Tackling overfishing – EU push for sustainability shows results

Tackling overfishing – EU push for sustainability shows results

Tackling overfishing – EU push for sustainability shows results

North Sea fishing cutter

Good news for European fisheries: fishing businesses in the Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic Sea are making record profits, thanks to a solid recovery of popular fish stocks like North Sea cod, which were severely depleted just a few years ago. A sign that the EU Common Fisheries Policy’s focus on sustainable fishing is paying off – for fishermen and fish stocks alike.

“When it comes to fisheries, the European Union is hitting our headline targets. More fish stocks are being fished at sustainable levels than ever before. Fishermen targeting these stocks are seeing their profits and salaries go up. We’ve made a priority of the Mediterranean and Black Sea, where overfishing is worst. And where there are teething problems, we are talking to fishermen and scientists to find workable solutions, while keeping our eyes set firmly on our sustainability target,” said European Commissioner Karmenu Vella, responsible for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

The responsible catch limits proposed by the European Commission in the Atlantic, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea have seen overexploitation decline drastically. Today, 53 out of 76 stocks for which data are available are fished sustainably – compared to 44 stocks in 2017 and just 5 stocks in 2009. For stocks managed wholly by the EU, 97% by volume are being fished at sustainable levels.

As a result, fish stocks in these regions have recovered to very healthy levels. Northern hake, for example, has grown from 32,000 tons in 2006 to 265,000 tons today – an increase of more than 700%. Staples like North-Sea cod, which was close to collapse a generation ago, have recently been certified as sustainable and are now back on supermarket shelves.

And fishermen are reaping the benefits of this recovery. In 2015, EU fishing fleets registered record-high net profits of almost 800 million euros. This represents a 60% increase in two years, making fisheries one of the EU's strongest growing sectors. Vastly healthy profit margins ranging from 16% to 47% – depending on the country – are the clearest sign yet that sustainability makes sound business sense.

In contrast to the positive outlook for the Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic Sea, overfishing in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea is a continuing source of concern. In 2017, scientists found only 7 of the 60 Mediterranean stocks they assessed to be at healthy levels, while fishing fleets are struggling more than their northern counterparts.

Rapid and sustained progress is now needed in these sea basins as well to deliver on the EU’s high level of ambition: under the Common Fisheries Policy, EU stocks have to be fished sustainably by 2020.

The European Commission has therefore made these sea basins a priority for targeted action. Following last year’s MedFish4Ever Declaration for the Mediterranean and the Bucharest Declaration for the Black Sea, the Commission is now working with its international partners to translate the political commitments made into tangible next steps. With first results: riparian countries recently agreed a package of measures ranging from the first ever fisheries restricted area in the Adriatic to joint inspection schemes and a management plan for turbot in the Black Sea. Looking ahead, the EU is also planning to adopt a regional plan of action on small-scale fisheries later this year.