Data extracted in November 2019.
Planned article update: January 2021.
This article is part of a set that is taken from Eurostat’s publication Agriculture, forestry and fishery statistics - 2019 edition. It gives an overview of recent statistics relating to fishing fleets , fish catches , fish landings and aquaculture production in the European Union (EU) .
Fish are a renewable and mobile natural resource. Aside from aquaculture farming, fish are generally not owned until they have been caught. As such, fish stocks continue to be regarded as a common resource which needs to be managed collectively. This has led to a range of policies that regulate the amount of fishing at the EU level and more widely at sea basin level, as well as the types of fishing techniques and gear that can be used in fish capture.
The factors of production
The EU’s fishing industry is managed. There is regulation on the amount of fishing at EU level and at sea basin level under the common fisheries policy. To better monitor and advise on this policy, there is interest in understanding the factors of production and how they are changing over time. These factors include the seas, fishing fleets and the labour force working in the fishing industry.
Seas and catch limits
EU Statistical Regulations on catching fish cover seven marine areas ; these are the north-east Atlantic; north-west Atlantic; Mediterranean and Black Sea; eastern-central Atlantic: southeast Atlantic; south-west Atlantic; and, western Indian Ocean, within each of which are a number of seas. For example, within the north-east Atlantic region are, inter alia, the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, Iceland and Faroes Grounds, Rockall, West of Scotland, Irish Sea, Bay of Biscay, Portuguese Waters, Azores Grounds and East Greenland.
As a general rule, fishing vessels registered in the EU fishing fleet register have equal access to all the EU waters and resources that are managed under the CFP. Access to fisheries is normally authorised through a fishing license. The seas resources for most commercial fish species are, however, limited through total allowable catches (TACs) that are set annually for various sea regions based on the scientific advice provided by advisory bodies like the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) . For 2018, the European Council agreed to increase or maintain the previous year’s catch limits for 53 stocks and reduce them for 25 stocks.
Proximity of ports to sea often determines the focus of fishing activities. For example, many Member States, including the larger fishing industry Member States of the United Kingdom and Denmark, focus on the north-east Atlantic. One exception is Spain, for whom fishing activities are spread out across the different regions of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean for which EU data are collected as well as other seas around the world. This spread of fishing grounds reflects the search for fish that have coldwater, coolwater or warmwater requirements.
The EU fishing fleet is getting smaller in number, capacity and power
Reducing the fleet capacity is an essential tool for achieving a sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The EU fishing fleet has declined steadily since the early 1990's, in terms of both tonnage (an indicator of fish-holding capacity) and engine power (an indicator of the power available for fishing gear).
The EU fishing fleet continues to shrink. The number of active vessels registered in 2018 was 81 860, which had a combined capacity of 1.5 million gross tonnes and a total engine power of 6.2 million kilowatts. Compared to 2008, the number of vessels was down -4.2 %, the overall gross tonnage was down -17.2 % and engine power was down -9.9 %.
The EU fishing fleet is diverse; Spain has the highest gross tonnage, France most power and Greece most vessels
The EU fleet is very diverse, with the vast majority of boats being no more than 10 metres long, and a small number of vessels exceeding 40 metres in length. The average size of an EU fishing boat in 2018 was 19 gross tonnes and the average engine power was 75.1 kw.
When measured by gross tonnage, Spain had by far the largest fishing fleet among Member States (21.4 % of the EU total). The fleets of the United Kingdom and France, the next largest, were almost half the size of that in Spain (see Figure 1). When measured by engine power, however, the largest fleet was that in France (15.7 % of the EU total), followed by Italy (15.1 %) and Spain (12.7 %).
When measured by the number of vessels, the largest fleet in the EU was in Greece (18.2 % of all vessels), followed by Italy (14.7 %) and Spain (11.0 %). Greek vessels were small on average, however, with an average size of 4.8 gross tonnes, and an average engine power of 28.6 kilowatts in 2018.
