This section describes the fisheries and aquaculture sector in figures. It is based mainly on data compiled by Eurostat, the European Union Statistics Office, but also on figures collected by the European Commission and the FAO.
At the time the data referred to in this publication were collected the United Kingdom was still an EU Member State.
Source: Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), Monitoring the Performance of the Common Fisheries Policy (STECF-Adhoc-19-01), Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-76-02913-7, doi:10.2760/22641, JRC116446.
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In order to achieve the objective of progressively restoring and maintaining populations of fish stocks above biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield (MSY), the European Union has agreed that the MSY exploitation rate shall be achieved for all stocks by 2020 at the latest.
In the North-East Atlantic and adjacent waters (North Sea, English Channel, Baltic Sea, Skagerrak, Kattegat, west of Scotland, west of Ireland, Irish Sea, Celtic Sea, Bay of Biscay, Iberian Atlantic waters), EU fisheries ministers set overall catch limits based on scientific advice.
These total allowable catches are then divided into national quotas, which set limits on the amount of fish that can be landed.
The chart shows the number of stocks that were fished according to the MSY objective (in green) and the number of stocks that were overfished compared to that objective (in red).
In the Mediterranean Sea, scientists assessed 40 stocks in 2017, of which only five were assessed as being above MSY (1). In the Black Sea, six out of eight assessed stocks remain overfished.
(1) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the state of play of the common fisheries policy and consultation on the fishing opportunities for 2020 (COM(2019) 274 final).
Regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) are international bodies formed by non-EU countries and international organisations (i.e. the EU) with fishing interests in the same region or in the same (group of) species. Within these bodies, non-EU countries and the EU collectively set forth science-based binding measures such as catch and fishing-effort limits, technical measures and control obligations to ensure conservation, along with ensuring the fair and sustainable management of shared marine resources.
Today, the majority of the world’s seas are covered by RFMOs. They can broadly be divided into RFMOs that manage only highly migratory fish stocks, mainly tuna, and RFMOs that manage other fish stocks (i.e. pelagic or demersal). The collective efforts and work of RFMOs mean that stocks have improved significantly over the past few years. Under the external policy of the common fisheries policy (CFP), one of the main objectives of the EU is to contribute to sustainable fishing and support scientific knowledge in RFMOs.
RFMOs are open both to the coastal states of a region and to countries that fish or have other fisheries-related interests in that region. Represented by the European Commission, the EU plays an active role in five tuna RFMOs, 12 non-tuna RFMOs, regional fisheries bodies that have a purely advisory role and other organisations. This makes the EU the most prominent actor in RFMOs and fisheries bodies worldwide.
A transparent, coherent and mutually beneficial tool that enhances fisheries governance for sustainable exploitation, fish supply and the development of the fisheries sector with partner countries.
The sustainable fisheries partnership agreements that the European Union signs with non-EU countries provide specific EU funds to the partner country in exchange for fishing activities on the part of EU vessels. They allow EU vessels to fish in a partner country’s exclusive economic zone. Tuna agreements allow EU vessels to target and catch highly migratory fish stocks; mixed agreements give them access to a wide range of fish stocks, especially groundfish species (mainly shrimps and cephalopods) and pelagic species.
An important part of the financial contribution – sector support – addresses the development of the fisheries, maritime and marine sectors. Partnership agreements are a win–win instrument for the EU and for the partner countries.
To ensure sustainable fishing, EU vessels are only allowed to target surplus resources that the partner country is not willing to fish or not capable of fishing. In exchange, the EU pays a fee for the right to access the partner country’s exclusive economic zone, and provides sectoral support tailored to the partner country’s needs. This support aims to reinforce fisheries governance, strengthen administrative and scientific capacities, foster monitoring and control activities, and support small-scale fisheries, thereby leading to improved sustainability. In addition, EU vessel operators pay a licence fee for access. The burden of payment is shared between the EU and the industry.
Today, sustainable fisheries partnership agreements set the standard for international fishing policy. They are all centred on resource conservation and environmental sustainability, with EU vessels subject to strict supervision and transparency rules. All protocols contain a clause concerning the respect for human rights in the partner country.
