EU Common Fisheries Policy

The provisions enacted under the EU Common Fisheries Policy aim to conserve stocks, promote a competitive fishing industry and stabilise the markets for fishery products.

Sustainable use of fish stocks

Throughout the world, many of the commercially harvested fish stocks are in a poor state. They are overfished or at risk of being overfished. Some key EU stocks were in the past also not managed sustainably, such as the cod stocks in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. For this reason, conservation has increasingly moved to the centre of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

In order to ensure sustainable management the CFP contains provisions on

  • how much may be fished (total allowable catch and quotas)
  • the intensity of fishing allowed (fishing effort)
  • how and where to fish (technical measures).

EU legislation provides for comprehensive monitoring of fisheries in order to enforce these rules.

Management and recovery plans

In order to provide relief for overexploited stocks and bring them back to a higher level which ensures the so called maximum sustainable yield, these elements of CFP are laid down in greater detail in long-term management and recovery plans. Multi-annual management plans set specific aims for sustainable management and, in particular, establish rules for the annual allocation of catch levels for each fishery.

Total allowable catch and quotas

The main fisheries policy measure to ensure sustainable stock management is the annual setting of total allowable catches (TAC) for individual fish stocks by the Fisheries Ministers of the EU member States. As the condition of stocks of the same species may vary significantly depending on the fishing area and the respective influencing factors, the TAC is established for each maritime region separately.

These figures are based on scientific recommendations on the basis of biological studies, such as provided regularly by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) or the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF).

A couple of stocks, including most of the North Sea stocks, are managed jointly by the EU with Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The respective agreements with these countries are incorporated into the annual decisions on TACs and quotas as are the results of further negotiations at the level of the fishery organisations.

The community quotas are allocated to the EU Member States according to a fixed key: namely according to the principle of relative stability which is an important pillar of the CFP and which guarantees all Member States a consistent percentage share of the total allowable catches.

Fishing effort and technical measures

However, the establishment of TACs alone is not sufficient in order to ensure sustainable and environmentally friendly fisheries. It is therefore supplemented and supported by limiting the fishing effort and by further technical measures.

The fishing effort is limited by placing restrictions on the number of days that a vessel may spend at sea. In order to also take the fishing capacity of the fleets into consideration, the days at sea are usually multiplied by the engine power or the tonnage of the ships. Based on a reference period, the member states are annually allocated a maximum number of so-called kW days or GT days for the individual fisheries.

Technical measures determine how and where to fish to ensure that only the intended fish end up in the net, and that juvenile fish and non-target species are, as far as is possible, not caught. This includes:

  • Minimum mesh size for nets
  • minimum landing sizes
  • Sanctuaries and closed seasons
  • limitations of by-catch
  • compulsory use of selective fishing gear
  • measures to avoid damage to the maritime environment.


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