European Fish Week: Back to the Future

  • June 06, 2011

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European fishing grounds were some of the most productive in the world. Overfishing has destroyed these and many of their fisheries-dependent communities.

According to the European Commission, 72 percent of assessed EU fish stocks are estimated to be overexploited, with more than 20 percent fished beyond safe biological limits, threatening their very future. Fewer and smaller fish are being caught, and greater effort is required to find them, often resulting in the targeting of other species that are sometimes even more vulnerable.

European Fish Week photo exhibition

Fisheries management reform: An opportunity for change

"By reminding ourselves of how living with the sea used to be, we can better understand the present extent of overfishing and how we can play a part in ending it through an effective reform of the CFP."

- Uta Bellion, OCEAN2012 coordinator

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the European Union's instrument for managing fisheries and aquaculture. Since its start in 1983, the CFP has failed to prevent overfishing and to achieve its central objective: the sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources. Over 25 years, short-term economic interest and political expediency have landed European fisheries in deep crisis.

The reach of the CFP's failure is global. The EU has enormous influence on international fisheries management, and with it considerable responsibility. Its fleet is the third largest and operates in every ocean of the world. It is the largest importer of fisheries products, importing almost 70 percent of its fish.

The European Commission itself, in its 2009 Green Paper, stated that “dramatic change … is needed to reverse the current situation”.

A reform of the CFP now provides the opportunity to stop overfishing, prevent further degradation of marine ecosystems and halt the further decline of Europe's fishing industry.

Taking the message to Europe's fisheries ministers

European Fish Week is seven days of activities centred on World Oceans Day (8 June), which takes place across Europe and was established by the Pew-led OCEAN2012 coalition.

This year, from 4 to 12 June, OCEAN2012 is taking a look at how Europe's marine environment used to be healthier and how the CFP reform is an opportunity to go “back to the future”. Dive groups, aquariums, fishers and conservation organisations belonging to OCEAN2012 are hosting numerous events, from debates to film screenings and scuba dives.

European Fish Week Events

“We are really encouraged by the high level of interest in the second annual European Fish Week and the concern Europeans are expressing about the current state of our seas and the need to revitalise them,” said Uta Bellion, director of the Pew Environment Group's European Marine Programme and OCEAN2012.

“The European Commission will soon publish its proposal for a reformed Common Fisheries Policy. OCEAN2012 member groups are calling on EU fisheries ministers to deliver a policy that prioritises the marine environment, ensuring healthy fish stocks and safeguarding fisheries-dependent communities.”

During the week, OCEAN2012 member organisations will draw inspiration from historical references in music, poems, photographs and interviews with fishermen. The collected stories about and evidence of the past richness of Europe's seas and fishing communities will be delivered to EU fisheries ministers with the message “We want it back”.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Census of Marine Life's History of Marine Animal Populations project, evidence of Europe's lost fisheries is clear:

  • In 1900, the average length of cod landed in the North Sea was 1 to 1.5 metres, and the average age was eight to 10 years. Today, the average length of landed cod is a mere 50 centimetres, and the average age is less than three years.
  • In 1949, the bluefin tuna fishery in Northern Europe peaked with an annual catch of 5,485 tonnes. Today, the commercial fishery for bluefin tuna in Northern Europe is closed because the fish are gone.
  • In the 1640s, the Dutch herring fleet had 700 to 800 vessels with a total crew of 11,000 to 12,000 and an annual catch of about 50,000 tonnes. Today, one trawler with a crew of 10 to 11 can catch the same amount of herring.

“By reminding ourselves of how living with the sea used to be, we can better understand the present extent of overfishing and how we can play a part in ending it through an effective reform of the CFP”, said Bellion.

In mid-July, the European Commission is expected to publish its proposal for a reformed Common Fisheries Policy. This will be the start of an 18-month process involving negotiation between EU fisheries ministers and the European Parliament.


Oceans 2012 LogoOCEAN2012 is committed to shaping a Common Fisheries Policy that:

  • Enshrines environmental sustainability as the overarching principle without which economic and social sustainability are unobtainable.
  • Ensures decisions are taken at the most appropriate levels and in a transparent way, allowing effective participation of stakeholders.
  • Delivers sustainable fishing capacity at the EU and regional levels.
  • Makes access to fisheries resources conditional on environmental and social criteria.
  • Ensures that public funds are used in a way that serves only the public good and alleviates social impacts in the transition to sustainable fisheries.

OCEAN2012 is an alliance of organisations dedicated to transforming European fisheries policy to stop overfishing, ending destructive fishing practices and delivering fair and equitable use of healthy fish stocks.

OCEAN2012 was initiated, and is coordinated, by the Pew Environment Group.

Media Contact: Mike Walker

Topics: Oceans, Environment