Fisheries in Community waters are managed under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The CFP was born in 1983 and suffered a significant review in 2002. This resulted in an increased emphasis on the reduction of the environmental impacts of fisheries, but by 2007 the CFP was still widely regarded as a failure.

Fisheries in Community waters are managed under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The CFP was born in 1983 and suffered a significant review in 2002. This resulted in an increased emphasis on the reduction of the environmental impacts of fisheries, but by 2007 the CFP was still widely regarded as a failure.

The European Court of Auditors published a damning report highlighting the lack of control and compliance with the policy, whereas the European Commission’s paper “Reflections on the Common Fisheries Policy” pointed to “a lack of political will on the part of the Council to override national interests” as being largely responsible for “the failure to prevent the depletion of major fish stocks, increasing instability within the industry and continued damage to the marine environment.”

A large majority of assessed fish stocks in the EU are overfished, and a significant proportion of those stocks are deemed to be “outside safe biological limits”. This rampant overexploitation of resources, an unprofitable and subsidy-dependent sector, and decreasing levels of employment show that the policy has failed to achieve environmental, economic and social sustainability. In addition to that, the current CFP is complex to administer, difficult to enforce, and much too costly in relation to the economic gains generated by the sector.

The Green Paper published by the Commission in April 2009 identified five main causes for these failures: the overcapacity of the EU fleet; imprecise policy objectives with no clear hierarchy among them; a decision-making system that favours short-term considerations; the lack of responsibilisation of the industry; and the lack of political will to enforce the policy, allied to the poor compliance by the industry.

In July 2011, the European Commission published its package of legislative proposals for the reform of the CFP. However, these proposals fell short of addressing these fundamental problems, putting the onus of achieving a fundamental reform of the CFP on the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers – who will jointly decide on the new legislation.

The review process provides the opportunity to address the causes of the current problems and improve the framework of European fisheries policies. In 2009 Seas At Risk, together with four other organisations, co-founded the NGO coalition OCEAN2012, which brings together a large variety of groups – from environment and development NGOs to recreational and commercial fishermen, pers, aquaria, etc - to advocate a reformed CFP which stops overfishing, ends destructive fishing practices and delivers fair and equitable use of healthy fish stocks.

Seas At Risk and OCEAN2012 believe that in order for the reform to be effective, it must:

  • Enshrine environmental objectives as a prerequisite to fulfilling social and economic objectives;
  • Apply the precautionary approach and the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management, and in particular deliver on the fisheries-related aspects of Good Environmental Status, as required by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive;
  • Restore and maintain populations of harvested species above levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield by 2015;
  • Ensure that fishing opportunities are fixed at levels not exceeding those recommended by the best available scientific advice;
  • Allocate access to fish resources on the basis of a set of criteria that ensure a transition to, and support for, environmentally (selectivity, impacts on habitats and non-target species, CO2 emissions) and socially (number of jobs created, working conditions) sustainable fishing;
  • Include legally binding and time-bound objectives for fishing capacity, as well as requirements to measure and monitor fishing capacity;
  • Eliminate environmentally harmful subsidies and only use public funds in a way that serves the public good;
  • Promote selectivity and eliminate the wasteful practice of discarding fish.


European Commission's webpage on CFP reform (incl. legislative package)

OCEAN2012 Website

Joint NGO Priorities for a Reformed CFP
Joint NGO position: To MSY and beyond for healthy seas
OCEAN2012 briefing: MSY explained
Joint NGO position: Fleet overcapacity is driving overfishing
Joint NGO position: Access criteria to reward responsible fishing
Joint NGO postion: Tackling discards in EU fisheries
OCEAN2012 position on the elimination of discards
Declaration "Scale Matters: Quality Counts (Oct. 2011)

Court of Auditors' report (2007)