The agreements are negotiated and concluded between the Commission, on behalf of the EU, and the partner country. Transparency and accountability are the driving principles of the negotiation process; the texts of the agreements are public and open to the scrutiny of other public institutions and civil society.
The EU has had fisheries agreements with Norway and the Faroes since the late 1970s, and with Iceland since the early 1990s.
The agreement with Norway covers the joint management of shared fish stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak areas, notably through total allowable catches and quotas, within the framework of longterm management strategies that ensure sustainable fisheries. It also includes an annual exchange of fishing possibilities, guaranteeing the continuation of traditional fishing patterns.
The agreements with the Faroes and Iceland are based solely on the annual exchange of fishing possibilities in each other’s waters, although no exchange of quotas has taken place with Iceland since the 2008 fishing season.
Illegal fishing is a major threat to global marine resources. It depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition, puts honest fishers at an unfair disadvantage and destroys the livelihoods of coastal communities, particularly in developing countries.
It is estimated that the value of illegally caught fish amounts to around EUR 10 billion each year, corresponding to almost 20 % of the value of the world’s catches.
As the world’s largest importer of fisheries products, the EU has adopted an innovative policy to fight against illegal fishing worldwide:
The EU regulation on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing entered into force on 1 January 2010. It relates to EU Member States and non-EU countries alike, applies to all vessels that commercially exploit fisheries resources destined for the EU market and covers all fishery products imported into the EU (with a few exemptions).
The catch certifications scheme under the IUU regulation has helped to improve the EU’s capacity to identify and deny permission for the import of fishery products from IUU sources. It allows Member States to better verify and, if appropriate, refuse imports into the EU. This is reinforced by a system for sharing intelligence, the annual publication of the EU IUU vessel list and CATCH, an IT system designed to support checks by Member States under the catch certification scheme.
Under the IUU regulation, the EU can enter into a structured process of dialogue and cooperation with those non-EU countries that have problems meeting international IUU rules, with the aim of helping them undertake the necessary reforms (see the illustration).
The IUU process explained
In this context, since 2010 the EU has entered into dialogue with over 60 non-EU countries. Thanks to this cooperation, more than 50 non‑EU countries have improved their systems and have committed to join the EU in fighting IUU fishing.
All EU fishing vessels are governed by a legal framework and a control system that apply anywhere they fish through the regulations on fisheries control, sustainable management of external fishing fleets and IUU.
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Download fleet statistics
Managing fleet capacity is an essential part of ensuring sustainable fishing, one of the main objectives of the common fisheries policy. The EU fishing fleet is very diverse, with vessels ranging from under 6 metres to over 75 metres. Under EU law the total capacity of the fishing fleet needs to remain below set ceilings. Any decommissioning of vessels or reduction in fleet capacity achieved with public financial support must be permanent.
NB: Length refers to total length.Source: EU fleet register. Situation as at December 2019.
Over the past several years the capacity of the EU fishing fleet has continued to decline in terms of both tonnage and engine power. The number of EU vessels in 2019 was 81 253, i.e. 5 505 fewer than in 2013. Nevertheless, the capacity of several fleet segments in the Member States is still not in balance with their fishing opportunities. The Member States concerned must adopt action plans to remedy this situation.
Healthier stocks contribute to a more sustainable industry. Overall, the EU fleet was profitable in 2019. This consolidates the gradual recovery in recent years, during which both gross profit and net profit margin of the fleet have shown an upward trend.
EU fishing fleet (2019)
Source: EU fleet register. Situation as at December 2019.
Source: EU fleet register.
Fishing plays a crucial role in employment and economic activity in several EU regions – in some European coastal communities the fishing sector accounts for as many as half the local jobs.
Employment in the fishing sector tends to be concentrated in a handful of countries. Spain alone accounts for a quarter of total employment, and the three countries with the highest levels of employment – Spain, Greece and Italy – make up around 65%.
