European Court slams UK claims of “transparent and objective” distribution of fishing quota

Publication date: 1st June 2017

The European Court of Auditors has contradicted the UK Government’s claims, made in a UK court in November 2015 during a judicial review brought by Greenpeace UK, that its distribution of fishing quota was both transparent and objective.

In 2015, Greenpeace UK took the Government to court on the basis that it was not implementing Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which requires member states to allocate quota according to transparent and objective criteria along environmental, social and economic lines. Greenpeace UK’s argument was chiefly that the British Government was failing to take into account any environmental criteria, but it also demonstrated the lack of transparent and objective criteria whatsoever. This is because the Producer Organisations (POs) which the UK Government has decided to delegate quota management powers to fail to publish their criteria. The Government contested this in court and the Judge upheld their view that the current system was adequate.

However, on Tuesday this week (30 May), the European Court of Auditors published their first review of the CFP in 10 years and found, amongst other things, that the member states it reviewed (which included the Scottish fleet) that had delegated quota management to POs had no way of knowing the real beneficiaries of fishing quotas and therefore no way of claiming that quota was being allocated along environmental, social or economic criteria. This upholds Greenpeace UK’s original view that any claim of transparent or objective criteria in the allocation of quota was deliberately deceptive, as producer organisations in the UK do not publish their criteria.

A Greenpeace investigation in May 2016 revealed the impact of such a lack of transparency, when it found that just three companies control 61% of all fishing quota in England – and one 5 metre dinghy controls more than 1500 tonnes of quota per year. The investigation has now been nominated for the prestigious Paul Foot Award 2017.

Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, said:

‘All major parties competing in this election should be committed to a fair and sustainable fisheries policy that benefits local fishing communities and the environment. Indeed, all major parties have made such claims in successive manifestos. The incoming Government must take immediate action following the election to ensure producer organisations are compliant with the law and publish the criteria they are using to manage quota.

‘Fishermen across the country campaigned for Brexit on the promise of a fairer fishing industry. Leaving the EU provides the incoming Government with the single greatest opportunity to transform the way fisheries are managed, for the benefit of fishing communities, and to become a world leader in sustainability. This must begin with an overhaul of the way fishing quota is managed. Companies that aren’t providing employment in historic fishing communities, or fishing in a responsible way by using more selective gear, should either change their ways or have their right to fish taken away and given to those who have been fishing sustainably and feeding their local community for generations.’


Notes to editors

European Court of Auditors report:

Special Report No 08/2017 – EU fisheries controls: more efforts needed:

VI The Member States we visited managed well the uptake of the fishing quotas allocated to them. However, when Member State authorities allowed producer organisations to manage quota distribution, they did not always know which criteria were used to distribute the quotas to each of the beneficiaries. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for Member States to know the actual beneficiaries of fishing opportunities and therefore to assess any potential adverse impact on the environment and local economies, and take the necessary corrective measures where appropriate. (pg. 8)

Greenpeace investigation into unequal distribution of fishing quota (May 2016):

Key excerpts from documents from R (Greenpeace Ltd) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [2016] EWHC 55 (Admin)

Skeleton Argument of the Secretary of State:


59. The Claimant’s third argument is that the UK’s allocation criteria are not “transparent and objective” because (a) they involve quota being distributed through POs and (b) there are management arrangements in place (C’s Skeleton ¶¶56, 65). Neither of these points has merit.

60. The allocation of fishing opportunities in the UK is transparent and objective. It is contained, as set out above, in a large and detailed volume of documentation comprising the Concordat, rules (e.g. the UKQMR, the EngQMR and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish equivalents of the EngQMR), licence conditions, schemes (e.g. the CQMS) and policies which are indeed “…set out in advance and openly available” (C’s Detailed Grounds ¶43). The Claimant cannot simply dismiss these important instruments and statements of policy as “peripheral documents and schemes” (C’s Detailed Grounds ¶75). They together form, on the contrary, the very scheme which the Claimant is seeking to challenge.

61. The role of the POs is indeed specifically provided for in EU law (Gooding 1 ¶¶34-36); and the details of the management arrangements are set out in a large body of licence conditions, rules, schemes and policies referred to in the evidence. The relevant provisions are in each case objective and transparent.

Final ruling, Mrs Justice Andrews:

73.   Mr Segan pointed out that Recital 29 to the 2013 Regulation specifically states that Member States should “consider facilitating the pooling by vessel owners of individual quotas, for example at the level of producer organisations or groups of vessel owners”, which meant that Ms Smith’s suggestion at one point that the use of POs to distribute quota is objectionable on grounds that it lacks transparency cannot be correct. The same Recital stresses the importance for Member States to distribute quotas between vessels in a mix that reflects as far as possible the expected composition of species in the fisheries – this, he submitted, the UK system plainly did. Recital 33 simply reflects the language of Article 17.

92.  In England, the criteria are transparent and certain; there is a large volume of detailed rules, licence conditions, schemes and policies, including the Concordat and the Quota Management Regulations (for the UK and England) which are published and openly available and which have been notified to the Commission. There is ample evidence that they include environmental criteria as required by Article 17, and that far from paying them lip service, they are afforded proper weight in the allocation process.

For further information, comment and interviews, contact:

Luke Massey, Press & Communications Officer at Greenpeace UK,, +44 (0)7973873155