Europe’s fishing grounds were once among the world’s most productive, but 40 years of mismanagement under the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy, or CFP, led to serious depletion of fish populations and degradation of the ecosystem. Europe’s fishing became unsustainable, increasingly unprofitable and overly reliant on public subsidies. This has led to a decline in the economic viability of numerous coastal communities, the transfer of Europe’s overcapacity (too many ships for the number of fish left) to developing countries’ waters and the high seas, and an ever-growing reliance on imported fish.
In 2009, The Pew Charitable Trusts and its partners, the Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements, Fisheries Secretariat, the new economics foundation and Seas At Risk, launched the OCEAN2012 coalition to support fundamental reform of the CFP. Since then the coalition has swelled from its original five groups to 192, representing 24 EU member states, and including fishermen’s organisations, leading marine scientists, development agencies, environmental non-governmental organisations, aquaria, and others that share an interest in sustainable fisheries.
After more than four and a half years of concerted advocacy and public education by OCEAN2012 and other large NGOs, and fuelled by a groundswell of public support, European legislators took a huge step in May 2013 toward sustainable fisheries management. They set a target to end EU overfishing by 2015 where possible, and by 2020 at the latest. Finally adopted in December 2013, the deal which was brokered between the European Parliament, the European Commission, and all 28 EU member states, also seeks to greatly decrease the discarding of bycatch, a practice where tonnes of dead or dying fish are wastefully thrown back into the sea every year. In January 2014, a political deal was agreed by the European Parliament and the Council on EU subsidies that should help end overfishing.
The OCEAN2012 coalition has worked consistently over the years to end environmentally harmful subsidies to the EU fisheries sector and to reduce excess fishing capacity. As part of this effort, The Pew Charitable Trusts has supported FishSubsidy.org, a project that seeks to reveal how and where EU fisheries subsidies are spent.