Marine fish

Europe’s regional seas contain an enormous diversity of marine fish species. An estimated 650 fish species range in size from the enormous 11-metre basking shark to microscopic species that rarely reach a centimetre in length.

Photo: The largest European fish species; the basking shark, pictured here feeding.

Source: © Alex Mustard

For non-commercial fish species, assessments by EU Member States under the MSFD provide the most comprehensive status overview. Of the 363 population assessments, 21 % of species were considered to have ‘good’ status, and 26 % were considered not to have good status. The remaining assessments were reported as 'unknown' and account for some 40 %.

For commercial fish species, stock assessments provide the best source of information and allow for a more complete and coherent assessment at the European and regional levels. Most of the assessed commercial fish stocks (58 %) are not in good environmental status, while 40 % of EU catches have not been assessed.

Proportion of assessed fish stocks with ‘good’ environmental status


Observed changes in marine food webs viewed alongside current stock data and long-term statistics showing historical declines in commercial fish landings indicate that many commercial fish stocks are stressed and not exploited sustainably.

Several pressures influence marine fish species e.g. extraction of fish and shellfish, and physical loss and damage.

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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.