Ending Overfishing in Northwestern Europe


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Pew’s work focuses on the effective implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy in Europe’s northwestern waters. At the end of 2013, the European Union agreed to a new conservation-oriented fisheries policy that includes legally binding targets to end overfishing and drastically reduce discards in its waters by 2020. The policy formally took effect Jan. 1, 2014.

The EU exerts enormous influence over international fisheries and ocean policy. It has the world’s third-largest fishing fleet and is the biggest importer and exporter of fish. Those factors have often led to governmental measures that encourage overexploitation of wild fish stocks. The new Common Fisheries Policy requires that the EU implement its policies wherever its fleet fishes.

Why Europe’s northwestern waters?

This region is made up of the North, Celtic and Irish seas and the Atlantic Ocean west of Scotland. They are geologically diverse, ranging from the deep fjords and sheer cliffs that mark the Norwegian and Scottish coastlines to the sandy beaches and wide, highly productive mudflats farther south. The region’s ecosystems, however, have been hit hard by the area’s dense population and heavy industrialization, including commercial shipping and energy development.

For more than a century, the fish stocks in Europe’s northwestern waters have been heavily exploited and overfished. That has left many populations, such as cod, low or depleted. In 2013, for example, about 48 per cent of the demersal (bottom-dwelling) fish stocks for which scientific data exist were being overfished.

Pew also hopes to secure an EU regulation to protect vulnerable deep-sea ocean habitats in these waters and beyond. Far below the surface of our oceans lie entire mountain ranges covered with ancient corals, sponges and other unusual creatures. These fragile deep-sea ecosystems have taken centuries to grow but can be destroyed within hours by industrial-scale bottom trawling. Since 2004, the General Assembly of the United Nations has repeatedly called on countries to take urgent action to regulate deep-sea fishing, in particular deep-sea bottom trawling, and to protect vulnerable deep-sea ecosystems.

In July 2012, the European Commission published a legislative proposal to overhaul the existing deep-sea fisheries in the north-eastern Atlantic regulation that they admitted was failing. It includes a gradual phase-out of targeted bottom trawling and bottom gillnet fishing by EU fleets. Before entering into force, though, the proposal needs the approval of both the European Parliament and the Council of fisheries ministers from the EU’s 28 member states. Pew is working to ensure that this happens.

Our Goals

To support effective implementation of the new Common Fisheries Policy, we are working to:

  • Ensure that overfishing ends in Europe’s northwestern waters by advocating that EU member states set fishing limits that will allow stocks to recover to sustainable levels.
  • Protect vulnerable species and ecosystems in the deep sea by securing EU measures that implement agreed-upon United Nations resolutions to regulate Europe’s bottom-fishing fleet.
  • Ensure that Europe moves forward with a management mind-set that will lead to more conservation-oriented fisheries policies in these waters, in other European regions and in other parts of the world where EU-flagged vessels operate.

Join Pew’s Campaign to End EU Overfishing!

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Contact Information

Phone: +32 2 274 16 35
Address: Avenue des Arts 40, 7th Floor, 1040 Brussels, Belgium

Media Contact

Charlotte Masiello-Riome

Manager, Communications