By way of comparison, the overall holding capacity of the Norwegian fishing fleet was the largest in Europe (0.4 million tonnes in 2018). It was also considerably more powerful than that of any EU Member State. In the case of Iceland, despite having a much smaller fleet (1 600 vessels in 2018) than France and Italy, the overall holding capacity (gross tonnage) was very similar.
The fisheries industry provided jobs in the EU for about 179 600 people in 2017
A provisional 179 600 people were employed in the EU’s primary fisheries industry in 2017, of which about one third were employed in the aquaculture sub-sector. About 41 000 people in Spain worked in the fishing industry in 2017, with a further 29 000 people in Italy, 21 000 people in Greece and 20 000 people in France.
Although Italy, Greece and Portugal only produced about a combined one tenth (11.0 %) of EU fisheries production in 2017, they accounted for just over one-third (35.9 %) of employment (see Figure 2). In contrast, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom accounted for much higher shares of EU fisheries production than shares of employment in the fisheries industry. These contrasts highlight the differences between the fishing industries of some countries with a relatively large number of small vessels and others with a relatively small number of large vessels.
Fisheries production: catches and aquaculture
The monitoring of catches and aquaculture production is an essential tool for securing fish stocks and sustaining the common resources available in Europe’s large and rich fishing area.
EU production of fishery products from catches and aquaculture estimated at 6.7 million tonnes in 2017
The EU's  total production of fishery products in 2017 was estimated to be about 6.7 million tonnes of live weight equivalent (the mass or weight when removed from water).
Total production in 2017 was up sharply (+5.9 %) on the level in 2016 and an overall 0.9 million tonnes more than the relative low in 2012. Nevertheless, total production of fishery products in 2017 remained much lower (-15.2 %) than the corresponding level in 2000 (see Figure 3). The downward trend to 2012 and subsequent upturn to 2017 reflect parallel trends for catches, which account for four-fifths of total fisheries production, as the production of farmed aquatic organisms remained relatively stable.
A majority (57.1 %) of all EU fisheries production from catches and aquaculture came from just four Member States in 2017; these were Spain (18.2 %), the United Kingdom (14.1 %), Denmark (14.0 %) and France (10.7 %). The overall rise in EU production in 2017, principally reflected a bounce-back in production in Denmark (up +33.2 %) and strong growth in Spain (+6.1 %) and the United Kingdom (+5.7 %). In contrast, the volatile production levels in Lithuania, as a result of the variable catch in the eastern-central Atlantic, were once again highlighted with a fall of one third (-31.2 %) between 2016 and 2017.
By way of comparison, it is interesting to note that total fisheries production in Norway (3.5 million tonnes of live weight in 2017) was about one-half of that of the EU as a whole. Total production in Iceland (1.2 million tonnes in 2017) was almost as big as in Spain, the EU's biggest fisheries producer.
EU catches in 2018 estimated at 5.3 million tonnes of live weight
Fish catches cover fish, molluscs, crustaceans and other aquatic animals, residues and aquatic plants that are taken for all purposes, by all types and class of vessel, gear and fishermen, operated in all the seven marine areas legally covered by EU Statistical Regulations. They cover catches in high-sea fishing areas, offshore, inshore or brackish water areas. The production from aquaculture and catches in fresh water is excluded. Although figures for the total production of fishery products are only available for 2017, statistics on catches are available for 2018.
The total EU catch in 2018 was an estimated 5.3 million tonnes live weight, a similar level to that in 2017. However, it remained much lower than that at the turn of the Millennium (1.3 million tonnes less than the catch in 2001), although 0.9 million tonnes higher than the low point in 2012.
Although total catches in 2018 and 2017 were similar at the level of the EU, there were contrasts among Member States; among others, there were higher catch levels in France (a provisional +11.0 %), the Netherlands (+13.9 %) and Germany (+13.9 %) but lower levels in the United Kingdom (-3.6 %) and Denmark (an estimated -12.7 %).
