Conservation and exploitation of marine resources

Regulation 2371/2002 sets out the economic, environmental and social basis of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the objective of which is to guarantee sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources. The measures adopted under this Regulation are based on applying the precautionary principle and sound scientific advice.

They concern the conservation and protection of fish stocks and marine ecosystems, access to waters and resources, the fleet, control of activities, decision-making and the involvement of stakeholders at all stages of the policy.

Council Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 of 20 December 2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy [see amending act(s)].


The Common Fisheries Policy covers the conservation, management and exploitation of marine resources, and the processing and marketing of fishery and aquaculture products. It provides for coherent measures concerning:

  • conservation, management and exploitation of living aquatic resources;
  • limitation of the environmental impact of fishing;
  • conditions of access to waters and resources;
  • fleet capacity;
  • control;
  • aquaculture;
  • common organisation of the markets;
  • international relations.

Conservation and sustainability

The European Union (EU) takes the necessary measures to govern access to fishing zones and resources and the sustainable pursuit of fishing activities. These measures apply to each stock of fish or to groups of stocks. They aim to limit fishing mortality and the environmental impact of fishing activities by:

  • adopting recovery plans for stocks outside safe biological limits;
  • adopting management plans to maintain stocks within safe biological limits;
  • setting objectives for sustainable exploitation of stocks;
  • limiting catches;
  • setting the number and type of vessels authorised to fish;
  • limiting fishing effort;
  • adopting technical measures to promote more selective fishing or fishing which has a smaller impact on marine eco-systems and non target species fishing. These measures may also relate to the structure of fishing gear, the number and size of fishing gear on board, the introduction of zones and/or periods in which fishing activities are prohibited or restricted.

The European Commission and the Member States may take emergency measures in the event of a serious threat to the conservation of resources or to the ecosystem for periods of up to six or three months. The Member States’ decisions may apply only to waters falling under their sovereignty. They may also take non-discriminatory conservation measures, within the 12-mile limit, to preserve the ecosystem. Where these measures affect the vessels of other Member States, the Commission, the national governments and the Regional Advisory Councils concerned must be consulted. Member States may adopt other conservation and management measures for vessels flying their flag provided that they are compatible with the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Adjustment of fishing capacity

Member States have an obligation to adjust their fishing capacity in order to balance fishing capacity with fishing opportunities. Given the critical situation of many stocks in European waters, the total capacity of the Community fleet has been ‘frozen’ since 31 December 2002. Therefore a new fishing vessel cannot join the fleet unless another of the same capacity (measured in tonnage (GT)) and engine power (kW) has left it. From 1 January 2003, the only increases in tonnage possible without an associated exit from the fleet are alterations to vessels intended to improve on-board health and safety.

The necessary reductions in capacity are part of the management and recovery plans. Any withdrawal of a vessel that benefits from a public grant (from the Member State and/or the Community) is definitive and the vessel withdrawn may therefore not be replaced. Every year, the Commission sends a summary of the results of the Member States’ efforts to achieve a sustainable balance between fishing capacity and opportunities to the European Parliament and the Council, based on annual reports from the Member States. It also maintains a Community fishing fleet register including all details of the characteristics and activities of the vessels necessary for monitoring the proper implementation of the CFP.

Access to waters and resources

Community fishing vessels all enjoy equal access to waters and resources except in the 12-mile zone, which falls within the sovereignty of the Member States (Annex I). Special rules apply in the Shetland Box (Annex II). Total allowable catches (TAC) are set annually by the Council and fishing opportunities are distributed among Member States taking care to ensure that fishing activities for each stock or fishery remain relatively stable for each State. Member States are then free to allocate these opportunities to their vessels and may exchange those allocated to them. The Council also decides on the fishing opportunities available to third countries with access to Community waters.

Control and enforcement

A European fisheries control system is established to ensure compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) with throughout the production chain, from the boat to the retailer. Controls are still carried out at sea, but are also reinforced in the ports, during transport, in the processing plants, on the markets, etc., in order to ensure that fish are caught legally.

The control system applies to all fishing activities in Community waters, and to the fishing activities of Community vessels and vessels of EU nationals, both in Community and non-Community waters. It also applies to the processing and marketing of fishery products and leisure fishing affecting sensitive stocks and aquaculture.

Decision-making and consultation

Decisions concerning fisheries are taken by the European Parliament and the Council on a proposal from the Commission after consulting the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. In some cases, a decision will be taken with the consent of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture in accordance with the procedure established by Decision 1999/468/EC laying down the procedures for the exercise of implementing powers conferred on the Commission.

