The Mediterranean is currently the most overfished from all the Europe’s seas. Overfishing in this region began around the ‘70s, when fishing effort increased considerably thanks to technological developments that allowed fleets to fish farther, deeper and find catches more easily.
Latest assessments of the situation in the Mediterranean revealed that over 90% of stocks fished exclusively by EU countries are overexploited above what is considered sustainable (i.e. Maximum Sustainable Yield, or MSY).
The main fishing stocks’ in the Mediterranean Sea are today below sustainable biomass levels (i.e. under MSY). In addition, fishing catches have remained extremely high for years. As a result, the main commercial demersal fish stocks (e.g. European hake, red mullet) are overfished and some of them at risk of collapse.
Overall, only two crustacean stocks (e.g. deep-water rose shrimp and giant red shrimp), in the Ligurian and North Tyrrhenian Sea area, and one small pelagic stock (sardine) in the Northern Alboran Sea, are fished at sustainable levels. European hake, an important commercial species, is fished up to 12 times higher than sustainable levels in certain areas of the Western Mediterranean; while some stocks of blue whiting, black-bellied angler and red mullet are all fished at levels around 10 times higher than what is considered sustainable according to science.
The alarming state of Mediterranean fish stocks is the result of decades of mismanagement, misreporting, and illegal fishing. Politicians have repeatedly ignored scientific advice, failed to implement existing measures, and failed to set adequate control measures for where they were implemented.
The EU is the key fishing actor in terms of volume of catches, the size and the capacity of its fleet. Therefore, it is up to the EU and its Member States to ensure that stocks are fished at sustainable levels, no later than 2020, as required under the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Once this deadline has passed, the overfishing of EU stocks will become illegal. Furthermore, EU environmental laws state that by 2020 EU countries should guarantee ecologically diverse, and abundant oceans that are equally clean, healthy and productive.
Facing the real consequences of the Mediterranean Sea crisis, the European Commission launched MedFish4Ever Declaration in Malta in March 2017, signed by Ministers of Fisheries of all the Mediterranean Sea countries. The ministerial declaration is a blueprint for cooperation and sustainable development of fisheries for all costal states in the region over the next 10 years. In practical terms, this political pact made the countries to commit to following scientific advice, to ensuring the sustainability of resources and the recovery of heavily overfished stocks.