The fishing fleets of Spain (0.9 million tonnes of live weight in 2017), Denmark (0.8 million tonnes in 2018), the United Kingdom (0.7 million tonnes), France (0.6 million tonnes) and the Netherlands (0.4 million tonnes) caught about two thirds of all aquatic organisms in the EU in 2018 (see Figure 4). Spain and Portugal were the only Member States that took catches in all of the seven fishing areas covered by the EU catch statistics.
The vast majority of the EU catch is made in the north-east Atlantic
Although the European fishing fleet operates worldwide, three-quarters of all EU catches were taken in the north-east Atlantic (see Figure 5 and Map 1 for an overview of fishing areas). The key species caught in north-east Atlantic were Atlantic herring (21.8 % of the live weight caught in this region), Atlantic mackerel (12.5 %), European sprat (11.2 %) and Blue whiting (10.7 %).
About one fifth of the total live-weight catch in the north-east Atlantic made by the EU fishing fleet was by Denmark, which was followed closely by United Kingdom and then the fleets of France and the Netherlands which both accounted for a further one tenth of the EU total.
In the Mediterranean and Black Sea about one fifth of the total live-weight caught by the EU fishing fleet was sardines (22.5 %), with another one fifth being anchovies. Two-fifths of the total EU catch in this region was by Italy, with Spain (18.7 %, based on 2017 data), Greece (16.6 %) and Croatia (15.1 %) accounting for the vast majority of the rest.
In the eastern-central Atlantic, the main catches were skipjack and yellowfin tuna, sardines and mackerel. Two fifths of the total live-weight caught by the EU fishing fleet in this region was by Spain (2017 data), the other main player in this region being Latvia.
In the western Indian Ocean, the main catch was tuna, whether skipjack, yellowfin or bigeye. A little less than two thirds of the EU total was caught by Spain (2017 data) and one third by the fishing fleet of France.
To complete the overview of species by region, the main species caught in the south-west Atlantic were hake, other groundfish and squid, in the south-east Atlantic they were mackerel and skipjack tuna, and in the north-west Atlantic they were redfish, halibut and cod.
Aquaculture: 1.4 million tonnes of aquatic organisms produced in EU in 2017, worth EUR 5.1 billion
Aquaculture is the production of fish and other aquatic organisms like molluscs and crustaceans under controlled conditions; it is an alternative to catching wild fish and takes place both inland and in marine areas. Aquaculture is a key component of both the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the Blue Growth  Agenda to support sustainable growth in the sector.
The EU produced an estimated 1.4 million tonnes of aquatic organisms in 2017, corresponding to one fifth of the output of European fisheries as a whole. In terms of output, the EU's aquaculture sector was the eighth largest worldwide, with a 1.6 % share of the volume of global output in 2016 . The value of the EU's aquaculture production was an estimated EUR 5.1 billion in 2017, about two fifths of the total value of the EU’s total production of fishery products.
Five Member States produced about three-quarters of the EU's aquaculture output volume and value
Five Member States were responsible for about three-quarters of the EU's total output of aquatic organisms in 2017 (see Figure 6); Spain provided just over one fifth of the total (23.0 %), followed by the United Kingdom (16.3 %), France (13.8 %), Italy (11.4 %) and Greece (9.2 %).
The different aquatic organisms fetch different prices. For instance, average first sale prices for salmon and seabass are around 6 EUR/Kg, gilthead seabream around 5 EUR/Kg, while average prices for mussels are below 1 EUR/Kg. Among Member States, the United Kingdom had the highest value of aquaculture output in 2017 (an estimated EUR 1.3 billion), representing one quarter of the EU total. The value of output was next highest in France (an estimated EUR 764 million, or 15 % of the EU total), and then in Spain (EUR 578 million, 11 %), Greece (a provisional EUR 546 million, 11 %) and Italy (EUR 543 million, 11 %).
To put the EU's aquaculture industry in some perspective, the value of aquaculture output in Norway exceeded that of the whole of the EU; Norway produced 1.3 million tonnes of aquatic organisms (almost exclusively salmon), worth EUR 7 billion in 2017. Norway was the world’s seventh largest producer in farmed fisheries in 2016, with a 1.7 % global share. It was also the world's second largest exporter of aquatic organisms, after China.
