Most fish stocks in European waters are now overfished, from the North Sea to the Northeast Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
For many of Europe’s commercial stocks, numbers of adult fish are just 10% of what they were 30 years ago. Stocks are also depleted in the waters of other countries where European fleets fish.
Too many fishing boats
The basic problem is that there are just too many fishing boats. The EU fleet, for example, is larger than that which its waters can sustain. This situation is encouraged by EU subsidies to the tune of € 500 million each year, which help keep surplus boats afloat.
On top of this, current systems for fisheries management often involve more politics than science, with quotas consistently being set much higher than scientific advice.
Illegal, unregulated, and unreported
These factors, together with illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU or pirate) fishing, have led to massive overfishing. Overfishing does more than deplete valuable fish populations and put livelihoods at risk.
Fishing gear, particularly bottom trawls, can be extremely damaging to fragile marine habitats. Vast quantities of unwanted juvenile fish and other marine life are hauled up by unselective nets and hooks, only to be thrown away dead or dying.
This destruction and waste threatens endangered marine species, hampers the recovery of depleted fish populations, and reverberates throughout entire marine ecosystems.
Indeed, fishing and aquaculture have been ranked as the primary threat
to most of Europe’s marine environment.
A sustainable industry is possible
Despite the widespread and serious problems within Europe’s fisheries, WWF believes that a sustainable industry is possible - and indeed is encouraged by progress being made in some European, and other, fisheries.
However, WWF believes that much more needs to be done, and quickly. Too often, the European Commission, European governments, and the fishing industry ignore the signs warning of imminent disaster.
There is a pressing need to change the way we fish. If action is not taken now, fishing as we know it today could end within a generation.