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The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the fisheries policy of the European Union. It sets quotas for which member state are allowed to catch what amounts of each type of fish, as well as encouraging the fishing industry by various market interventions. In 2004 it had a budget of €931 million, approximately 0.75% of the EU budget.

The Policy has been criticised both by scientists concerned with dwindling fish stocks, and by fishermen, who say it is threatening their livelihoods.

When came into force, the Treaty of Lisbon will formally enshrine fisheries conservation policy as one of the handful of 'exclusive competences' reserved for the European Union, to be decided by Qualified Majority Voting. However, general fisheries policy remains a "shared competence" of the Union and its member states. Thus decisions will still be made primarily by the council of ministers, as is the case now.

The common fisheries policy was created to manage fish stocks for the European Union as a whole. Article 38 of the 1957 Treaty of Rome which created the European Communities (now European Union) stated that there should be a common policy for fisheries.

Importance of fishing

Fishing is a relatively unimportant economic activity within the EU. It contributes generally less than 1% to gross national product, but employs 260,000 fishermen catching 8 million tonnes of fish in 1995. In the same year 1.6 million tonnes of fish were exported, while 4.3 million tonnes were imported. The EU fleet has 97,000 vessels of varying sizes. Fish farming produced a further 1 million tonnes of fish and shellfish and employed another 85,000 people. The shortfall between fish catches and demand varies, but there is an EU trade deficit in processed fish products of € 3 billion.
Fishing represents no more than 10% of local employment in any region of the EU, but it is often in areas where other employment opportunities are limited. For this reason, community funds have been made available to fishing as a means of encouraging regional development.

The market for fish and fish products has changed in recent years. Supermarkets are now the main buyers of fish and expect steady supplies. Fresh fish sales have fallen, but demand for processed fish and prepared meals has grown. Despite this, employment in fish processing has been falling, with 60% of fish consumed in the EU coming from outside. This is partly due to improvements in the ability to transport fresh fish internationally. Competitiveness of the EU fishing industry has been affected by overcapacity and shortages of fish to catch.


Fish farming is the fastest growing area of world food production. In 1995 it produced 1/3 in value of world production of fish and shellfish. Main species in the EU are trout, salmon, mussels and oysters, but interest has been shown in sea bass, sea bream and turbot. Community support began in 1971 for inland fish farming, but was extended to other areas in the late 1970s. EU support covers similar areas to other land installations, but with additional concerns of technical and environmental problems caused by introducing major fish concentrations where farms are built. The industry suffers problems due to fluctuating demand for farmed fish.

Mechanisms of the CFP

The CFP currently has four components:
  • Regulation of production, quality, grading, packaging and labeling
  • Encouraging producers organizations intended to protect fishermen from sudden market changes.
  • Setting minimum fish prices and financing buying up of unsold fish.
  • Set rules for trade with non-EU countries

Total allowable catch

The CFP sets quotas for how much of each species can be caught. Each country is given a quota based upon the total available and their traditional share of the catch (Total Allowable Catch, TAC). This has been a source of contention amongst states who joined the EU after the system had been set up and so did not have a historical catch share.

TACs are fixed annually by the council of ministers in December. They consider proposals drawn up by the European commission in consultation with its own scientific advisers (Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee of Fisheries STECF), the views of non EU fishing nations and those of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Each member state is responsible for policing its own quotas. Different countries distribute the available stock using different systems.

Fishing controls

Each vessel is allocated an individual fishing quota for regulated species. Catches and landings must be recorded. Regulations are made about the kind of fishing gear which may be used. Areas may be closed from fishing to allow stocks to recover.

There is a minimum size for fish which may be landed. This led to a practice of simply dumping dead fish which were too small to be landed legally, so a minimum mesh size was introduced, allowing small fish to escape and replenish stocks. Choice of mesh is complicated because mature fish of different species are naturally different sizes and different nets must be used.

Structural policy and onshore fishing industry

In 1977 an aid programe was introduced to improve the fish processing industries. This includes such things as fish filleting, salting, drying, smoking, cooking, freezing and canning. It was intended to indirectly assist the catching industry. There has been an attempt to introduce new technologies to the sector, improve hygiene conditions, and also fund conversions of fish processing factories to other uses.

Each country is given a target for the size of their fleet. Funding is available to assist modernization of boats and installations, but also to buy out fishermen to reduce the fleet size. Money is available for advertising campaigns to encourage consumption of fish species which are not over fished, or are unfamiliar with the public. Also, grants are available to assist the industry in improving product quality and managing quotas.

Producers organisations

The EU's fishing fleet numbers 88,000 - the second largest in the world - and can fish freely across the European Union catching nearly six million metric tonnes a year
There are now more than 160 producers organizations (PO) in the EU. These are voluntary organizations set up by fishermen or fish farmers to assist in selling their product. Their members must include a minimum percentage of vessels in that sector, not discriminate in terms of nationality or location of their members within the EU, and must comply with other EU regulations. Organisations are required to develop plans to adjust fish catches to market demand. They may require non-members fishing in the same areas to follow the same restrictions as members.

They are empowered to take produce out of the market if prices fall below levels set by the council of ministers and receive compensation from the community. Levels of compensation are set such that price falls as the amount of fish involved increases. Fish stocks may be stored and later returned to the market, or sold for animal feeds. Buying up of stocks must only be to cover occasional surpluses.