All fisheries production in the EU’s landlocked countries (Czechia, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia) comes from aquaculture (Luxembourg not collecting such data). In the other Member States it ranges from 93.3 % of total fisheries production in Slovenia to less than 1 % in Belgium and Latvia. In general, aquaculture plays a major role in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, where sea-fishing is generally carried out using small-scale vessels with an average capacity lower than the EU average. This helps explain why aquaculture activity plays a relatively large role in the respective fisheries industries of Malta (87.6 % of total fisheries production), Cyprus (80.7 %), Greece (about two-thirds), Romania (57.3 %), Bulgaria (53.5 %) and Italy (44.9 %).
EU aquaculture production focussed on finfish species and molluscs
Finfish (particularly, salmon, trout, seabass, carp and tuna) and molluscs (particularly, mussels, oysters and clams) together accounted for almost all of aquaculture production by weight in the EU in 2017 (see Figure 7). The aquafarming production of Atlantic salmon in the EU was the most valuable commercial species in 2017, accounting for about one quarter of the value of total aquaculture output. The value of trout output was the next highest, about one eighth of the total value, followed European seabass, seabream and oysters (about 10 % each).
A high degree of country specialisation within EU
Within the EU, the aquaculture sector is highly specialised at country level. The United Kingdom was responsible for just over 90 % of farmed salmon in the EU in 2017. At world level, Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) was the 9th most produced finfish species and the EU contributed 8.1 % to global production in 2016. Spain produced seven in every ten tonnes of farmed Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis), largely due to its rafts in the estuaries of Northern Spain using the 'off bottom' method. Blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) were farmed in the North East Atlantic by France (about 36 % of the EU total in 2017) the Netherlands (about 35 %), and Ireland (an estimated 13 %). Both 'off bottom' (preferred in Ireland) and 'on-bottom' methods (preferred in the Netherlands) were used.
Greece produced a little over one half of the EU's production of gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) and European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) in 2017. Czechia and Poland were the leading EU producers of common carp (Cyprinus carpio), each producing about one quarter of the EU total. At world level, common carp was the third most farmed finfish species.
Within the EU, pacific cupped oysters (Crassostrea gigas) were produced mainly in France (about 88 % in 2017). Worldwide, one-third of all molluscs produced in 2016 were cupped oysters. The Japanese carpet shell (Ruditapes philippinarum) was mostly farmed in Italy (94.8 % of the EU total in 2017). At world level it was the second most produced species among the molluscs.
Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) was farmed in cages in only three Member States: Malta farmed almost two-thirds (64.3 %) of EU production, the rest being produced in Spain and Croatia. While Malta and Croatia farmed Atlantic tuna in the Mediterranean Sea only, Spain also farmed a small proportion in the North East Atlantic.
The production of farmed rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykis) in the EU is something of an exception to the general observation about country specialisation; rainbow trout were farmed in 24 EU countries. One half of the live-weight of rainbow trout produced in the EU in 2017 came from the combined output of France (18.5 %), Italy (18.2 %) and Denmark (16.2 %). Fish were farmed either in inland freshwater (about four-fifths of the total) or in the saltwater of the north-east Atlantic, and mainly in tanks (about 60 %).
Steady level of EU aquaculture production volume but rising value
Between 2008 and 2017, the volume of EU aquaculture production remained relatively stable (see Figure 8). Nevertheless, the value of this output increased relatively steadily and was an estimated one-sixth higher in 2017 than the value in 2016.
During a similar period, there was a sharp increase in both the volume and value of Norwegian aquaculture production. Nevertheless, due to a sea lice issue with salmon, aquaculture production volume in Norway declined in 2017 (-1.3 %). However, resulting higher prices in 2017 increased the value of aquaculture production (+1.1 %).
Eurostat’s landings statistics relate to fishery products (product weight and value) landed by EU/EAA vessels on EU/EAA territory. Landings from non EU/EAA vessels or landings outside the EU/EAA territory are excluded. Landlocked EU countries without a marine fishing fleet are not included.
