Representation in Ireland

The Common Fisheries Policy

As an island nation fishing has always been economically and socially important to Ireland.

The natural, clean water around Ireland’s 7,500km of coastline has provided exceptionally good seafood for thousands of years, and it’s important to protect it for future generations.

The sailing boats, spears and makeshift nets our ancestors fished with didn’t pose any threat to jobs, the coastal environment or fish stocks, but modern fishing vessels and methods do.

Commercial trawlers can now travel vast distances across the ocean and some are fitted with hydraulically powered winches capable of scooping up several tonnes of fish in a single net.

During much of the 20th century relentless fishing and marine pollution pushed some fish stocks to the brink of extinction, making it necessary to regulate the fishing industry.

Today, the interests of Irish fishermen, fishing communities and consumers of fish products are supported through the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that’s negotiated and agreed between all 28 Member States.

It’s often a controversial subject in Ireland but the CFP’s main aim is to protect all of Europe’s seafood industry and marine environment for future generations.


Fish facts


Graph showing rise in Irish seafood exports


  • Taking our seabed area into account, Ireland is actually one of the largest EU countries with sovereign or exclusive rights over one of the largest sea to land ratios (over 10:1) of any EU member state.
  • The Irish maritime economy is growing nearly twice as fast as the overall economy. It grew by 9% between 2010 and 2012 and by over 8% for 2012 to 2014.
  • Irish Seafood exports in 2014 reached an estimated €540 million, that’s a 70% rise on 2009 when the figure was €315 million.
  • Ireland exports seafood to 80 markets worldwide. The top five export destinations are France, UK, Spain, Nigeria and Italy. A total of 63% of Irish seafood exports are sold in EU markets.
  • Ireland is a world leader in organic aquaculture, with 20,000 tonnes of organic salmon and mussels produced annually.
  • Seafood exports to the four main Asian markets (China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan) accounted for 8% of total value Irish seafood sales in 2014.
  • China is one of the fastest growing markets for Irish seafood, with exports increasing by 56% in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.
  • The French market dominates Irish salmon exports, accounting for over 56% of total sales values in 2014.
  • The ocean economy, which includes marine tourism, seafood and shipping, provided full-time employment for an estimated 18,480 in 2014.
  • In addition to those directly employed in Ireland's marine industries, a further 13,000 are employed indirectly across the wider economy providing an additional €3.3 billion in turnover to the Irish economy.
  • The ocean economy had a turnover of €4.2 billion in 2012, rising to around €4.5 billion in 2014.
  • The Irish seafood processing industry is comprised of mostly small enterprises with less than 10 employees.
  • Irish measures to protect Sea Bass were boosted in 2015 by new EU rules banning commercial fishing in the Celtic Sea, the Irish Sea, south of Ireland and west of Ireland to help protect stock and give it more chances to reproduce young fish before it is caught.
  • The Irish seafood industry is comprised of finfish, shellfish, smoked, pelagic and whitefish operators. Shellfish companies account for the largest number of fish processing companies in Ireland.
  • Global demand for seafood is expected to increase by 42 million tonnes over the next decade. Ireland aims to capitalise on this by increasing total seafood sales to €1 billion and creating an additional 1,200 jobs by 2017 under the Government’s Food Harvest 2020 strategy.
  • Irish marine researchers secured €5.5 million of EU Horizon 2020 project funding in December 2014, three times the average expected win rate for Irish science across the board.
  • Around €200 million has been earmarked for European marine research and innovation in 2014/15 under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. Irish marine researchers received funding worth over €50 million from EU sources including FP7 and INTERREG between 2007/13.
  • Overfishing in the North, Irish, and Celtic seas has resulted in the collapse of many fish stocks over the past few decades but the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) aims to end the practice throughout Europe by 2020 at the latest.


Benefits of the CFP

The main objective of the CFP is to make sure the needs of today’s EU fishing industry are met without jeopardising fish stocks for future generations.

It also aims to provide a guaranteed income for fishermen and ensure a regular supply of top quality seafood at reasonable prices for consumers while maintaining healthy coastal ecosystems.

