The New Economics Foundation and Our Fish campaign today called on the EU and its Member States to include ending overfishing in their climate laws, after a new study found that EU countries have overfished by 8.78 million tonnes during the last 20 years [1]. According to the historical analysis released by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Netherlands and Germany top the “overfishing League” table, by gaining the highest percentage of quotas above scientifically advised levels for sustainable limits over a 20-year period (35%, 24%, 23%, 23% 22% respectively), while the UK, Denmark and Spain have received the most in terms of excess tonnage (1.78M tonnes, 1.48M tonnes and 1.04M tonnes respectively). 

“If the EU delivered on its commitment to end overfishing and rebuild damaged fish stocks to sustainable levels, it could create over 20,000 new jobs, provide food for 89 million people, and generate an extra €1.6 billion in annual revenue”, said Griffin Carpenter, Senior Researcher at the New Economics Foundation. “Instead, every year, fisheries ministers have set fishing limits above the best available scientific advice, even going so far as to ignore the EU’s own legal deadline of 2020. To deliver sustainable seas, EU fisheries ministers must end this practice, and respect EU law, by following the scientific advice. ”

The latest analysis, part of the Landing the Blame report by the New Economics Foundation on the agreed annual fishing limits (total allowable catch or TAC) for commercial fish stocks in EU waters, discovered that between 2001 and 2020, on average, six out of ten TACs were set above scientific advice. While the percentage by which TACs were set above advice declined throughout this period (from 39% to 10% in all EU waters), the proportion of TACs set above advice has had a lesser decline, from eight out of ten TACs to five out of ten.

“As the COVID crisis has clearly demonstrated, our systematic destruction of nature is drastically threatening the health of our planet, and the health of people. NEF’s Landing the Blame analysis brings home the stark truth that by overfishing almost nine million tonnes of fish in 20 years, EU fisheries ministers continue to radically undermine the one ecosystem that provides us with the best protection against climate change – the ocean,” said Rebecca Hubbard, Programme Director at Our Fish. “The European Commission and EU leaders must wake up to the seriousness of this situation – the potential for the ocean to shift from friend to foe if we do not ease pressure on it – by enshrining the ending of overfishing and restoration of ocean health in the EU Green Deal, and by prioritising finalising the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork Strategies as a matter of urgency.”


  • On average, the Netherlands set quotas 23% above scientific advice, placing the Netherlands fourth.
  • From 2001 to 2020 the Netherlands received 847,000 tonnes of quota above scientific advice, placing the Netherlands fourth.
  • For the Netherlands, 23 quotas (out of 55 assessed) were set above scientific advice in 2020. If this quota is used, the 2020 deadline to end overfishing will be missed.
  • Some quotas are consistently set above advice sole and plaice in the Celtic Sea, shrimp in the North Sea, and herring to the west of Scotland and Ireland.
  • The Dutch fishing industry has heavily lobbied the EU Council for higher quotas, even accessing the closed-door Council negotiations using press passes.
  • The Dutch fishing fleet has the second highest wages in the EU with an average FTE wage of 78,000 EUR.

Download the report (pdf)