Tackling fleet overcapacity - policy briefing

Publication - April 1, 2012
The size and capacity of the EU fleet is estimated to be 2 to 3 times above the sustainable level in a number of fisheries, according to European Commission figures.1 This overcapacity drives overfishing, causing environmental harm and making the fleet economically unviable. Managing access and capacity are therefore crucial to avoiding overfishing. They should go hand-in-hand with the strict implementation of scientific advice in setting fishing opportunities and control and enforcement measures.

In 2009, the fishing sector operated at a loss of almost 5%.2 Fleet segments with high fuel consumption and heavy impact on seafloor habitats, such as beam and bottom trawls, have had the worst economic performance. Subsidies received by the sector compensate for some of these losses and create the illusion that many fishing activities are still providing a viable business when in fact they are not. Subsidies have also undermined efforts to reduce fleet capacity by paying for fleet construction, modernization and maintenance.

To effectively reduce overcapacity, it is essential that governments:

i) assess existing fishing capacity with respect to sustainable catch limits;

ii) establish detailed capacity reduction strategies with clear criteria, targets and timelines, ideally within a regional context in multiannual plans; and

iii) aim measures to reduce fleet capacity at those segments of the fleet that contribute most to stock depletion and damage to the wider marine environment, and least to the social, economic and cultural fabric of coastal communities.

In fact, managing access to fishing resources – consisting both of the allocation of access to fishing grounds through licensing conditions and the allocation of fishing quotas or fishing effort – holds the biggest potential for motivating change. If used properly, the right access regime serves to incentivise good practice and a shift towards sustainable fishing, and deters unsustainable, unregulated and illegal practices.

The new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) should eliminate overfishing, reduce damage to ecosystems and re-build a fishing sector that is environmentally sustainable, and socially and economically viable. All countries should reduce the fishing capacity of their fleets, recognising that some have already done more than others to achieve a balance between catch capacity, the available resource and vulnerability of different ecosystems. At the same time, destructive fishing methods must be substituted with sustainable practices.

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