Tuna fishermen have a scheme where surplus stock is not bought up, but fishermen receive direct compensation if their income falls.

International relations

Fishing rights to fisheries outside the EU were lost when international boundaries were expanded in 1976. The EU has negotiated agreements to recover some of these fishing grounds in return for alternative trading rights with the EU. External trade is now affected by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), regulated by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

African fisheries communities

The EU has affected the livelihood of many African fisheries communities. By negotiating the so-called 'third country agreements' with some African governments, the EU is (in some cases literally) pushing African fishermen out of the market. It is one downside to such EU policies and illustrates that improvements are necessary in the EU for dealing with third countries.

Areas of cooperation

Responsibility for fisheries in the Baltic seamarker was shared with the International Baltic Sea Fishery Commission (IBFC), to which the EU belonged until January 1 2006. The Commission ceased to exist on January 1 2007.

Most Mediterranean fishing is confined to a 12 mile (22 km) strip considered territorial waters. The EU belongs to the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, which also makes recommendations for Mediterranean tuna. In 1994 conservation regulations were introduced banning certain fishing methods. In 1997 targets were set for tuna catches.


Enforcement is the responsibility of member states, but there is a community level inspection service to ensure that member states enforce the rules within their own country. Member states are also under an obligation to ensure that their vessels observe EU agreements when operating outside the EU. The regulations are also intended to harmonise penalties for breaking the regulations in different countries.

Enforcement involves managing quotas and implementing technical measures to preserve fish stocks. Inspectors may check fishing gear and inspect the register of fish caught. The type of fish caught will be checked and compared to quotas of total permitted catch for a vessel. Checks may be made in port or at sea, and using aerial photography.

Inspectors may also check fish processing factories to ensure that all fish is documented and can be traced to its source. EU inspectors check that hygiene and processing regulations in any country exporting to the EU are satisfactory and of an equal standard to controls within the EU.

Non-compliance remains a significant problem. In a number of EU fisheries, illegal fishing accounts for one-third to one-half of all catches.

Funding provision

Fishing was initially funded under the European Agriculture Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF). In 1993 a separate fund was established (FIFG), the Financial Instrument for Fisheries. From 1994 to 1999 the budget for FIFG totaled 700 million ECU. Any grant from FIFG must be accompanied by a minimum contribution from the national government. A grant to business must include a proportionate contribution from the business itself. Different rates of aid are applied to different regions.

From 2007 to 2013, the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) will provide approximately 3.8 billion Euro to the European fishing sector. The adoption of the EFF was not uncontested, in particular by environmental groups, as it includes the possibility to fund vessel modernisation and other measures, which might increase pressure on already overfished stocks.

Fishing and the environment

In 1997 North Seamarker states and EU representatives agreed a joint approach to identifying risks to the marine environment. A precautionary approach was adopted to seek to prevent pollution before damage was caused to the environment. Studies are being undertaken to monitor stocks of all fish, not just those which are commercially important.


The Common Fisheries policy (along with its sister, the Common Agricultural Policy) has been argued to have had disastrous consequences. The UK, for instance, having given up its sovereignty over its own waters, let the EU create a "tragedy of the commons" on its own doorstep. Economists and historians will recognise that common land tends to be overfarmed and overused, and in a similar vein the absence of property rights in the waters around the UK has led to overfishing such that the price of fish and seafood has rocketed. Whereas oysters were for hundreds of years the food of the poor, now they are a luxury. Cod stocks have been on the decline for some time, as have all other varieties of fish. Innovators are starting to come up with fish "farms" to get over this problem.To compound this problem, EU quotas mean that a huge number of fish are thrown overboard after being caught; yet as they are dead, this does not alleviate the problem as it was intended. Indeed, it just makes the fish at market all the more scarce and prices even higher.

The Common Fisheries policy has been a major reason for countries with big fish resources, like Norwaymarker and Icelandmarker, the Danish dependencies Greenlandmarker and the Faroe Islandsmarker, and some more dependencies, to stay outside the European Union.



The first rules were created in 1970. When the fisheries policy was originally set up the intention was to create a free trade area in fish and fish products with common rules. It was agreed that fishermen from any state should have access to all waters. An exception was made for the coastal strip which was reserved for local fishermen who had traditionally fished those areas. A policy was created to assist modernization of fishing vessels and on-shore installations.


In 1976 The EU extended its fishing waters from 12 miles to 200 miles (22.2 km to 370.4 km) from the coast, in line with other international changes. This required additional controls and the CFP as such was created in 1983. This now had four areas of activity: Conservation of stocks, vessels and installations, market controls, and external agreements with other nations.

1992 review

It was determined that there had been overinvestment in vessels, overfishing and that numbers of fish landed were decreasing. The review identified a need to improve compliance with the regulations. This led to a tightening of regulations and better monitoring of individual vessels. A second review was planned for 2002


Although fishing could be managed by reducing the fleet size, available fish vary from year to year too much to make this sensible. So a permit system was introduced stating where and when boats are allowed to fish. Scientific studies were commissioned to better determine available stocks and guide allocation of permits.

See also



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