 2021.
‘While the Regulation that is being systematically breached is a 2013 EU Regulation, our Senior Counsel will tell the Luxenberg-based Court that the specific targets originated in obligations established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea signed in 1994 and at the World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg in 2002.
FIE will point out that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea binding on 154 States as well as the European Community itself, requires ‘proper conservation and management measures designed to maintain or restore populations of harvested species at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield.’
The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development required signatures to ‘Maintain or restore stocks to levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield with the aim of achieving these goals for depleted stocks on an urgent basis and where possible not later than 2015’.
The 2013 Common Fisheries Policy itself refers to the “commitment” given by the Union and the Member States at Johannesburg in 2002 and identifies that as the reason for the initial 2015 target and the 2020 final date.
FIE Director Tony Lowes said that the point the charity would be making was that ending over fishing by 2020 was not just a ‘target picked from the sky’. ‘Both the 1996 UN Treaty on the Law of the Sea and the 2002 Johannesburg Summit are ‘agreements concluded by the Union’ and so are ‘binding upon the institutions of the Union and on its Member States.’
‘This is a test case not only about survival of a few species of fish or an EU Regulation, but about our country’s – and the European Unions’ – respect for the legally binding international Treaties and Conventions to which we have signed our name.
Source: Press Release