The allocation of fishing opportunities within national fleets based on environmental and social criteria represents a pivotal aspect of sustainable fisheries management across the European Union (EU). According to EU law, Member States must transparently allocate fishing quotas, guided by specific criteria that include environmental and social considerations. 

However, despite regulatory requirements, the allocation of fishing quotas according to these criteria remains limited, with historical redistribution practices persisting as the predominant approach. This method, on one hand, helps keep the stability in the allocation process allowing fishers to make long term plans and reduce uncertainties. On the other hand, it perpetuates social disparities, reinforcing the influence of a selected group of powerful industrial fisheries using harmful fishing practices, at the expense of smaller-scale and artisanal fishers and fragile marine ecosystems.

The following examples aim to showcase a series of practices already implemented by various EU Member States, illustrating the successful integration of environmental and/or social criteria into the allocation of fishing opportunities. 

These examples serve as inspirational models for national governments, demonstrating the feasibility and efficacy of alternative approaches within the current legislative framework. Moreover, the scalability and adaptability of these practices offer the potential for broader application, fostering a more equitable future for the fisheries sector within the EU and more respect for fish populations and marine ecosystems. 


Example 1 – Spain 

To reduce the catch of juvenile bigeye tuna and prevent the reduction of the population size, a proportion of the fishing quota is distributed based on length of catches, with a higher quota allocated to fleet segments with less catches of undersized fish. The pole and line segment of the fleet are more targeted and therefore receive an increase in their fishing opportunities compared to freezer trawlers, which tend to catch smaller-sized, younger fish.   


Example 2 – Spain 

The allocation of fishing quotes of Southern hake creates an equitable share between the 1,200 fishing vessels, which includes trawlers, longliners, gillnetters, and small vessels. The equal allocation prevents larger vessels from dominating the fishery and marginalising smaller operators. It also helps maximise employment, as small-scale fishing is more labour-intensive and provides employment opportunities for a significant portion of the local workforce. 


Example 3 – Portugal

Due to the importance of undulate ray for small-scale fisheries, the Portuguese government has made an exceptional allocation of licences of this stock to small-scale fishing vessels. This decision comes despite the undulate ray fish being labelled as an endangered and protected species. The allocation of the licence is restricted to small-scale vessels and exclusively allocated to fishers cooperating with researchers to complement scientific knowledge with on-the-ground data. Vessels not eligible for this licence are only permitted to land undulate ray as bycatch if it constitutes no more than 5% of the total catch. 

Disclaimer: The undulate ray is an endangered, slow-growing and protected species, with an uncertain population status and high bycatch rates. Researchers and conservation organisations argued that the catch of the protected species must be discouraged and the management should be focused on research and the identification of measures that effectively reduce bycatch. The implementation of the revised control regulation is expected to result in better data collection and better enforcement of existing rules. 


Example 4 – Greece 

Greece allocates several licences for bluefin tuna according to both social and environmental criteria using an objective and transparent point-based assessment system. Social criteria include small island residency, presence of children or children with disabilities in the family of the fisher, vessels under 12m and crews with less than four people. Additionally, authorisations are given to young entrants, fostering the next generation of fishers. Environmental criteria are focused on low-impact fishing gear. No fishing licences for bluefin tuna are given to vessels with bottom trawl gear and ship-towed seine gear. The approved fishing gear is limited to hooks and lines. 


Example 5 – Malta 

A significant proportion of Malta’s allocation of bluefin tuna goes to its small-scale fleet, young fishers and to vessels that have not participated in the fishery before. This favours an important part of the workforce and encourages new entries in the fishery. The allocation of quotas also incorporates an environmental criterion since only low impact gears (longline, hook, and line) are eligible for this specific quota allocation. Bluefin tuna is the most valuable tuna fishery in the world. After a near-full collapse of the fishery in 2006, the population has been slowly rebuilding, allowing fishing opportunities to slowly increase.


Example 6 – Denmark 

Denmark has different schemes to preserve small-scale fisheries. Each scheme proposes different restrictions when it comes to selling quotas to large-scale fleets. The scheme with higher restrictions is permanent and it is associated with more generous advantages such as the possibility for small-scale fishers to receive additional quota (top-up). However, while partaking in this scheme, vessel owners can only sell their own quota shares to other vessels within the  scheme, which is constituted by small-scale fishing vessels. 


Example 7 – Germany 

Germany allocated several fishing quotas of the herring stock to the smallest and coastal small-scale fishers using passive gear. This gives small-scale fishers access to fish the herring population in the western Baltic Sea, which is in critical status and closed to other fishers. Allowing small coastal fisheries to catch herring using gillnets and traps is considered socio-economically important for maintaining existing fishing structures with less impact on population recovery compared to industrial fishing.

Disclaimer: According to the best available data, the herring population is extremely depleted, the scientific advice is zero catch, The German government’s decision to allocate fishing quota to the small-scale coastal fleet directly contradicts this advice and the European Commission’s proposal to close the herring fishery. 


Example 8 – Ireland 

Ireland implemented various schemes to sustain a flourishing coastal economy in its harbours. Quotas are distributed based on both social and environmental criteria. Allocating a share of the quota to new vessels enables younger fisheries without established quotas to enter the fishery, and prevents the notorious ‘greying’ of the small-scale fleet. Quotas are also distributed to fisheries that use low-impact gear, such as static gillnets and traps. 


Example 9 – Sweden

Lobster and Crab pots stacked on the quayside

For the fisheries of scampi, Sweden set a quota allocation solely dedicated to creel pots to encourage the shift from active trawling to passive gears and small-scale vessels. The rest of the quota is allocated to trawling fishing techniques. A series of rules provide incentives to reduce incidental catches of other species, particularly the commercially valuable cod. Fishers using the “Swedish grid” trawl net – a type of net with sorting device to catch scampi while minimising the bycatch of cod – receive exemptions from restrictions on the maximum number of fishing days per year. This exception induced all of the fishers for this specific quota to abandon other types of trawling and exclusively use this selective gear. 

Moreover, a series of restrictions were introduced to limit the transfer of fishing quotas among fishers to prevent the concentration of fishing opportunities among a few actors, ensuring a more equitable distribution.


Example 10 – France

In France some share of the quota for bluefin tuna is allocated based on the social criterion to small-scale fishing with the objective to make the allocation fairer and more balanced compared to the previous allocation, which was solely based on the historic criteria. 

According to French regulations, when a vessel is sold, scrapped, or lost at sea, portions of its fishing quotas for several types of fish are designated to a national reserve. The purpose of this reserve includes, among others, incentivizing vessels to transition to low-impact fisheries by allocating fishing rights to vessels utilising selective gear or techniques that minimise impacts on the habitat or on climate. Regrettably, this practice remains unreported.


The examples have been extracted from the NGOs’ report titled: “Allocating fishing opportunities with environmental, social and economic criteria in mind. Examples from EU member states.

Press release: New report: Commission and EU Countries to draw from existing realities to boost fair and eco-friendly fishing allocations

Seas At Risk, Ecologistas en Accion, BUND, Sciaena.