Overfishing rate back on the rise after a decade of recovery

43% of Atlantic and 83% of Mediterranean fish populations assessed are overfished

Press Release Date: June 20, 2021



Emily Fairless, Communications Officer | email: efairless@oceana.org | tel.: +32 478 038 490

Brussels. The rate of overfishing has increased in European waters, according to today’s report  by the European Commission on the state of play of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Oceana deplores this confirmation that the EU is moving further away from its legal commitment to exploit all harvested fish populations sustainably. To add to this, the landing obligation does not seem to be properly enforced, and the illegal practice of discarding continues. 

The painfully slow implementation of EU legal requirements and the continued reluctance by Member States to follow scientific advice is bearing unwelcome, but not unexpected, fruit said Vera Coelho, Oceana´s Senior Director, Advocacy in Europe. In light of the ongoing biodiversity and climate crises, we cannot afford any step back in achieving sustainable fisheries. It is high time for the European Commission, Member States and the fishing industry to fully implement EU fisheries law to save our seas and secure a prosperous future for our fishing communities.”

An earlier report1 by an EU advisory body, the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), confirmed that many of the assessed European fish populations remain overfished or outside safe biological limits. Indeed, the proportion of overfished stocks increased from 38% to 43% in the North-East Atlantic, after a decade of recovery, while the situation in the Mediterranean and Black Seas remains dire with 83% of assessed stocks overfished.

The poor conservation status of these fish populations is mainly due to the setting of fishing opportunities above levels recommended by scientific advice, the lack of effective remedial measures to recover depleted fish populations and the poor compliance with the landing obligation. Oceana regrets the European Commission’s continued reluctance to acknowledge the persistent issue of overfishing in the EU, despite the Commission’s important role in ensuring the implementation of EU law and in proposing and negotiating annual fishing opportunities with the Member States.

Repeated warnings by environmental NGOs and STECF that the EU was failing to meet its legal commitment to end overfishing by 2020 have fallen on deaf ears.  Oceana urges the EU institutions – European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the EU – and the Member States to fully implement the CFP and finally transition to sustainable fisheries and to an ecosystem-based approach. The Commission should also not hesitate to take legal action against those countries that do not fulfil their obligations.


The reformed CFP regulation2 entered into force on 1 January 2014. It contains ambitious objectives and concrete timelines to put the European Union at the forefront of global fisheries management and make European fisheries economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. Although the CFP has brought about a general increase in the profitability of the EU fleet and reduced overfishing, progress in implementing the CFP has been too slow to end overfishing, rebuild fish populations and protect marine ecosystems. For some fish stocks, no progress has been made.

Oceana and other NGOs have drawn attention to the lack of progress in ending overfishing every year since the entry into force of the revised CFP, supported by annual STECF reports confirming that the trajectory to end overfishing by 2020 as legally required was off course.

While the CFP remains a relevant legal framework for fisheries management, it lacks adequate implementation, control and enforcement. Addressing these shortcomings is critical now, and indeed the European Commission has a comprehensive toolkit at its disposal, with the power to initiate legislative, political and legal action.

The CFP must be fully applied if the EU is to deliver on the objectives of the European Green Deal and build back better after the Covid-19 crisis. Overfishing and destructive fishing practices have been the main cause of marine biodiversity loss for the last 40 years and they also critically undermine the resilience of fish, seabirds, marine mammals and other wildlife to the impacts of climate change3.

Learn more:

“Reply to the Commission on the state of progress in implementing the CFP through the setting of fishing opportunities” (July 2020)


Notes to editors:

1. Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) 21-01, “Monitoring the performance of the Common Fisheries Policy” (2021).
3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” (2019)  & Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services “Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” (2019)


  #CFPreality #EndOverfishing