+44 (0)20 7799 6677

Common Fisheries Policy

PDF version

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is designed to give member states equal access to all EU fishing waters, making them a common resource. The EU manages access to fishing waters and determines how many fish a national fleet can catch. The stated aim of the CFP is to help conserve fish stocks.

The CFP has been widely criticised by those who see it as a wasteful policy that has damaged the environment and the fishing industry. Employment in the fishing industry has declined since the policy’s introduction, particularly in the UK.  Since 2013, following CFP reforms, there has been evidence that fish stocks have started to recover.

The CFP was launched in 1970 to provide a common market for fishing. All members of the EU, including the UK, have accepted the CFP principle of equal access to fishing grounds. However, the UK has a concession that gives British fishing boats exclusive fishing rights up to six miles off its coast.

In 1983, policies were introduced to curb over-fishing. These included total allowable catches, national species quotas and minimum net sizes. In 1991 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) overruled a court decision in the UK. This effectively legalised the practice of quota hopping. This allows national fleets to register their boats in other member states, meaning they can fish and use up quotas from other countries in the EU. In this instance, Spanish fishing boats were able to register in the UK, allowing them to use up quotas designated to the UK.

Negotiations on quotas take place every year in December. Quotas are based on proposals from the European Commission, and allocated by the Council of fisheries ministers. Since 1992, there has been a general trend to reduce quotas, but more quotas are being increased again as stocks recover. For 2016 less than half of species quotas were decreased.

To try to ensure fish populations remain at a healthy level, a number of measures have been introduced. Reform in 2002 allowed tougher action against those who break the rules. In 2010, further rules came into force to combat illegal fishing.  Also, fishermen who find stocks of young fish must report them and fishing can be temporarily suspended in those areas.

To prevent billions of dead fish being thrown back into the sea because they broke species quotas, rules are being introduced so that by 2019 fishermen will have to land all the fish they catch. This is to help the EU achieve a 2020 target of maintaining the highest level of fishing without reducing fish populations.

Making the CFP work

Quotas are managed by national governments, so the CFP’s success depends on their commitment to implement them. Poor implementation by some governments has damaged fish stocks. The European Commission has powers to intervene if they find that governments are not correctly enforcing quotas. If issues cannot be resolved through consulting national governments the European Commission can withhold funds, close fisheries and reduce future quotas to make up for any over-fishing.

The EU has also expanded its fishing area, by paying countries outside the EU to allow EU countries to fish their waters. These third country agreements have been controversial as some claim that fishing by EU countries off the coast of North Africa has ruined local fishing communities. CFP negotiations are also often difficult. The CFP caused problems in negotiations on Iceland’s planned membership of the EU because fishing is such a large part of Iceland’s economy. Iceland withdrew their application to the EU in 2015. The European Fisheries Fund, through which the EU will support fisheries across the union, has a 2014 to 2020 budget of about €7.4 billion.