EU Common Fisheries Policy

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

Sustainable management 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. This also held true for many stocks in EU waters in the past. Today, however, over 70 percent of stocks in the North East Atlantic are managed in a sustainable manner. In terms of landings, over 98 percent of fish already comes from sustainably managed stocks.

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); and
  • how and where to fish (technical measures).

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

Radical change of course through CFP reform

The Common Fisheries Policy underwent a fundamental reform in 2014. The new Basic Regulation meant a radical change in European fisheries policy, something which the Federal Government had endorsed for a long time: sustainability became the most important principle in the fisheries sector, with strict measures for the replenishing of fish stocks and a modern fisheries management.

By 2020 at the latest, all stocks are to be managed according to the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and multi-annual plans are to cover all commercially used fish stocks.


This principle ensures the sustainable use of stocks and provides the basis for an economically viable fishing sector.

The Member States with overcapacity in fishing fleets will be held more accountable in the future in order to facilitate a speedy recovery of fish stocks. Added to this are new provisions on regionalisation which assign a stronger role and more responsibility to the EU Member States in developing the Common Fisheries Policy.

Introducing discard bans

An important element of the reform plans is the gradual introduction of discard bans and landing requirements which have been in place for all fishing activities for regulated species since 1 January 2019.

The discard ban stipulates that undersized fish from the target species and by-catches of other species will have to be landed and may only be discarded at sea in certain exceptional, strictly defined cases.

Previous regulations in the EU fisheries policy resulted in by-catches of unwanted or undersized fish being thrown back overboard. This led to an unnecessary and unacceptable waste of valuable marine resources.

Multi-annual plans for individual sea basins

In order to provide relief for overexploited stocks and bring them back to a level which ensures the so-called “maximum sustainable yield”. These general elements of CFP are laid down in greater detail in so-called multiannual plans for the individual sea basins, inter alia for the North and Baltic Sea. 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 catches 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 prevailing influencing factors, the TAC is established for each maritime region separately.

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


A number 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 regional fisheries 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.

Limiting the fishing effort means 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 gross registered tonnage of the ships. Based on a reference period, the Member States are annually allocated a maximum number of so-called kW days or GRT 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. These include:

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

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