NEF reports that still only half the fish the EU eats comes from EU stocks

The New Economics Foundation reports, March 2017: Despite recent gains in terms of fish stock recovery, a number of European Union (EU) fish stocks remain over-fished, which means they produce less than if they were harvested at their maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

Simultaneously, fish consumption throughout Europe remains high (22.5kg per capita, per year). The EU has been able to maintain high levels of consumption by sourcing fish from other regions of the world, both through the catches of its distant water fleet and through imports.

This report highlights Europe’s reliance on fish products originating from external waters for its fish supplies, and provides pointers towards a more sustainable future for dwindling global fish stocks.
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has estimated the degree of self-sufficiency in fish consumption achieved by the EU as a whole and for each of its member states; self sufficiency is defined as the capacity of EU member states to meet demand for fish from their own waters. We have expressed the degree of self-sufficiency in the form of a ‘fish dependence day.’

Based on a member state’s or a region’s total annual fish consumption, the fish dependency day is the date in the calendar when it will start to depend on fish from elsewhere because its own, domestic supplies have been depleted.

For the EU as a whole, fish dependence day is now 6 July, indicating that almost one-half of fish consumed in the EU is sourced from non-EU waters. Last year, it was 13 July; the year before, it was 5 July. The EU has therefore maintained a high degree of reliance on fish from non-EU waters, with its fish dependence day consistently falling in early July.

The EU’s fish dependence is still roughly three weeks earlier than in 2000 and has only moved later in the calendar by 4 days since 2007.

Whilst it is still too early to say, and in spite of the fact that fish dependence day falls one week earlier than last year, we hope the fact that levels of dependence are more or less stable marks a change in the trend and a sign that over-fishing is diminishing in EU waters. All else being equal, this would manifest itself as improving self-sufficiency.

Currently, however, the level of EU self-sufficiency is still too low; fish consumption remains high and while the productivity of fish stocks is increasing the degree of over exploitation in EU waters is still too high.

Restoring 43 out of 150 stocks in the North-East Atlantic to their maximum sustainable yield would increase the EU’s self-sufficiency levels by almost three months (81 days), moving its fish dependence day to 25 September.

If directed only to human food consumption, rebuilding European stocks could provide for the annual consumption of 100 million EU citizens.

Member states with little or no access to EU waters, such as Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia, evidently become fish dependent early in the year. More surprising, however, is that many member states with greater access to EU waters are also fish dependent early in the year. These include Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and France — all of whom source more than half of their fish from non-EU waters.

Our calculations include domestic aquaculture (fish farming) in EU countries, a growing global enterprise that has served to offset the overexploitation of EU fish stocks but has not itself been responsible for reversing the trend in fish dependence that has taken place over the past years.

Nonetheless, if we discount domestic aquaculture, the EU’s fish dependence day moves earlier in the calendar to 20 May; for big aquaculture producers such as Spain, Italy, and Greece, their respective national fish dependence day would occur more than two months earlier. Similarly, restoring EU fish stocks would result in significant gains in self-sufficiency levels.

In a context of finite resources and growing populations, this EU model has proven unsustainable. The EU’s high levels of fish dependence have implications for the sustainability of fish stocks globally, which are also over-fished, and for the communities that depend on them.

The main message of this report is that rising fish consumption in a context of overexploited stocks is environmentally unviable and socially unfair.

The EU has highly productive waters that have the potential to sustain a long-term and stable supply of fish, jobs and related social and economic benefits, but only if its fish resources are managed responsibly. We have started to see some positive signs in fish stocks recovery but are still very far from where we should be; nearly half of European stocks are still being over-fished.

The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was reformed in 2013 and this represents a significant step in the right direction as it lays the legal foundations to bring about the sustainable management of all fish stocks in Europe by 2020.

The reformed CFP also includes a discard ban, and requires member states to be transparent and take social and environmental criteria into account when allocating fishing opportunities. The new CFP is supported by the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which contains some positive measures, such as more funding to enhance data collection and improve control and enforcement.
It is now up to EU member states to choose how ambitious they want to be in implementing the reformed CFP and how quickly they can deliver on the commitments of the CFP to bring fish stocks to their maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020. Healthy fish stocks mean more food, jobs and profits, so the sooner we get there the better for everyone.

EU member states need to look beyond the short-term costs of fish stock restoration and turn the potential long-term benefits that healthy marine resources can provide into a reality.

Results from the Bio-Economic Model of European Fisheries (BEMEF) show that rebuilding most commercial EU fish stocks in North Atlantic waters to their MSY would deliver 2,052,639 tonnes of additional fish per year, enough to meet the annual demand of 89.2 million EU citizens; €1,565 million additional gross revenues per year; and €824 million additional net profits per year which could support up to 64,092 new jobs.

Additional benefits could be made by re-distributing quota under different criteria than ‘historic share’. Our recent report “Who gets to fish?” provides an extensive review of quota allocation systems across twelve EU countries and makes specific recommendations on how these systems could be improved to ensure fishing opportunities are managed in the public interest.


Source: New Economics Foundation, 22nd March 2017. For further details, see

For a copy of the NEF report Fish Dependence, 2017,see


Marinet observes: The key question for UK fisheries is, will exit from the EU make any difference?

Unless the UK can secure management of its own fish stocks, there is little prospect that the UK’s stock levels will improve to the point where we can return to fish food security — meaning, we have enough fish to catch sustainably to enable us to feed ourselves from UK stocks all year round.

And, if we do secure management of our own fish stocks — by no means a certainty because many EU countries and fishing companies will be claiming “property rights” during the exit negotiations after over 40 years of fishing in our waters — the question still remains : is the UK’s government and fishing industry actually capable of managing our fisheries sustainably?

The UK’s record prior to entry into the EU was not exactly exemplary, and the decline in UK stocks substantially predates entry into the EU.

At present over 40% of the UK’s fishing quotas under the CFP are owned by foreign companies, and although small boat fishermen account for four-fifths of the UK fleet they only receive 4% of the total UK quota allocation.

This reality means that the EU will be seeking to maintain an iron-grip on UK fishing stocks in the exit negotiations. And even if we manage to defeat this in the exit negotiations, is the UK Government going to adopt a sustainable fishing policy by ensuring that small boat fishermen are once more restored to pre-eminence, in preference to big business’s electronically over-equipped large trawling vessels, thus enabling our fish stocks to recover and deliver fish food security?

Marinet met recently with Defra to see whether “fish food security”, as well as a renaissance in the fortunes of the small boat fisherman, was on in the UK government’s agenda following exit from the EU. All we received in response to our enquiry was a master class in equivocation.

There are huge opportunities available to the UK as a nation, and the fishing industry in particular, if we can secure a sound exit from Europe.

The UK marine environmental movement needs to be taking time now to think about these opportunities, and to be conversing with our government and the industry to ensure that fish food security is on the agenda, and that the route map to this essential aim is well drawn and clear.


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