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EU fishing becoming more sustainable in places, but many stocks remain overexploited

Most EU fish stocks in the Mediterranean and Black Seas are still overexploited, but NE Atlantic stocks are improving.
Jul 03 2020

The recently published Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) report on the performance of the Common Fisheries Policy finds that commercial fish stocks in EU waters are improving in the Northeast Atlantic, but are still overexploited in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

Based on an extensive analysis and assessment compiled by a JRC Expert Group and reviews by the STECF, the report finds that the status of commercial fish stocks improved in the Northeast (NE) Atlantic over the period 2003-2018, with an overall increase in the amount of fish available, and a reduction in the amount being fished.

However, the rate of progress has slowed in recent years and is currently too slow to ensure that all stocks will be rebuilt and managed according to maximum sustainable yields by 2020 - a requirement of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Many stocks in the Northeast Atlantic are still overexploited (26 of the 68 examined) and/or outside safe biological limits (14 of the 44 examined).

In the Mediterranean and Black Seas, most stocks (41 of the 44 examined) were found to be overfished, with the fishing pressure reaching a historical high in 2011. While this trend towards overexploitation has since dropped off, stocks are still being exploited at rates that are well above sustainable levels.

Trends in fishing pressure estimated for the Northeast Atlantic (red line); Northeast Atlantic outside EU waters (green line); the Mediterranean & Black Seas (black line). The dashed line indicates what would be a sustainable level of fishing.

Trends in fishing pressure estimated for the Northeast Atlantic (red line); Northeast Atlantic outside EU waters (green line); the Mediterranean & Black Seas (black line). The dashed line indicates what would be a sustainable level of fishing.

Following the 2003 CFP reform, commercial fish stocks have been generally increasing in the Northeast Atlantic (48% higher in 2018 compared to 2003) but are generally unchanged in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

The report provides key scientific input for the Commission's 'state of play' report on the CFP. The Communication is planned to be published in the coming weeks and will detail the Commission's proposed fishing quotas for 2021. It will also be accompanied by a public consultation.

The Common Fisheries Policy

The primary goal of the CFP is to ensure sustainable fisheries and guarantee incomes and stable jobs for fishermen. First established in 1970, it aims to ensure that fishing and aquaculture are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable and that they provide a source of healthy food for EU citizens.

In 2013, in its latest reform, the CFP set overarching goals for restoring fish stocks in Europe, with a legally binding commitment to end overfishing by 2020 at the latest so that fish stocks can be restored and maintained above sustainable levels.

To date, the impact of fishing on the fragile marine environment is not fully understood. Therefore, the CFP adopts a cautious approach which recognises the impact of human activity on all components of the ecosystem. It seeks to make fishing fleets more selective in what they catch, and to phase out the practice of discarding unwanted fish.

The STECF

The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) was set up to provide expert scientific advice to help implement the CFP. Members are nominated by the European Commission, who (through the JRC) also provides the secretariat of the Committee. The Commission consults the STECF on matters regarding the conservation and management of living marine resources.

Further information