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© OCEANA/ Juan Cuetos, School of poutings (Trisopterus luscus) over a wreckage. Humber, United Kingdom. North Sea Expedition 2016. July 2016.

For the first time ever, we know the full potential of fish recovery in Europe and its good news!

If we manage fish sustainably, fish catches can increase by 57% or 5 million tonnes. That’s a lot of fish currently missing from our seas.

On December 12th-13th the Agriculture and Fisheries Council of the EU (AGRI-FISH) composed by 28 relevant ministers will gather in Brussels to decide the fishing limits of the main commercial fish species in the North-East Atlantic for 2017. The United Kingdom, as one of the key players at the negotiation table, has a big influence on the outcome. The framework for ensuring the sustainable future of European fisheries is already here but realising its potential hinges on political will and a commitment to legal obligations. That political decision will be taken today.

It is therefore crucial that this decision is taken responsibly, fully following scientific advice and based on a long-term vision of stocks recovery and not the effect of short-term political interests that allow for excessive and unsustainable fishing for example the UK Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food George Eustice’s decision to overshoot scientific advice by 18% (90,000 tonnes).

Earlier this year, Oceana commissioned the largest ever study of European fisheries to examine the full extent of overfishing in Europe. Led by renowned fisheries expert Dr. Rainer Froese from University of Kiel in Germany, his international research team analysed 397 European fish stocks - in comparison the EU tracks around 150 fish stocks – and determined that 85% of European fish stocks are in an unhealthy state. But there is also good news: stocks can be rebuilt and if managed sustainably and based on scientific advice, catches can increase by 5 million tonnes. That’s positive news for fishermen and consumers alike because more fish in the sea will provide more jobs in the fishing industry and deliver more healthy fish for our dinner tables.

In the UK, which currently catches more than 80 different stocks in the North Sea, English Channel, north-western and south-western waters, the potential for stock recovery is huge. Analysis of the main commercial and most consumed species in the region shows that in the North Sea, cod and haddock catches could increase by 426% and by 441% respectively; in the English Channel, plaice catches could rise by 115%; and in the Celtic Sea and Rockall waters, herring catches could improve by 364%.

For many years, scientists and marine conservation organisations have argued for science based fisheries management, but in vain. Politicians have continued to ignore science when they decide on catches and quotas and as a result we have been taking more fish out of the sea than the stocks can naturally replenish. That’s why we have declining catches, fewer jobs and an increasing dependence on fish imported from outside Europe. Continued negligence of science-based fisheries management leading to overfishing is legally unacceptable, socially irresponsible, and economically unreasonable and must stop now.

Our recent study has made the scientific case for recovery stronger than ever and politicians can no longer ignore the benefits of rebuilding fish stocks.

There is no acceptable reason to deny people the benefits of abundant and well managed seas. Politicians have both the scientific knowledge and the regulatory framework for recovering the stocks and delivering sustainable fisheries management – the only thing that is missing is their political courage.

During the upcoming negotiations, George Eustice must stick to his recent promises on stock recovery and respect for catch limitations, with the ultimate goal of eradicating overfishing once and for all. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s time for our politicians to restore our missing fish.

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