The threat to the fishing industry is a global one so the EU has partnership agreements with non-EU countries that help manage the Earth’s seas and oceans through a regulated, transparent and sustainable framework.

These agreements also allow EU fishermen to fish in distant waters in return for a financial contribution that allows non-EU countries to invest in their fishing industries and build up global fish stocks.

Here are some of the important issues the CFP addresses:

  • Protecting fish stocks: Overfishing can have devastating consequences but the CFP is helping to manage and protect Europe’s seas for future generations. In the Northeast Atlantic area, including the Baltic and North Seas, overfishing has fallen from 86% (30 stocks overfished out of 35 assessed) in 2009 to 41% (19 out of 46 stocks) in 2014. However, there are still major problems in the Mediterranean where 96% of bottom-living and 71% of middle-water fish are overfished, and the Black Sea where all bottom-living fish and 33% of pelagic stocks are overfished. The EU's fisheries management system aims to strike a balance between safeguarding fish stocks and ensuring that fishing is a profitable industry. 
  • Enforcing rules: Rules agreed through the CFP to protect fish stocks and protect the marine environment are enforced through a control system. The system ensures that only the allowed quantities of fish are caught and allows action to be taken to combat illegal fishing. Member states that overfish have to make up for it through reduced quotas.
  • Fishing fleet: One of the biggest problems facing the global fishing industry is that there are too many boats chasing too few fish. The EU is trying to reduce pressure on fish stocks by limiting the overall size and catch capacity of the fishing fleet and regulating the amount of time vessels can spend fishing. The total number of fishing vessels in the 28 EU Member States amounted to 87,445 in 2014. That’s 19,284 fewer than in 1995 when there were 15 member states. However, the fleet still needs to be further reduced. In 2014 the Irish fishing fleet consisted of 2,202 registered vessels with a combined gross tonnage of 64.3 thousand.
  • Funding: The European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) introduced in 2014 supports the fishing industry and coastal communities by providing financial assistance to help them adapt to changing conditions in the sector. Under the previous funding vehicle, the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) that ran from 2007-2013, Ireland received €42,266,603 in EU funds. Ireland also previously benefited from €70 million in EU fisheries funding between 2000-2006. The money helped support 850 Irish projects during that period. At current prices Ireland has been allocated over €147.6 million under the EMFF between 2014-2020. The Irish Government is providing an additional €94 million in co-funding, meaning there’s a total of over €241 million available. The money is being spend on a wide-ranging Seafood Development  Programme.
  • Quality and Price: The CFP helps producers, processors and distributors get a fair price for their produce. It also promotes standards and enforces rules that ensure consumers can trust the seafood they eat. New rules on seafood labelling came into force in February 2015.


Reform of the CFP

Fishing trawler

The Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union (January to June 2013) secured agreement on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in May 2013. It was the first major reform since 2002. The reforms include measures to prevent overfishing and put an end to the controversial practice of discarding fish. The new CFP came into effect on January 1st 2014 and it's being delivered with the help of a €6.4 billion European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) covering the period 2014-2020.

Here are some of the main elements of the latest CFP:

