The Common Fisheries Policy and the status of European seas

Tuesday 26 February 2019

The new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) regulation entered into force in 2014 with the aim of ensuring that fishing in EU waters is managed and performed in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable manner. One of its most important principles is that fishing must be conducted at a sustainable level so as not to undermine the fish stocks’ capacity to reproduce. 5 years after its adoption, it is time to assess if the new EU fishing policy was able to deliver its objectives.

According to an analysis conducted and published in February 2019 by the European Environment Agency (EEA)[1], an EU body tasked with providing independent information on the environment to policy-makers and citizens, the EU policy actions and management efforts have indeed fostered the protection and restoration of fish stocks in different sea basins. According to the authors, progress is clearly visible in the North-East Atlantic and in the Baltic Sea, where since the early 2000s the improved management has contributed to decrease the fishing pressure and several stocks are showing positive signs of recovery. If management efforts continue in this region, it could be possible to meet the CFP objective of having healthy fish stocks by 2020.

One of the key instruments foreseen by the new CFP to ensure the sustainable management of EU waters are Multiannual Management Plans. These plans establish a framework for stock management in a particular area and include quantifiable targets to regulate the catches and deadlines to achieve them. Since 2014, three of them have been adopted by the EU legislators: one for the Baltic[2], adopted in 2016, one for the North Sea[3], adopted in 2018, and finally one for the Western Waters that is supposed to enter into force in the coming months.  

The Mediterranean Sea, on the other hand, is not showing any positive sign of recovery and it has been estimated that around 85% of the assessed stocks in the area are overexploited. This sea basin enjoys a special status under the CFP and it has always been managed in a different way. To tackle the catastrophic situation of the Mediterranean, the European Commission has already launched in 2016 the "MEDFISH4EVER" strategy and established a platform of dialogue between the EU Member States and the third countries of the Mediterranean rim. Next to these important initiatives, the Commission and the co-legislators worked on two different Multiannual Management Plans: one for the Adriatic, still under discussion, and one for the Western Mediterranean, informally agreed by the Parliament and the Council in February 2019.

"I am happy that an agreement was reached on our proposal for the Western Mediterranean Sea region presenting a momentous leap forward in delivering concrete EU commitment to restore vital fish stocks and prevent a loss of jobs in sectors that depend on fisheries. The Mediterranean Sea is highly overfished, as we know, and this first multi-annual plan gives the reassurances needed to change the situation for the better – a win-win situation for our fishermen and oceans alike setting the bar for further progress in the Mediterranean.[4]"

Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella


However, some stakeholders such as the New Economic Foundation[5] believe that even in the Atlantic and the Baltic Sea, Member States often undermine the objectives of the CFP by setting fishing opportunities way above the scientific advice and thus allowing overexploitation of EU fish stocks.  

It can be said that the new CFP has provided a useful framework for the management of fisheries, although some key provisions of the CFP such as the landing obligation create real difficulties for some fishers. It is clear that more efforts and time are needed both in the short and in the long term if the EU wants to ensure that fisheries and fish stocks are managed in a sustainable way.






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