Extraction of fish and shellfish

Fishing is one of the largest pressures in the marine environment. Unsustainable fishing levels and practices have damaged European fish stocks and habitats. There are also indirect effects such as the unintentional capture of non-targeted species caught as by-catch. Sharks, rays, mammals, seabirds and turtles are common by-catch species. Declines in these species can have major impacts on the overall function of the marine ecosystem and negatively affect food webs and predator–prey dynamics. Sustainability has been the goal of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) since it was adopted in 1983. However, over-fishing has been a problem in European seas. Only recently, after more than 30 years of CFP implementation, have we seen improvements of the status of assessed fish stocks.

There are clear examples of the recovery of stocks. In the North-east Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea fishing pressure has decreased since 2007 and fish stocks are now being exploited at sustainable levels. In the Mediterranean Sea, the number of stocks over-fished fell from 94% in 2007 to 39% in 2013.




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Relevant MSFD Descriptors

Descriptor 1. Biodiversity is maintained

 The quality and occurrence of habitats and the distribution and abundance of species are in line with prevailing physiographic, geographic and climatic conditions.

Descriptor 3. The population of commercial fish species is healthy

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

Descriptor 4. Elements of food webs ensure long-term abundance and reproduction

All elements of the marine food webs, to the extent that they are known, occur at normal abundance and diversity and levels capable of ensuring the long-term abundance of the species and the retention of their full reproductive capacity

Descriptor 6. The sea floor integrity ensures functioning of the ecosystem

Sea-floor integrity is at a level that ensures that the structure and functions of the ecosystems are safeguarded and benthic ecosystems, in particular, are not adversely affected.