German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


EU fisheries policy

French fishing boat in Brittany. Photo: Katrin Wollny-Goerke
French fishing boat in Brittany. Photo: Katrin Wollny-Goerke

EU fisheries policy facing major problems

European waters are a prime example of failure to implement the ecosystem approach in fisheries management: To promote sustainable fisheries, every year for decades the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) recommended appropriate fishing quotas based on scientific population estimates for the fish stocks that are commercially harvested in the North Sea and Baltic Sea. Yet for political and socioeconomic reasons, the total allowable catches decided each year by the EU Council of Ministers often far exceeded the scientific recommendations based on ecosystem carrying capacity. The outcome was, and still is, persistent overfishing of numerous commercially harvested fish species.

Main causes behind the past failure of EU fisheries policy

  • Failure to implement the ecosystem approach
  • Fleet capacity not geared to available resources
  • Large quantities of bycatch and discards of juvenile target species
  • Failure to adhere to scientific recommendations in policy decisions such as the setting of total allowable catch (TAC) quotas

Result: Fishing mortality too high overall.

Fishing quotas are set at EU level. Photo: Katrin Wollny-Goerke
Fishing quotas are set at EU level. Photo: Katrin Wollny-Goerke

Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy

The EU Common Fisheries Policy, which governs fishing in European waters and lays down fishing quotas, was in urgent need of reform. After years of negotiations, not least between the European Parliament and the Council, a comprehensive reform package was finally adopted in 2011. The compromise provides for sustainable management of fish stocks and addresses the major problem of bycatch of juvenile target species.

The new Basic Regulation on the Common Fisheries Policy entered into force on 1 January 2014.

Key points of the reform:

  • Exploitation rates commensurate with the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) are to be achieved where possible by 2015 and for all stocks by 2020. Man-agement plans are multiannual and are to be extended to cover all com-mercially exploited species.
  • A major element is the introduction of discard bans and mandatory landing from 1 January 2015 for all species with total allowable catches (TACs). By-catch of undersize individuals of such species must be landed and may only be discarded in specific exceptional circumstances. Up to 95 percent of pre-vious discards of unwanted and undersize fish are to be avoided in this way. Selective fishing methods are to be supported as an additional incentive for fisheries to attain the discard reduction target.
  • EU member states are to push ahead with eliminating overcapacity in fish-ing fleets.
  • New provisions on regionalisation give member states greater responsibility in shaping and implementing the Common Fisheries Policy.

5-year-review (2014-2019) of the EU Common Fisheries Policy

This study "5-year-review (2014-2019) of the EU Common Fisheries Policy” provides a mid-term review of the implementation, effectiveness and existing deficits of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). It was carried out by the Environmental Action Germany (DUH) on behalf of the BfN with the participation of fisheries experts from various disciplines.

This study takes stock of 5 years under CFP, examining the development of European fish stocks, the integration of conservation issues, and interfaces with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). It considers economic concerns such as the creation of incentives for the fishing industry and evaluates the extent to which important sustainability targets have been achieved. Proposals are also being made on how to improve the current implementation of the CFP and the future revised version.

The study is available in a short and long version, as well as in German and English.

5-Jahresbilanz (2014-2019) der Gemeinsamen Fischereipolitik der EU
5-Jahresbilanz (2014-2019) der Gemeinsamen Fischereipolitik der EU – Kurzfassung 
5-year review (2014-2019) of the EU Common Fisheries Policy
5-year review (2014-2019) of the EU Common Fisheries Policy – summary

Coastal fishing boat. Photo: Christian Pusch (BfN)
Coastal fishing boat. Photo: Christian Pusch (BfN)

Supporting role of the EMFF

The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) supports the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), smoothing the transition to sustainable fisheries based on the ecosystem approach under the reformed CFP. The EMFF thus aims to ensure that European fisheries and aquaculture follow a sustainable and envi-ronment-friendly development path and to promote measures to protect and im-prove marine ecosystems. A priority is thus on promoting sustainable and re-source-efficient fisheries, and importantly on reducing their impact on the marine environment.

A partnership agreement lays down the funding framework for German national implementation of Structural Fund support. Among other things it lists BfN spe-cies and habitat conservation activities and projects so that they can be allocated EMFF funding. The focus here is on activities to protect harbour porpoises and seabirds, mostly targeting the problem of bycatch in set nets. Such activities thus include ideas for the development and promotion of alternative, ecosystem-friendly fishing gear such as longlines and fish traps. Also included are projects to study the negative impacts of bottom trawl gear on benthic habitat types and species, and measures to avoid such impacts.


Directorate Marine Nature Conservation