Aquaculture employs roughly 75 000 people, including part-time and full-time jobs in both marine and freshwater aquaculture.
The processing industry consists of approximately 3 500 companies. The mainstay of EU production is canned products and ready meals consisting of fish, crustaceans and molluscs.
Employment in the fisheries, aquaculture and processing sectors (measured in full-time equivalents)
NB: Aquaculture figures include marine, shellfish and freshwater.(*) Eurostat data as Member States did not submit data for the data call.Sources:For fisheries: Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), The 2019 Annual Economic Report on the EU Fishing Fleet (STECF-19-06), Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-79-79390-5, doi:10.2760/56158), JRC112940.For aquaculture: Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), Economic Report of the EU Aquaculture Sector (STECF-18-19), Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2018, ISBN 978-92-79-79402-5, doi:10.2760/45076, JRC114801.For processing: Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), The EU Fish Processing Sector – Economic report (STECF-19-15), Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-76-14666-7, doi:10.2760/30373, JRC119498.
The EU is the fifth largest producer worldwide, accounting for about 3.3% of global fisheries and aquaculture production. 80% of this production comes from fisheries and 20% from aquaculture.
Spain, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and France and are the largest producers in terms of volume in the EU.
Main world producers (2017)(catches and aquaculture)(volume in 1000 tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
NB: FAO estimates for non-EU countries.Source: Eumofa, based on Eurostat and FAO.
The EU accounts for around 6% of total fisheries production worldwide, which is similar to previous years.
Although the EU fleet operates worldwide, catches are taken primarily in the North-East Atlantic. The most-fished species are Atlantic herring, Atlantic mackerel, sand eel and European sprat, which together account for almost 40% of EU catches.
The leading Member States in terms of fishing volume are Spain, Denmark, the United Kingdom and France, which combined account for over half of EU catches.
Total EU catches in fishing areas (2017)(volume in tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
Source: Eurostat for marine fishing and FAO for inland water catches. LV catches of pelagic species have been integrated using FAO data
Total catches of world’s main producers (2017)(volume in 1000 tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
Total catches per Member State (2017)(volume in tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
NB: Not relevant for LU.Sources: Eurostat for marine fishing and FAO for inland water catches. LV catches of pelagic species have been integrated using FAO data.
The 15 species caught by the European Union (2017)(volume in tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
Sources: Eurostat for marine fishing and FAO for inland water catches. LV catches of pelagic species have been integrated using FAO data
Main species caught per Member State (2017)(volume in tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
NB: NB: Not relevant for LU. Data by main species is not available for AT.Sources: Eurostat for marine fishing and FAO for inland water catches. LV catches of pelagic species have been integrated using FAO data.
Aquaculture is a significant activity in many Member States, producing around 1.3 million tonnes in volume and more than EUR 5 billion in value. Of total world aquaculture production, EU occupies a share of 1.23% in terms of volume and 2.29% in terms of value. Mediterranean mussels make up around a quarter of the total volume farmed in the EU, while Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout together represent just under a third of the total value.
The main aquaculture-producing Member States in terms of volume are Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Greece.
Total aquaculture production per Member State (2017)(value in thousand EUR, volume in tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
NB: Not relevant for LU.Sources: Eurostat and Eumofa.
Source: Eumofa, based on Eurostat, FAO national administrations and Federation of European Aquaculture Producers data.
Total aquaculture production by other major producers (2017)(value in thousand EUR, volume in tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
Source: Eumofa for EU and FAO for other countries.
Top 10 species in aquaculture in the European Union (2017)(value in thousand EUR and percentage of total)
Source: Eurostat and Eumofa.
Top 10 species in aquaculture in the European Union (2017) (volume in tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
Main species in aquaculture per Member State (2017)(value in thousand EUR and percentage of total, volume in tonnes live weight and percentage of total)
NB: Not relevant for LU.
Despite an increase in production costs, the fish processing industry in the EU is generally profitable. Overall turnover is over EUR 32 billion with Spain, France and the United Kingdom as the main contributors.
