Fishing is a widespread practice in Europe’s seas. It provides a high-protein, low-fat food that is increasingly demanded by European citizens, and is also an economic sector that generated more than half a million jobs in 2018.
Fishing has also a high impact on the marine environment, including the overexploitation of targeted species, physical disturbance of seabed habitats, by-catch and impacts on the structure and functioning of the marine ecosystem.
In relation to 'Commercially exploited fish and shellfish', the Marine Strategy Framework Directive considers that 'good environmental status' is achieved when ‘Populations of all commercially exploited fish and shellfish are within safe biological limits, exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock (EC, 2008, 2017)'.
Condition of the populations of commercially exploited fish and shellfish
The fishing mortality rates (i.e. fishing pressure), reproductive capacities (i.e. spawning stock biomass) and the age/size distribution of all commercially exploited populations across all EU marine regions need to be compatible with having population biomass levels that are above those capable of producing Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) by 2020 as part of fulfilling the objective of the Common Fisheries Policy and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive ‘good environmental status’ (GES) for descriptor 3 on ‘commercially exploited fish and shellfish’. However, 44.8 % of the assessed stocks do not meet either the fishing mortality rate or the SSB thresholds, although there are significant differences between regions. It should be noted that it is only possible to assess 10.5 % of the exploited stocks against both of the criteria, and 39.3 % against at least one of them (Table 1; EEA, 2020).
The North-East Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea have been showing progress towards achieving the 2020 goal, due to improved management decisions (Zimmermann and Werner, 2019). Thus, only 17.7 % and 37.5 % of the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea assessed stocks, respectively, did not meet any of the above-mentioned GES criteria in 2017 (Table 1). In contrast, 93.9 % and 85.7 % of the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea assessed stocks, respectively, did not meet any of the two above-mentioned GES criteria in 2016 (Table 1). Therefore, these seas remain highly overfished (FAO, 2018).
Table 1: Environmental status of commercially exploited fish and shellfish stocks in relation to meeting two of the primary criteria that define the MSFD’s ‘good environmental status’ objective for descriptor 3 on ‘commercially exploited fish and shellfish’ (EEA, 2020)
• The MSFD includes a third primary criterion to determine GES in relation to descriptor 3 on ‘commercially exploited fish and shellfish’ (i.e. on the age and size structure of the populations of fish/shellfish (cf. EC, 2017)), but, at present, there is no agreed EU-level method to assess it, hence it is not included here.
• The first two rows are based on the total number of commercially exploited fish/shellfish stocks landed across Europe’s seas (295 stocks). Out of these, some stocks can be assessed using any of the two GES primary criteria for descriptor 3 (116 stocks), some by standards other than GES (52 stocks), and some are not assessed at all (127 stocks).
• The last four rows are based on the number of commercially exploited fish/shellfish stocks for which one and/or two of the primary criteria used to determine GES for descriptor 3 can be assessed (116 stocks).
• Data gaps remains for many stocks.
Outcomes from the MSFD assessments
In 2018, Member States had to update the Good Environmental Status (GES) assessments performed under Marine Strategy Framework Directive Article 8. The present dashboard displays the overall status reported by countries for the features, where the results show which is the percentage of assessments where GES has been achieved, not achieved or is unknown or not assessed.
- EC, 2008. Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) (Text with EEA relevance)
- EC, 2017. Commission Directive (EU) 2017/845 of 17 May 2017 amending Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the indicative lists of elements to be taken into account for the preparation of marine strategies (Text with EEA relevance)
- EEA, 2019a, ‘Aquaculture production (MAR 008)’, European Environment Agency
- EEA, 2019b, ‘Status of marine fish and shellfish stocks in European seas (CSI 032/MAR 007)’, European Environment Agency
- EEA, 2020, Marine messages II, EEA Report No 17/2019, European Environment Agency
- FAO, 2018, State of Mediterranean and Black Sea Fisheries 2018, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome
- Zimmermann, F. and Werner, K. M., 2019, ‘Improved management is the main driver behind recovery of Northeast Atlantic fish stocks’, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 17(2), pp. 93-99. DOI: 10.1002/fee.2002