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Oceans and fisheries
News announcement7 June 2019Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries8 min read

Questions & Answers about the state of play on implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the Fishing Opportunities in the EU for 2020

The European Commission has taken stock of the implementation of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy and launched the process of agreeing fishing opportunities for 2020.

The European Commission has adopted its annual consultation document in preparation for the setting of 2020 fishing opportunities later in the year, which also contains an update on the state of play of the implementation of the reformed CFP. The Commission invites Member States, Advisory Councils, the fishing industry and NGOs, as well as interested citizens and organisations, to share their views via an online public consultation starting 11 June. The Commission will use the input when preparing its proposals on fishing opportunities and for future implementation of the CFP.

Why is the Commission reporting on the state of play on the implementation of the CFP, and on what indicators is the assessment made?

We are now in the sixth year of the implementation of the reformed CFP. This gives us the opportunity to assess progress towards the achievement of its main objectives, notably sustainability. The Communication reports on this by looking at:

  • progress made in the exploitation and state of the stocks;
  • the balance between the capacity of the EU fleet and the available fishing opportunities;
  • the socio-economic performance of the EU fleet;
  • progress with decentralising fisheries management – a key shift within the reformed CFP;
  • the implementation of the landing obligation;
  • concrete efforts to reverse the preoccupying situation in the Mediterranean and the Black Seas; and
  • the external dimension of the CFP.

Ensuring that the exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species above levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield – which also contributes to achieving good environmental status in European seas by 2020 – is the key objective of the CFP.

What is the state of play on the economic performance of the EU Fleet?

The EU fleet's economic performance has improved significantly in recent years and has a positive impact on many EU coastal communities. Continued improvements were mainly a result of high average fish prices (more value for less quantity landed) and continued low fuel prices, while improved status of some important stocks and technological advances also contributed. Projections for 2018 and 2019 suggest positive economic results. Average salaries and labour productivity have also increased.

Economic data indicate positive trends in a number of fleets that are exploiting healthy stocks. Fleets targeting stocks exploited sustainably (such as haddock, megrim and plaice in the Irish Sea, herring, Northern hake, sole in the Eastern and Western English Channel, anglerfish in the Bay of Biscay) tend to improve their profitability and salaries, and vice-versa, fleets targeting overexploited stocks tend to register poorer economic performance.

What are fishing opportunities? How are they set?

Each year the Commission tables the so-called Total Allowable Catches (TACs) to be applied the following year to most commercial stocks in EU waters except for the Mediterranean Sea. The proposed amounts are based on biological advice and economic analysis from independent bodies. Later in the year, the Council, composed of the Fisheries Ministers of each Member State, makes a final decision on these TACs. Once fixed, the amounts are divided up among Member States according to pre-agreed shares, the so-called quotas. Member States manage the national quotas and allocate them among the fishing industry, as a right to fish and land a certain amount of fish within the calendar year.

With regard to the Mediterranean, according to the recently adopted multi-annual plan for the western Mediterranean Sea, the Council will set for 2020 a maximum allowable fishing effort corresponding to a reduction of 10% compared to the baseline.

This is how fishing opportunities are set in EU waters. For fishing opportunities agreed under the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), the Commission negotiates conservation and management issues, including fishing opportunities, for the species managed under the authority of these organisations. The measures adopted by RFMOs and in particular any fishing opportunities for the EU, are incorporated in the Fishing Opportunities Regulations. The timeline for this incorporation follows the calendar of the meetings of these organisations.

Where does the scientific advice come from?

Fishermen provide data on their catches and fishing activity, which are used by fisheries experts who then assess the state of the stocks. The experts also use samples from commercial landings and from discards, and use research vessels to sample the amounts of fish in the sea in different site and at different times of year. They determine the state of the stock and then calculate how much should be fished the following year to achieve sustainability. This work is done under the coordination of the independent International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) that provides the Commission with independent and authoritative advice. In some cases, other advisory bodies, such as the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), are consulted.

What is the basis for the fishing opportunities?

The EU’s CFP sets the objective of reaching maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020 at the latest. MSY translates into delivery of the highest possible long-term catches. At the same time, it contributes to the sustainable conservation of the stocks and allows for maximisation of fish supply from fishing. The fishing opportunities are set with a view to ensuring MSY.