Turnover (2017)(million EUR)
(*) Eurostat data.(**) 2016 data.(***) 2015 data.NB: Not relevant for LU.Sources: Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), The EU Fish Processing Sector – Economic report (STECF-19-15), Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-76-14666-7, doi:10.2760/30373, JRC119498, and Eurostat where data no submitted by Member States.
Fishermen and fish farmers may join forces through producer organisations to make their production sustainable and to market their products efficiently. They do so by developing production and marketing plans. These organisations are key actors in fisheries and aquaculture. In 2019, there were 215 producer organisations across 19 Member States.
NB: In CZ, CY, LU, HU, MT, AT, SI, SK and FI there were no producer organisations.Source: Member States; data retrieved on 31 December 2019.
Advisory councils are stakeholders' organisations made up of representatives from the industry and from other interest groups (which respectively have 60% and 40% of the seats in the general assembly and the executive committee). Their purpose is to submit recommendations on issues related to fisheries and aquaculture to the Commission and the Member States. Advisory councils may also provide information for the development of conservation measures, while Member States are to consult them in the context of regionalisation.
As they pursue an aim of general interest for the EU, advisory councils receive financial assistance from the Commission to cover part of their operational costs.
In addition to the seven existing advisory councils (Baltic Sea, Long Distance Fleet, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea, North-Western Waters, Pelagic Stocks, South-Western Waters), the latest CFP reform established four new advisory councils for the Black Sea, Aquaculture, Markets and Outermost Regions. The first three are already operational, and the last is in the process of becoming fully operational.
The EU is the leading trader of fisheries and aquaculture products in the world in terms of value. EU trade (i.e. imports and exports) has increased over the past few years, reaching EUR 32.3 billion in 2018. Norway, China, Ecuador and Morocco are the EU’s main suppliers, while the United States, China, Switzerland and Norway are the EU’s main customers.
The EU is a net importer of fisheries and aquaculture products, mostly frozen, fresh and chilled. Spain, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands are the leading importing Member States.
In 2018 exports to non-EU countries increased to EUR 5.75 billion. Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are the leading exporting Member States.
Trade between Member States is very significant, totalling EUR 27.26 billion in 2018. The main exporters to other Member States are Sweden, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands. The main importers are France, Italy, Germany and Spain.
Trade of fisheries and aquaculture products between EU Member States and non-EU countries (2018)(volume in tonnes and value in thousand EUR)
Extra- and intra-EU trade (2018)(value in billion EUR)
Trade of fisheries and aquaculture products between EU Member States and non-EU countries – main suppliers (2018)(value in thousand EUR and percentage of total)
Value of EU-28 imports from the main suppliers
Trade of fisheries and aquaculture products between EU Member States and non-EU countries – main customers (2018)(value in thousand EUR and percentage of total)
Trade of fisheries and aquaculture products between EU Member States and non-EU countries (2018)(value in thousand EUR and percentage of total)
Imports and exports of fisheries and aquaculture products - extra-EU trade (2018)(volume in tonnes and value in thousand EUR)
Imports of fisheries and aquaculture products – extra-EU trade (2018)(value in thousand EUR)
Exports of fisheries and aquaculture products - extra-EU trade (2018)(value in thousand EUR)
Fisheries and aquaculture products are an important source of protein and a crucial component of a healthy diet. This is particularly true for the average person living in the EU, who consumes 24.4 kg of fish or seafood per year (4 kg more than in the rest of the world).
Consumption, however, varies greatly across the EU: from 4.8 kg per person per year in Hungary to 56.9 kg in Portugal.
Three quarters of the fish or seafood consumed in the EU come from wild fisheries, while the remaining quarter comes from aquaculture. The most popular species are tuna, cod and salmon.
Consumption of fisheries and aquaculture products (2017)(quantity in live weight (kg/inhabitant/year))
Source: Eumofa, The EU Fish Market, 2019 edition.
Consumption of fisheries and aquaculture products in the major world economies (2017)(quantity in live weight (kg/inhabitant/year))
Source: FAO, Eurostat and Eumofa.
