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European fisheries in crisis




© Corey Arnold & OCEAN2012

Since its start in 1983, the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has failed to prevent overfishing. Over 25 years, short-term economic interest and political expediency has landed European fisheries in deep crisis.


Fewer and smaller fish are being caught and greater effort is required to find them, often resulting in the targeting of other, and sometimes even more vulnerable species.


The failure of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy


Currently, about 50 percent of the assessed stocks in the Atlantic and nearby seas  is overfished; rising to 80 percent in the Mediterranean, and affecting five out of seven fish stocks in the Baltic. 


The CFP has failed to achieve its central objective:  the sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources. It has failed to adequately meet the challenges of:


  • Overcapacity: It is estimated that some fleet segments in the EU are two to three times the size required to catch the available fishing quotas - we can fish more fish than there are fish. Newer boats with better and better technology are exhausting the stocks we have.
  • Catch limits: Overcapacity creates political pressure to set higher and higher fishing quotas to keep all the boats working. In the last years, the catch limits agreed were on average 46 percent  higher than scientific advice. In 2007, the quota for one population of Scottish haddock was set at eight times the recommended level.
  • Harmful subsidies: The EU continues to provide subsidies to modernise fleets rather than focussing on mitigating overcapacity or investing in technologies that could support more sustainable fisheries. Furthermore, exemption from fuel tax, the cost of national administration, fisheries research and control measures could also be considered a subsidy to the fishing sector. “In several member states, it has been estimated that the cost of fishing to the public budgets exceeds the total value of the catches.”  This means we are paying for our fish twice, through subsidies and at the counter.

Currently, about 50 percent of the assessed stocks in the Atlantic and nearby seas  is overfished; rising to 80 percent in the Mediterranean, and affecting five out of seven fish stocks in the Baltic.

European Commission

The reach of the CFP's failure is global. The EU has enormous influence on international fisheries management and with it considerable responsibility. Its fleet is the third largest and operates in every ocean of the world. It is the largest importer of fisheries products, importing almost 70 percent of its fish.

The EU could be championing sustainable practice at home and abroad. Instead, the level of imports and fishing activities outside EU waters mean that the effects of overfishing are being exported, frequently to distant coastal communities which rely on fish for food and income.


The political opportunity - the CFP reform

A CFP reform now provides an opportunity to make European fisheries economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. There is a need to finally end overfishing and destructive fishing practices, delivering fair and equitable use of resources for future generations.


Through other legislation, EU member states are already calling for this, for example the EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSD) aims to achieve Good Environmental Status in Europe's seas:

  • ensuring populations of fish and shellfish are within safe biological limits;
  • ensuring all elements of marine food webs … occur at … levels capable of ensuring the long-term abundance of the species and the retention of their full reproductive capacity.

A radical reform of the CFP and its implementation is necessary to achieve these targets.

OCEAN2012's vision for a radical reform