  • Yields
    Fishing will progressively be managed at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels, and setting of quotas will respect scientific advice. By 2015, and at the latest by 2020, all EU fish stocks will be managed at MSY levels.
  • Discards
    Discarding, the practice of throwing unwanted fish overboard, was estimated at 23% of total catches in 2013. This practice, where fish are thrown back to the sea because they’re either too small or the fisherman has no quota, will be phased out progressively between 2015 and 2019 through a new landing obligation. Under the obligation all catches have to be kept on board, landed and counted against quotas. Undersized fish cannot be marketed for human consumption purposes.
    In 2015 Ireland brokered a plan between the six EU countries in the North Western Waters (NWW) Group to reduce fish discards.
  • Management
    The latest CFP brings decisions on technical and conservation measures closer to national administrations, local fishermen and other interest groups, and puts an end to micro-management from Brussels. EU legislators now only define the general framework, overall targets, performance indicators and timeframes and Member States develop recommendations on actual implementing measures.
  • Fishing fleet
    Member States have to ensure that their fleet capacity is in balance with the fishing opportunities. Any Member State with overcapacity has to develop an action plan to reduce its fleet.
  • Small fisheries
    Small-scale coastal fisheries often play an important role in the social fabric and the cultural identity of many of Europe's coastal regions. The reformed CFP extends to 2022 the right for Member States to restrict fishing in a zone within 12 nautical miles of coastline to help protect the aqua eco-system.
  • Aquaculture
    Member States are developing national strategic plans to remove administrative and other barriers to the aquaculture industry, while upholding environmental, social and economic standards for the farmed-fish industry. A new aquaculture framework will help increase production and supply of seafood in the EU and reduce Europe’s dependence on imported fish. Ireland set out proposals for its plan in June 2015.
  • Scientific data
    The new CFP establishes basic rules for Member States to help with collecting, maintaining and sharing data about fish stocks, fleets and the impact of fishing at sea-basin level. This will lead to better scientific knowledge to guide policy and management into the future.
  • Market policy
    The CFP market policy strengthens the competitiveness of the EU industry, improves the transparency of seafood markets and ensures a level playing field for all products marketed in Europe. New standards on labelling, quality and traceability will give consumers better information and help them support sustainable fisheries.
  • International responsibility
    The EU promotes sustainability, good governance and the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in bilateral fishing agreements with non-EU countries. Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPAs) are replacing existing agreements and partner countries will be compensated for granting access to their fishing resources and given financial assistance to implement a sustainable fisheries policy.


Ireland and the CFP

Catch value data collated by a US academic fisheries impact project shows that Ireland has benefited significantly from being an EU Member State.

The Sea Around Us Project, based at the University of British Columbia, collected data for Irish waters from 1950 to 2004 that dispels the myth that Ireland lost out on Irish fish catches to the rest of the EU after we became a Member State.

Calculated in US dollars at year 2000 prices, the value of all fish extracted from Irish waters from 1950 to 2004 is $16.8 billion. Before we joined the EU the catch value from 1950 to 1973 was $4.8 billion and after we became a Member State it was $11.9 billion between 1973 and 2004.

Up to 1973, Ireland took just 12% of the catch from Irish waters. After becoming an EU state the share rose to as much as 40%, and averaged out at 30%.

The French catch from Irish waters, on the other hand, halved from 42% before we joined the EU to 21% in 2004 – and it continues to decline.

The Russians, who used to hoover up another 20% of Irish fish, are now virtually excluded from our waters. Since we joined the EU, they have managed a paltry 3.7%, most of which was in the years 1973-1977, before the Irish Marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was formally defined.

Part of the reason for the low Irish catches prior to EU membership was our inability to patrol Irish waters, and the lack of legal recognition for the exclusivity of those waters beyond the 12 mile limit.

That changed in 1976, when the Irish Marine EEZ was extended from 12 to 200 miles, and the EU paid for four new fisheries protection vessels - the LÉ Deirdre, the Emer, the Aoife and the Aisling – so we could patrol our own waters.

The US data shows that the Irish fish catch has never been more than 1.25% of GDP. In fact, since the late 1970s, the whole value of fish taken from Irish waters has never exceeded 2% of Irish GDP in any year, and was only worth a quarter of a percentage point of our 2004 GDP.

The figures indicate that at no point before becoming an EU Member State were we ever a viable fishing nation, even if we had succeeded in taking absolutely every fish caught in Irish waters for ourselves.



Easkey BrittonThe EU runs a sustainable fishing campaign and programme called INSEPARABLE to encourage people to eat, buy and sell sustainable fish, and take an active role in helping improve the state of the oceans around us.

The campaign aims to change the way we think about fish consumption to help make fishing more sustainable. As consumers we have to be aware that what, when and how we eat, buy and sell seafood has a huge impact on this precious food source.

Easkey Britton from Donegal has been an ambassador for the INSEPARABLE campaign. She’s a world-renowned surfer and a researcher at TBTI (Too Big To Ignore), a research network that promotes and raises awareness for small-scale fisheries.

You can read about her role as an ambassador for the campaign here.



Useful links

European Commission Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Information on Quotas and Total Allowable Catches (TACs)
Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
European Commission CFP proposal at a glance
Fish and Seafood industry information from Bord Bia (Irish Food Board)