To help fight climate change, Europe needs to end overfishing

Fish are proven carbon engineers. By ending overfishing, Europe would have a better chance at mitigating global warming
Ending overfishing will help Europe fight global warming | Photo: Alamy

By Nicholas Röhl

Nicholas Röhl is the co-founder of Fishlove, an organisation working to end overfishing in Europe

13 Jul 2023

Co-Author Rebecca Hubbard

Walking by the European Parliament building in Brussels recently, you may have passed a striking picture of actress Gillian Anderson posing nude, covered only by a conger eel. This photography exhibition brought together 20 celebrities – each posing with a different marine species -- from across Europe and the United States in calling on the European Union to finally stop overfishing.  

Our organisations, Fishlove and Our Fish, are behind the exhibition. Since 2009, Fishlove portraits have exposed the naked truth on how overfishing continues in European waters; and since 2017, Our Fish has called on EU governments to cease overfishing. 

By ending overfishing, Europe would have a better chance at mitigating global warming. Fish are proven carbon engineers, constantly at work capturing and moving excess carbon from the atmosphere towards the deep sea where it is stored for thousands of years. It is the responsibility of governments around the world to give fish the space and protection they need to perform their vital role in helping us fight climate change. 

EU officials don’t have to get naked to end overfishing; there are other steps they can take. Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius – along with EU governments –- can deliver a just transition to low-impact and low-carbon fishing for the EU fishing fleet.  

Since the subsequent reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2013, EU fisheries management has improved marginally, but has failed to meet the EU’s commitment to end overfishing. In the decade since, the climate and biodiversity crisis has become painfully apparent. 

Fisheries ministers must take urgent action now if they are to achieve the ecologically diverse, clean and healthy seas they promised us. This must include ending overfishing and the protection of at least 30 per cent of our seas. 

Ending overfishing is achievable. Naked celebrities with fish might seem controversial, but undermining the ocean’s capacity to tackle climate change is far worse.  

EU leaders have a huge responsibility to start accounting for the full ecological and climate impacts of fishing, and ensuring that the EU is leading the world in transitioning to forms of fishing that are low environmental impact (using gear that does not damage the seabed or catch unwanted fish or other marine life), and low carbon (using less, or no, fossil fuels), and in ensuring healthy oceans for the good of everyone on Earth.  

It is time for EU decision-makers to be as bold as the celebrities captured in these portraits. This doesn’t have to mean posing naked with a dead fish, but it does mean that the European Commission, Parliament and EU Member States should have the courage to transform our fisheries management so that the EU can take the lead in supporting the ocean in its critical role as a climate ally. 

The clock is ticking – the next decade of ocean climate action is critical.