As of January 2019, fishermen are not permitted to throw the fish back to the sea once it has been caught. The landing obligation applies to all catches of regulated species, unless an exemption has been agreed in line with the rules in place. Regulated species are those that fall under catch limits or, in the Mediterranean, species which are subject to minimum sizes. Undersized fish cannot be marketed for direct human consumption purposes whilst prohibited species (e.g. basking shark) cannot be retained on board and must be returned to the sea. The discarding of prohibited species should be recorded in the logbook and forms an important part of the science base for the monitoring of these species. This change (i.e. the requirement to land all fish) has implications for the levels of relevant fishing opportunities, which can be adjusted according to biological advice to take into account that previously discarded fish is now landed.

Is the policy working?

Yes. In the Northeast Atlantic area (including the North and Baltic Seas), the move towards sustainability is both widespread and visible. While in the early 2000s most stocks were overfished, overall stocks are on average fished sustainably. This is tangible and important progress towards achieving the objectives of the CFP.

In the Mediterranean and the Black Seas most stocks are still overfished. This is largely due to the multispecies nature of fisheries, the fact that several fish stocks are shared with third countries and the low number of fish stocks assessed yearly by scientific bodies. Further joined efforts are required in the context of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) Strategy and of the 2018 Sofia Ministerial Declaration. From its side, the Commission will continue to work closely with all the stakeholders for prompt implementation of the western Mediterranean Multiannual plan.

What are the steps of the Commission with regards to the situation within the Mediterranean and the Black Sea?

The EU has taken significant steps to improve the situation of stocks in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, both at the EU level and with its international partners.

At the EU level, significant progress is expected in 2019, with the implementation of the MAP for demersal stocks in the western Mediterranean and the review by the STECF of the existing national management plans, in order to ensure compliance with the CFP objectives.

At the international level, taking into account the shared nature of most fish stocks in the area, the EU has deployed strong efforts to promote multilateral cooperation in these two basins notably in the regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) competent in those sea basins, GFCM and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). With the adoption of the MedFish4Ever (March 2017) and the Sofia (June 2018) Declarations, there is a detailed work plan to rebuild fish stocks, protect the region’s ecological and economic wealth and boost the sustainable development of aquaculture for the next 10 years in the Mediterranean, in close cooperation with the Barcelona Convention, and in the Black Seas. This is complemented by the regional plan of action for sustainable small-scale fisheries (September 2018).

In the framework of the GFCM, in 2018 11 recommendations proposed by the EU have been adopted. Further work will be required in 2019 on strengthening these actions. The High Level Conference to be held in June in Morocco to take stock of progress made in the implementation of the Medfish4Ever Declaration will provide a strong impetus for this.

In the context of ICCAT, the EU-led bluefin tuna multiannual management plan has been endorsed, acknowledging the recovery of the stock following more than 10 years of recovery measures. The plan includes provisions to, amongst others, facilitate the access of coastal vessels (excluded for more than a decade from the fishery) and reinforce control measures to further strengthen the traceability, in particular for farmed live bluefin tuna. With regard to Mediterranean swordfish, due to the alarming situation of the stock, and at the initiative of the EU, ICCAT adopted a recovery plan which applies until 2031.

How does de-centralisation of fisheries management work?

The CFP has shifted to more de-centralised governance on the basis of multiannual plans at sea basin level and delegated acts adopted through regionalisation. Regionalisation is an important element within the reformed CFP (Article 18). It gives Member States the possibility to cooperate on a regional basis and agree on Joint Recommendations for achieving the objectives of environmental legislation or for shaping specific discard plans. The Advisory Councils (ACs), stakeholder organisations composed of representatives from the industry and from other interest groups, play a central role in regionalisation, as Member States must consult the ACs on the Joint Recommendations. More generally, the ACs are tasked with providing the Commission and Member States with recommendations and information on fisheries management and the socioeconomic and conservation aspects of fisheries and aquaculture.

More information

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the State of Play of the Common Fisheries Policy and Consultation on the Fishing Opportunities for 2020 - COM/2019/274 final

Commission staff working document accompanying the document Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the State of Play of the Common Fisheries Policy and Consultation on the Fishing Opportunities for 2020 - SWD/2019/205 final