France and Spain sideline jobs and the environment when distributing fishing opportunities

Press Release Date: July 11, 2024

Location: Brussels


Emily Fairless | email: | tel.: +32 478 038 490

Research by Oceana finds that the two largest EU fishing nations assign fishing opportunities based on historic catch data, thus favouring large-scale fleets over artisanal vessels

France and Spain prioritise large-scale fleets over artisanal ones when allocating fishing opportunities, findings by Oceana unveiled today. Oceana is calling on EU Member States to be more transparent about their criteria when allocating fishing opportunities to their fleets, and to put more focus on avoiding habitat damage caused by the vessel, reducing its carbon footprint, and increasing employment.

Oceana’s research found that, despite progress by France and Spain, both countries predominantly allocate fishing opportunities based on historic catch records i.e. to vessels that have a history of fishing the most – 96% and 70% of the allocation weighting in France and Spain, respectively. In doing so, they mostly disregard environmental considerations – weighted only at 1% and 10%, respectively – and socio-economic ones, including the fleet’s contribution to jobs and the economy of local communities – weighted only at 3% and 20%, respectively.

Arielle Sutherland-Sherriff, Policy Advisor for sustainable fisheries at Oceana in Europe, said: “Fishing practices that are the least environmentally damaging and that provide the greatest benefits to society should have preferential access to public resources – in this case, fish. But, at present, this is not the case. In France and Spain, the two largest fishing nations in Europe, those vessels that have historically fished more get more quotas. This limits incentives to move towards sustainable fishing and discriminates against artisanal fishers who are an integral part of coastal communities.”

Lack of transparency in countries’ decisions

Moreover, both countries are not fully transparent in their allocation processes. Neither country is transparent in their methodology for determining which vessel should gain more access to fishing opportunities, by not publishing or making it difficult to access their criteria and its weighting.

“France and Spain need to change their allocation practices to ensure a fairer and sustainable exploitation of fish resources, in line with their legal obligations, and with benefits for the fishing sector, local communities, and the marine environment,” added Sutherland-Sherriff.

Fishing opportunities (including Total Allowable Catches in the Atlantic Ocean and fishing effort restrictions in the Mediterranean Sea) are agreed by fisheries ministers in the Council of the EU. Each Member State then decides how to distribute quotas or fishing days among their national fishing fleets. Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy legally requires them to use transparent and objective criteria, including those of an environmental, social, and economic nature, when allocating fishing opportunities. However, Member States do not implement this in practice.

Oceana’s research focused on France (co-authored with BLOOM) and Spain, because they are the biggest fishing countries in the EU and have Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.

Oceana is recommending EU Member States, and in particular France and Spain, to:

  • Adjust, within their legislation, the weighting of the criteria for allocating fishing opportunities – to rely less on historic catch records and put more focus on environmental and socio-economic criteria, such as the impact on the marine environment (habitat damage, selectivity of gear, carbon footprint), and the importance of the vessel for the local fishing community (employment opportunities and contribution to local economies).
  • Be more transparent in the allocation processes – by publicly disclosing information on criteria, methodology and weighting used, as well as the outcome of all allocation processes.