LAWYERS FOR CLIENTEARTH are to attend a hearing before the Court of Justice of the EU – the EU’s highest Court – in a case against Ireland and the EU Council to end overfishing in Europe.
For years, EU Member State representatives gathered in EU Council meetings have failed to set their yearly fishing limits in line with scientific advice for a large number of key fish stocks, pushing vulnerable species like cod to the verge of collapse.
As a result, they missed the legal deadline they set for themselves in the Common Fisheries Policy to end overfishing in Europe by 2020 – one third of stocks are still overexploited in North East Atlantic waters and 87 per cent of stocks are overfished in the Mediterranean.
This is not only bad for fish – it also disturbs other species who rely on them. This disruption to ecosystems undermines the health of our ocean – one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks – and its ability to store carbon which is key to fighting climate change. Ultimately, it also affects fishers and coastal communities who depend on this resource for their livelihoods.
In 2020, Friends of the Irish Environment challenged the unsustainable fishing limits set for that year before an Irish Court. The action was supported by ClientEarth. Ireland is not individually responsible for limits agreed on by all EU Member States – despite being a vocal advocate for higher quotas – but it was the only opportunity ClientEarth had at the time to legally challenge unsustainable quotas, as NGOs were barred from directly taking all EU Member States before the EU court.
The Irish judge decided last year in a legal first to refer the case up to the Court of Justice of the EU – questioning the validity of the 2020 fishing limits. ClientEarth has now been invited to plead its case against the Irish and EU Council’s legal representatives. The organisation says it is now “looking into setting a precedent and preventing further bad management of EU’s shared fisheries” and that EU leaders must respect the objectives they set for themselves and be held accountable when they breach the law and allow overfishing to persist. It adds that since it joined that first case, too little progress has been made to align all fishing limits with scientific advice, saying that is why it decided to challenge the 2022 fishing limits for EU only stocks and EU-UK stocks.
ClientEarth has been allowed to bring this case before the General Court of the EU – the EU’s first chamber – thanks to a vital change of rules on access to justice for NGOs. Hearings for these cases are expected to be heard later this year. Another case is pending in France, following a challenge brought in 2020, similar to the one in Ireland. Three years on, France has still no date for the hearing.
* More on the EU change of rules for access to justice for NGOs here.