Main species consumed in the European Union (2017)(quantity in live weight (kg/inhabitant/year))
In the EU the total expenditure for fishery and aquaculture products in 2018 reached EUR 55.2 billion. Italy registered the highest level of expenditure with EUR 11.6 billion, followed by Spain (EUR 9.8 billion) and France (EUR 8.5 billion).
On average, expenditure for fishery and aquaculture products represents 6% of the total expenditure for food products in the EU. The highest ratio is observed in Portugal (17%) and the lowest in Hungary (less than 1%). At the EU level, expenditure for meat products and for fruits and vegetables both represent 23% of total food expenditure.
Animal proteins make up 58% of individual protein intake (60.38 g per day), while vegetal proteins cover the remaining 42% (43.47 g per day).
Household expenditure for purchasing fish and seafood (2018)(million EUR)
The supply of fisheries and seafood products to the EU market is ensured by the EU’s own production and by imports, leading to a total of 14.61 million tonnes available for human consumption in 2017. In the same year, the "apparent consumption", obtained by subtracting exports from this figure, was 12.45 million tonnes.
Supply balance (2017)(volume in million tonnes live weight equivalent)
Self-sufficiency can be expressed as the ratio between own production (catches plus aquaculture) and total apparent consumption. In 2015, the EU's self-sufficiency rate stood at 43%, i.e. people living in the EU consumed roughly twice as much as they produced.
The EU’s production covers more than two thirds of its consumption of pelagic fish and more than half of its consumption of molluscs. It is more dependent on external sourcing for salmonids, crustaceans and other fish.
The European Union’s self-sufficiency rate (2017)(percentage by commodity group)
Source: Eurostat and Eumofa.
Five European Structural and Investment Funds[*] support the economic development of the EU until 2020. One of them, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), is specifically tailored to Europe's seas and coasts. Its EUR 6.4 billion budget - 5.7 billion of which is managed by the Member States - focuses on underpinning the CFP and making fisheries and aquaculture more sustainable and profitable. But the EMFF also invests in diversifying local economies, to ensure thriving maritime regions, inland fisheries and aquaculture areas.
In doing so, the EMFF does not prescribe how every cent should be spent. Instead, the EU allocates a share of the total budget to each Member State, and leaves it to national authorities - and local communities - to choose the projectes and solutions that work best for them.
[*] The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the Cohesion Fund (CF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).
The EMFF has six main priorities
The remaining 5.2% consists of technical assistance to help Member States to implement the above priorities.
In this way, the EMFF supports local initiatives aiming at rebuilding fish stocks, phasing out discards, collecting fisheries data and reducing human impact on the marine environment.
It helps Member States check that fishers, fish farmers and maritime communities correctly apply the relevant EU rules. The EMFF also envourages cross-border cooperation in maritime domains such as spatial planning and surveillance.
EMFF contribution – 2014-2020 programming period – Per priority(in thousand EUR and percentage of total)
NB: Not relevant for LU.Source: Member States' operational programmes. Situation as in December 2019.
Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries:
Common Fisheries Policy
European Atlas of the Seas
Eumofa is an on-line multilingual database which provides access to real-time comprehensive data on price, value and volume of fisheries and aquaculture production across the EU as well as market information and analysis.
European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture products
Statistics on fisheries
The Commission, the Council and the Parliament reached a provisional political agreement on the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) for the period of 2021-2027. In line with the objectives of the European Green Deal and Sustainable Development Goal 14, it provides an ambitious support package for the achievement of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, the development of local coastal communities, the promotion of a sustainable blue economy, the implementation of the Union’s maritime policy towards safe and sustainably managed seas and oceans, and for international ocean governance.
The European Commission is lifting the yellow card to Kiribati after four and half years of close cooperation. The “yellow card” is an official warning issued by the European Union to trading partners falling short of tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. By lifting the card, the European Commission recognises the important progress of Kiribati in addressing the shortcomings in its fisheries governance.
The European Commission is in the process of shaping a new comprehensive approach to the blue economy. A stakeholder consultation on the future of the blue economy is currently underway and open till 7 December 2020.