fishAre we running out of fish? The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 31% of world fish stocks are now estimated to be overexploited or depleted and need to be urgently rebuilt. Meanwhile, 50% of all fisheries globally are operating at or close to their limits, with no expected room for further expansion. Despite this, the demand for fresh fish is growing yearly, putting ever greater pressure on fish stocks.

The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the oft-neglected cousin of the (relatively) better-known Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Whilst CAP gobbles up almost 50% of the EU’s budget, the CFP uses less than 1%. However, in terms of environmental impact, the Fisheries Policy is just as important. Supporters argue that the CFP has protected declining fish stocks from rampant overfishing, whilst critics believe it to be part of the problem. Debating Europe recently spoke with Isabella Lövin, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Swedish Green Party. Lövin is the team leader on the Fisheries Committee for the Green Group of MEPs, and has published a book on the subject.

We haven’t had many comments yet on the topic of the CFP here at Debating Europe, but the few we have received were very negative. Van Patten sent in a comment arguing that: “the CFP has contributed to arguably one of the greatest environmental catastrophes on record… it has been an unmitigated disaster, on economic and environmental grounds.” Would Lövin agree with such a negative assessment of the CFP?


Well, I’m afraid I’ll have to confirm that. In fact, it’s been a disaster on an unimaginable scale. Due to political pressure, we have been subsidising overfishing. Our boats are simply too effective at what they do, which has created political pressure to increase the quota for catches, and politicians have given in to that. They have been exceeding scientific advice by 50% on average. They are not taking responsibility for our common resource, which is the fish.

The CFP is also affecting the marine environment in a wider sense. We’re seeing more and more scientific reports published on the connections between overfishing of predatory fish from the marine ecosystems and algae blooming.

Van Patten’s argument is that things would have been better without the CFP. Is he right? Would fish stocks be in a better situation if everything was regulated at a national level instead of having an EU-wide Common Fisheries Policy?

Well, I think in many cases it would have been worse. One example is that if you look at Poland, their fisheries policy has no-doubt improved since they joined the EU. The collaboration on fisheries management in the Baltic states has improved, there’s also no doubt about that. Of course, other EU member-states would have improved their fisheries management substantially if they weren’t part of the EU.

Another comment we received on this topic came from Tim Worstall, who suggested an alternative to the CFP: “We could in fact do what has saved, as an example, the Alaskan halibut fishery: Tradeable Individual Quotas. Not dissimilar from what Norway, Iceland and the Faroes (all safely outside [the] absurd CFP) do. It works and doesn’t require bureaucrats to be pompous about it all. Who could possibly be opposed to it?

I don’t think ITQs are a magic bullet. Nor are they the only sensible answer to fisheries management in Europe. There are, in fact, several problems associated with ITQs; the most obvious one being that you privatise a common resource. In some cases – in Iceland for instance – it’s now totally out of the possibility of public control. The quotas are now owned to a large extent by banks and investors, and not by Icelanders. They’ve become objects of speculation, more like the stock-market, which is not really desirable. In Norway it’s been more successful, but they’ve limited a lot the geographic extension of the market. You can’t sell your fishing rights to someone far away, and you can only sell to someone who has a fishing license in your own segment.

ITQs could be designed to get rid of over-capacity, but they always have to be coupled with good management measures where you set limits to how much fishing can take place. There shouldn’t be any compromise from politicians.

Is there anything that could be done by the EU that would have a positive impact on fishing stocks?

Overfishing can be curbed, and it has been in the US, Australia and New Zealand. In Norway, it’s not as evident as in EU waters… I think having multi-annual fishing management plans – which has been proposed by the Commission – is key. You should not have management on a year-to-year basis. They realised this in the US and in New Zealand and Australia, and they did something about it.

Politicians are only elected for a few years, so it’s difficult for them to think in the long-term. However, it’s critical that we put legislation in place now to make sure we improve Europe’s fisheries. Europe is not self-sufficient when it comes to fish anymore, we’re now importanting more than 60% of our fish.

This is also a matter of the EU taking responsibility globally because, since we’ve depleted our own stocks miserably, it’s not only an environmental issue at home. It’s become a question of where do we get the fish we are importing… and we get a large part from developing countries’ waters, fished in an unsustainable way. We have to get this right, because the current situation is not sustainable from any point of view.