About 4.8 million tonnes (product weight) landed in EU in 2018
A mixture of confidential and, as yet, unavailable figures for 2018 concerning some of the key fishing Member States means that the estimates for the EU could be subject to considerable revision. It is for this reason that EU figures are presented in broad terms. Nevertheless, they give a clear indication of the size of the industry and its importance in some Member States.
The amount of fish landed in the EU in 2018 is estimated at about 4.8 million tonnes product weight. This would represent a rebound from the relative low in 2012 but remain about 350 000 tonnes less than the relative peak recorded in 2007.
Denmark accounted for about one fifth (0.9 million tonnes in 2016) of the EU landings, Spain another one fifth (0.9 million tonnes in 2017) and the Netherlands about one tenth (an estimated 0.5 million tonnes in 2018).
Among the key fishing Member States for which 2018 data are available, the quantity of landings was higher in the Netherlands (an estimated +7.2 % or 36 700 tonnes), France (a provisional +9.6 % or 29 200 tonnes), Poland (+11.0 % or 12 500 tonnes) and Italy (a provisional +4.8 % or 9 300 tonnes). The number of Member States that recorded reduced landings in 2018 was limited, the largest being the reduction of 15 800 tonnes in Finland. By way of comparison, landings to ports in Iceland were higher (up +6.4 % or 75 700 tonnes) at 1.3 million tonnes but lower in Norway (-2.3 % or 45 750 tonnes) at 1.9 million tonnes in 2018.
Quantity of landings in EU higher in 2018 and value up to about EUR 7.8 billion
The estimated rise in the quantity of total fishery products landed in the EU in 2018 looks to have been accompanied by a rise in the value of landings to an estimated total of EUR 7.8 billion (see Figure 9). Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that this figure includes unchanged data for Spain that relate to 2017 and a number of other estimates or provisional data.
Among Member States for which 2018 are available, the value of the fish landed in Italy remained unchanged at a provisional EUR 1.0 billion. In contrast, the value of landings in France increased sharply (a provisional +7.3 % to EUR 0.9 billion), almost in line with the rate of increase in the quantity landed. It is important to note that the value of landings in Spain were a little more than double that of Italy in 2017 at EUR 2.2 billion. This reflects the high value attached to its landings of species like tuna, hake, swordfish, squid and pilchards.
Source data for tables and graphs
Fisheries statistics are collected by Eurostat from official national sources for the EU Member States and members of the European Economic Area (EEA). The statistics are collected using internationally agreed concepts and definitions developed by the Coordinating Working Party (CWP), comprising Eurostat and several other international organisations with responsibilities in fisheries statistics.
The European fisheries production statistics include production from catches and aquaculture. Catches refer to fishery products taken for all purposes (commercial, industrial, recreational and subsistence) by all types and classes of fishing units (including fishermen, vessels, gear, etc.). The flag of the fishing vessel is used as the primary indication of the nationality of the catch. In addition to catches, Eurostat also collects statistics on landings which relate to all fishery products (expressed as product weight) landed in the reporting country, regardless of the nationality of the vessel making the landings. Landings by vessels of the reporting country in non-EU ports and imported into the EU are to be included as well. Aquaculture production refers to the farming of aquatic (freshwater or saltwater) organisms, under controlled conditions. Aquaculture implies some form of intervention in the natural rearing process such as regular stocking, feeding and protection from predators. Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated.
Catch statistics are submitted to Eurostat by EEA member countries in compliance with the following EU legislation:
- Regulation (EC) No 218/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on the submission of nominal catch statistics by Member States fishing in the North East Atlantic (OJ L87 of 31.03.2009);
- Regulation (EC) No 217/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on the submission of catch and activity statistics by Member States fishing in the North-West Atlantic (OJ L87 of 31.03.2009);
- Regulation (EC) No 216/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on the submission of nominal catch statistics by Member States fishing in certain areas other than those of the North Atlantic (OJ L87 of 31.03.2009, p.1).
