German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Fisheries and fish stocks

Deep-sea fishing boat Photo: Christian Pusch (BfN)
Deep-sea fishing boat Photo: Christian Pusch (BfN)

The conflicts

Thanks to over-intensive fishing, many of the world’s fish stocks are overfished (30 percent) or on the brink of collapse. Some 57 percent are fished to the limits of their biological capacity (FAO 2012). At the same time, the proportion of stocks that are not fully fished has fallen steadily since the early 1980s and is now just 13 percent.

In the North Sea and Baltic Sea, too, many stocks are fished above maximum sustainable yield (MSY). MSY is the largest yield or catch that does not endanger reproduction and stock replenishment while ensuring high yields for the longer term. It is laid down as a target in the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) as reformed in 2014 and in the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

Bycatch of undersized specimens of the target species and incidental catch of non-target species like marine mammals, seabirds, turtles and non-commercial fish species are a major problem for European and global fisheries.

Sea-bed communities are harmed by bottom-contact fishing gear such as heavy bottom trawls. Most of all, sensitive, slow-growing species and habitat types – such as certain mussels, sea urchins and sabellaria reefs – can be damaged for years or completely wiped out.

Joining forces

The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) has worked for many years at national, European and international level to secure ecosystem-friendly, sustain-able fisheries in the North Sea and Baltic Sea. BfN carries out research projects with partners such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), major research institutions, nature conservation organisations and the fishing industry. Together with the Thünen Institute, BfN has developed a set of recommendations for sustainable fisheries within marine Natura 2000 areas in the German Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (see → PDF Ökologischer und ökonomischer Nutzen fischereilicher Regulierungen in Meeresschutzgebieten). Those measures are best put into effect on a joint basis. Fisheries management measures in the German EEZ can only be pushed through at EU level, however, because the European Commission has sole authority.

See also:

Ökologischer und ökonomischer Nutzen fischereilicher Regulierungen in Meeresschutzgebieten, 2014 (1.3 MB, accessible, in german only)

Cod (Gadus morhua). Photo: Sven Gust
Cod (Gadus morhua). Photo: Sven Gust

The way forward

Conserving marine biodiversity is one of BfN’s core tasks and objectives. With regard to the ecosystem impacts of fisheries, BfN follows a range of approaches to advance that goal:

  • Close involvement in the EU Common Fisheries Policy reform process, with position papers arguing the nature conservation standpoint
  • Launching and funding research projects, notably on the impact of fisher-ies on the marine ecosystem
  • Cooperating with universities and fisheries research institutes to develop sustainable management measures for fisheries within marine protected areas in the North Sea and Baltic Sea
  • Promoting environmentally sound fishing methods in German waters that avoid bycatch, including development and use of alternative fishing gear
  • Support for the certification of ecosystem-friendly and sustainably man-aged fisheries, for example according Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) criteria, and for initiatives such as the fish shopping guides published by nature conservation organisations.


Directorate Marine Nature Conservation