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European fisheries in crisis



© Corey Arnold & OCEAN2012

Europe’s fishing grounds were once among the most productive in the world, but since its start in 1983, the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, failed to prevent overfishing. Forty years of the CFP resulted in serious depletion of fish populations, ecosystem degradation and damage to species, habitats and sites protected by EU environmental legislation. Fishing had become unsustainable, increasingly unprofitable and reliant on harmful public subsidies. This in turn led to deprivation in coastal communities and an ever growing reliance on imported fish.


In 2009, according to European Commission figures, about 50 percent of the assessed stocks in the Atlantic and nearby seas were overfished; rising to 80 percent in the Mediterranean, and affecting five out of seven fish stocks in the Baltic. Europe’s fishing fleets were far too large and the fishing quotas way too high. Former EU policies primarily benefited more destructive, indiscriminate, and fuel-intensive fishing fleets, at the expense of more environmentally sustainable fishing methods. Over 25 years, short-term economic interest and political expediency had landed European fisheries in deep crisis.



The reach of the CFP's failure was 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 also the largest importer of fisheries products, importing almost 70 percent of its fish.


How overfishing impacts EU citizens. The scarcity of once common fish featuring in many popular and seasonal recipes pushed up prices beyond people’s reach. See all our briefings illustrating the impacts of overfishing on people or marine ecosystems caused by the excess removal of millions of tonnes of marine life every year.



The political opportunity: the CFP reform


Launched in 2009 by the publication of the European Commission’s green paper, the CFP reform provided an opportunity to make European fisheries economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. There was a need to finally end overfishing and destructive fishing practices, delivering fair and equitable use of resources for future generations.


The proposal was to revise the EU’s core legislation for fisheries management, including measures on the EU’s domestic and external fisheries policy, common market rules and a new financial instrument.


OCEAN2012 stood for a CFP reform that:


  •        recovered the well‐being of our seas and dependent fishing communities;
  •        ended overfishing and makes the shift towards environmentally sustainable fishing practices, regardless of whether vessels fish within or outside the EU;
  •        respected scientific advice and the limits of the ecosystem;
  •        applied precautionary and ecosystem‐based fisheries management;
  •        delivered fair and equitable use of marine resources; 
  •        could supply Europe’s consumers with a rich variety of locally‐caught fish now and into the future; and
  •        used public funds as part of the solution and not as a driver of overfishing.




For the first time, the European Parliament had co-decision in fisheries policy. OCEAN2012 looked to Members of the European Parliament and EU fisheries ministers to support a new CFP which would achieve healthy fish stocks above levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and contribute to achieving good environmental status for EU waters under the 2008 Marine Strategy Framework Directive.