What do YOU think? Does the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy do more harm than good? Should we revert back to individual national fishing policies, or does the CFP provide much-needed coordination between member-states? After all, fish don’t respect national borders, so should legislation? What should we do to protect Europe’s fish stocks? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers for their reactions.


12 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Christos Mouzeviris

    Well we really need to reform both CFP and CAP…They might have been successful (for some) back when they were drafted but things change and move forward. They are out of date.

    In my opinion I do not see why we always have to go for one extreme or another..Either totally scrap or keep as it is…

    I would prefer if our fisheries were managed on a more national or local level, but following certain pan-European (or EU if you’d like) regulations and quotas to prevent overfishing. Of course one would wonder if those quotas would be respected. Well here comes the role of our national and local authorities.

    Each country should have the responsibility and management of its own fishing grounds, but cooperate with other EU nations and of course follow the rules of EU.

    We should allow local fishermen to make a living and do not make fishing a corporate business that belongs to those large fleets only. Stop seeing fish as a commodity that can be traded in the stock markets. It is a living organism that belongs to no one but itself.

    If one region is over-fished then the EU should impose stricter quotas or even a ban in fishing in those waters until the stocks are back to a healthy population. Only local fishermen can continue fishing in those waters, but following a strict quota.

    Where can the large fleets of the affected regions should go and fish then? Perhaps another EU nation can hire those fleets and give them job by allowing to fish in their waters, but the catch should be absorbed in the EU market, not only in the country of origin of those fleets that are hired.

    In that way the fishermen do not stay out of job, the local fishermen are also protected against the larger fleets and the fish are being given a chance to replenish their numbers.

  2. Zoétán Jenei

    ennek a politikának nemzetközinek kell lenie mert nemzetközi vizeken halásznak és a halak védelmében is korlátozni kell egyes halfajok halászatát

  3. Ron

    The “funny” thing with the CFP reform is that, from what I have seen over the last two years following the debate, close to everyone seems to agree that it has failed to reach its objectives but everyone is blaming the others that it’s their fault.

    Small fishermen see this as a result of big fishing, fisheries industry sees it as a problem of regulation and problematic scientific basis, environmental NGOs blame the industry, national organisations blame the fact that their traditional rights to access are shared, the Commission is trying to mediate but has difficulties to find a compromise point. Some think rights-based management is the solutions, others feel that this will only favour the big players, and so on.

    As an observer, I don’t see whether there will be any realistic changes in the policy that most think has failed, and if yes, what these changes will be. The Commission’s proposals are on the table, but the debate in Parliament and Council still looks quite chaotic to me.

  4. Muhammed Hansrod

    Legislation that attempt to save migratory fish populations will only work if they cover the full range of their movement.

  5. Muhammed Hansrod

    Legislation that attempt to save migratory fish populations will only work if they cover the full range of their movement.

  6. Andrew Cook

    better question this. How about something even more relevant. EU officials are paid too much?

  7. Χρήστος Καπνίσης

    Due to the current fishing legislation fish and fish products in Greece have become unreasonably expensive. Due to economic depression, fish, once the most common and cheap food in Greece is missing from our diet.

  8. Efrossiny Exarchoulakou

    actually we do not know much about fishery policies and what exactly represents the all action could you please send a site through facebook in order to get involve seriously to this issue;

  9. Michèle Mesmain

    CPF could be extremely positive if well designed, but that implies:
    - the existence of a well designed political vision that promotes responsability on all levels, in all fields.
    - that vision to be the common direction to all policies.
    Even if the CPF is reformed to promote sustainable practices and fishing levels, you still have to deal with pollution, cliamte change, illegal fishing, proper understanding of food and health interactions, etc.

    Today, personal responsability, towards resources and community is discouraged, on most levels, and education systems in place does not encourage it either.

    There cannot be any long term solutions if you do not engage citizens, small and large scale citizens, retailers, science and conservation organization. And any long term policy must look at ecosystems and the links between different ecosystem. So local, national, european and global levels must be dealt with together, starting by building a common vision and cooperative management that aims to achieve the best possible ressource exploitation while maximising social positive impact. While economics of such an industry must be healthy, the policies must avoid a profit driven approach.

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