Europeans Are Eating Someone Else's Fish

  • July 01, 2011

For the rest of the year, Europeans are eating someone else's fish. As Europe becomes increasingly dependent on imported seafood, it is exporting overfishing overseas.

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Eating someone else's fish

The European Union would run out of fish half way through the year if it were only to consume fish from its own waters. From July 3, Europeans start eating somebody else's fish, as the EU becomes dependent on seafood from elsewhere.

Fish Dependence dates around Europe

For several individual EU Member States, the date on which they became dependent on fish imports already passed– April 26 for Portugal, April 27 for Germany, April 30 for Italy, May 8 for Spain and June 13 for France. The UK will become fish dependent on July 16.

These are some of the key findings of a report by the Pew-led coalition, OCEAN2012, and the new economics foundation.

Exporting the problem

See also European Fish Week photo exhibition slideshow

With supermarket shelves well stocked thanks to imported fish, EU consumers are often unaware of the effects of overfishing in European waters, or the fact that Europe is effectively exporting the problem.


Mafu and Moses, workers from Senegal and Ghana, aboard the Andrekala Berria trawler, shovelling its catch of primarily blue whiting into boxes. © Corey Arnold and OCEAN2012

European fish stocks are in an extremely poor state - 72 percent of EU fish stocks are estimated to be overexploited and 20 percent are fished beyond safe biological limits.

As the EU's fish landings have declined and fish consumption continues to rise, the EU is sourcing ever more fish from third countries both through imports and the catches of its distant-water fleet. Europeans are now so dependent on fish products originating from external waters that half the fish they consume are sourced outside the EU. The EU's fleets are fishing further and further afield, putting pressure on fish stocks in distant waters and the communities that depend on those fisheries.

“The EU has the largest and used to have some of the richest fishing grounds in the world, but we have failed to manage them responsibly. To satisfy Europeans' increasing appetite for fish, overfishing is now being exported to other parts of the world”, said Uta Bellion, director of the Pew Environment Group's European Marine Programme and OCEAN2012 co-ordinator.

Dramatic change required

eum-catches-vs-imports-500The European Union is currently reforming the way it manages its fisheries. On July 13, the European Commission is expected to publish its proposal for a reformed Common Fisheries Policy. In its own words, the Commission has said “dramatic change … is needed to reverse the current situation.”

The cost of failing to act now

EU fisheries commissioner, Maria Damanaki, recently announced that if we continue with the status quo, 91% of Europe's fish stocks would be endangered within a decade. “If we don't act, we will lose one fish stock after the other. We will lose jobs. All of us will end up with less fish on our plates,” Damanaki warned.

“Eating more fish than EU waters can produce is gambling with the future of fish stocks and fisheries-dependent communities, putting at risk jobs and livelihoods in the EU and beyond,” said Aniol Esteban of the new economics foundation and co-author of the report.


Sustainable seafood requires responsible fisheries management

“Restoring the health of European fish stocks to levels where they can be fished and consumed sustainably is the obvious way to stop this trend”, Bellion noted. “The report by OCEAN2012 and nef emphazises that if people want sustainable seafood they must pressure decision-makers to reform the EU's Common Fisheries Policy with an eye on ensuring the long-term viability of European fisheries,” Bellion said.

Europe's citizens voice their concern

During this year's European Fish Week from June 4-12, Europeans concerned for the future of their fish, fishing communities and seas, did just that, attending over 50 events organized by OCEAN2012 in 13 EU Member States. Activities ranged from conferences and photo exhibitions, to scuba dives and sustainable seafood tastings with recipes cooked by celebrity chefs. The stories collected, inspired by the former richness of Europe's seas and fishing communities, will be delivered to EU fisheries ministers with the message “we want it back”. Visit the European Fish Week photo gallery for a flavor of some of the events.

OCEAN2012 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.

Media Contact: Mike Walker

Topics: Oceans, Environment