The statistics are reported as the live weight equivalent of the landings (in other words, the landed weight of a product to which an appropriate conversion factor has been applied). Therefore excluded are quantities of fishery products which are caught but not landed. For the landings statistics, each country reports annual data on the quantities and values of fishery products landed in its ports under the terms of Regulation (EC) No 1921/2006 of 18 December 2006 on the submission of statistical data on landings of fishery products in EU Member States and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 1382/91 (OJ L403 of 30 December 2006). For aquaculture statistics, the national authorities submit aquaculture production statistics to Eurostat under the terms of Regulation (EC) No 762/2008 of 9 July 2008 on the submission by Member States of statistics on aquaculture and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 788/96 (OJ L218 of 13.08.2008).
Concerning the fishing fleet, statistics for the EU Member States are derived from the Community Fishing Fleet Register maintained by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Statistics for Iceland and Norway are compiled from fleet files submitted by the national authorities.
In order to improve readability, only the most significant meta-information has been included under the tables and figures. The following symbols are used, where necessary:
- Italic data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is likely to change
- ‘:’ not available or confidential
- ‘-’ not applicable
The current common fisheries policy (CFP) of the EU  aims at an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable use of the common resource including aquaculture production. The CFP is a set of rules for managing EU fishing fleets and for conserving fish stocks. Designed to manage a common resource, it gives all EU fishing fleets equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds and allows fishermen to compete fairly. The current policy stipulates that between 2015 and 2020 catch limits should be set that are sustainable and maintain fish stocks in the long term. Based on EU legislation, Eurostat produces statistics on catches and landings of fisheries products, aquaculture and the EU fishing fleet.
- Catches in all fishing regions (tag00076)
- Catches in the north-west Atlantic (tag00079)
- Catches in the north-east Atlantic (tag00078)
- Catches in the eastern central Atlantic (tag00080)
- Catches in the Mediterranean (tag00081)
- Aquaculture production, Total (tag00075)
- Fishing fleet, Total engine power (tsdnr420)
- Fishing fleet, Total tonnage (tag00083)
- Fishing Fleet, Number of Vessels (tag00116)
- Total fishery production (catch + aquaculture) (fish_pr)
- Catches by fishing area (fish_ca)
- Aquaculture production (fish_aq)
- Landings of fishery products (fish_ld)
- Fishing fleet (fish_fleet)
- Agriculture, forestry and fishery statistics — 2019 edition (Statistical book)
- Fishery statistics — Data 1995–2008 (Pocketbook)
- Statistical data on the landings of fishery products in Member States and European Economic Area countries for 2008 — Data in focus 16/2010
- The EU-27 fishing fleet continued to decline in 2008 — Data 2005–2008 — Statistics in focus 49/2009
- Catch statistics:
Regulation (EC) No 216/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on the submission of nominal catch statistics by Member States fishing in certain areas other than those of the North Atlantic (Summary)
Regulation (EC) No 217/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on the submission of catch and activity statistics by Member States fishing in the North-West Atlantic (Summary)
Regulation (EC) No 218/2009 of 11 March 2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the submission of nominal catch statistics by Member States fishing in the North-East Atlantic (Summary)
Regulation (EC) No 762/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 July 2008 on the submission by Member States of statistics on aquaculture and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 788/96 (Summary)
Regulation (EC) No 1921/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on the submission of data on the landings of fishery products in Member States (Summary)
- Fishing fleet:
Commission Regulation (EC) No 26/2004 of 30 December 2003 on the Community fishing fleet register
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) major areas 21, 27, 34, 37, 41, 47, 51 (see Map 1)
- For further information see the European Commission’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) website.
- Catches and landings figures for the EU exclude the EU's landlocked countries (Czechia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia). Luxembourg does not collect aquaculture statistics.
- For more information see the Maritime Affairs of the European Commission.
- The state of world fisheries and aquaculture, 2018 – FAO at http://www.fao.org/3/I9540EN/i9540en.pdf (p27), where it is noted that China dominates world aquaculture production (61.5 % of the total in 2016).