The Commission is assisted by the Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (ACFA) created in 1971. ACFA is a forum for permanent dialogue with the industry. Its 21 members represent the main branches of the fisheries and aquaculture industry (production, processing and trade), as well as consumer groups and organisations which deal with environmental protection and development. ACFA is made up of four working groups responsible for preparing opinions:

  • Group 1: Access to fisheries resources and management of fishing activity;
  • Group 2: Aquaculture: fish, shellfish and molluscs;
  • Group 3: Markets and trade policy;
  • Group 4: General questions: economics and sectoral analysis.

Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) are established in order to increase the involvement of the fishing industry and other groups affected by the CFP, such as environmental protection and consumer groups. They cover sea areas falling within the jurisdiction of at least two Member States. Scientists also participate in the work of the Regional Advisory Councils. They may be consulted by the Commission, for example on the implementation and preparation of management and recovery plans. They will also, on their own initiative, present recommendations where necessary and inform the Commission and the Member States about problems associated with implementing the CFP.

The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), made up of highly qualified scientists, is to be regularly consulted on matters relating to the conservation and management of living aquatic resources. The Commission will take account of advice from the STECF when formulating proposals on fisheries management.

A report on conservation and sustainability and the adjustment of fishing capacity will be delivered by the Commission to Parliament and the Council before the end of 2012.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 1.1.2003 L 358 of 31.12.2002

Protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas from bottom fishing

This Regulation aims to eliminate destructive fishing practices which destroy vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas by adopting measures which form part of the framework of recommendations by the General Assembly of the United Nations. This Regulation applies to Community vessels on the high seas in areas which are not regulated by a regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) and which consequently require regulation by the Flag State.


Council Regulation (EC) No 734/2008 of 15 July 2008 on the protection of

Vulnerable marine ecosystems

in the high seas from the adverse impacts of bottom fishing gears.

The scope of this Regulation applies to Community fishing vessels using bottom fishing gears * for their activities on the high seas. Vessels which operate in an area regulated by a Regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) are not subject to this Regulation. It does apply to vessels which carry out activities in an area where an RFMO is in the stages of development and intermediate measures for the protection of the marine environment have been adopted.

To be able to carry out activities with bottom fishing gears in the high seas, Community vessels must obtain a special fishing permit. Applications for special fishing permits must be accompanied by a detailed fishing plan specifying:

  • the area of activity;
  • the targeted species;
  • the type and conditions of use of the gears deployed;
  • a map of the seabed where the fishing activities will be carried out, if necessary.

The permit is issued by the Flag State after they have carried out an impact assessment. This study is based on scientific and technical data relating to the location of vulnerable marine ecosystems * in the area of activity detailed in the fishing plan. It must demonstrate that the fishing activities will not have a significant adverse impact * on the ecosystems in question.

Any changes to the fishing plan must be notified to the competent authority who will examine whether the changes are likely to threaten areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems occur or are likely to occur. The competent authority in the Flag State shall withdraw the special fishing permit if a vessel does not comply with the specified fishing plan.

The principle of precaution applies when the competent authority does not have reliable scientific information on a given area at its disposal. In this case, the use of bottom gears is forbidden. Bottom fishing activities are only authorised when they present no risk of damaging vulnerable marine ecosystems.

When a vessel has an unforeseen encounter with a vulnerable marine ecosystem it must leave the site and refrain from fishing activities in the area. They are only authorised to resume fishing activities in an area foreseen in their fishing plan located a minimum distance of five nautical miles from the site of the encounter. With as little delay as possible, the vessel must inform the competent authorities of their encounter, providing important details such as the nature, location, time, etc. of the encounter.

Member States shall proceed with area closures to fishing with bottom gears when the scientific information confirms the occurrence or likelihood of occurrence of vulnerable marine ecosystems in the area open to fishing. Member States must inform the Commission of any closures. The Commission is then responsible for circulating the notification to all Member States.

In the event of failure of the satellite vessel monitoring system (VMS) fitted on-board a fishing vessel, the master of the vessel must report its geographical location to the Fisheries Monitoring Centre (FMC) in the Flag State every two hours. The vessel is only authorised to return to sea once the competent authority has confirmed that the VMS is functioning perfectly again.

Observers shall monitor the activities of vessels granted a special fishing permit throughout the execution of the fishing plan. During the observation period, the observers must compile information on the catch, changes to the fishing plan, encounters with vulnerable ecosystems, as well as record the depth at which gear is deployed. Observers shall submit a report to the competent authorities in the Member State concerned within twenty days following the end of their mission. A copy of the report shall then be sent to the Commission.


This Regulation forms part of the common fisheries policy and the Union’s environment policy in that it establishes rules which will enable the prevention and cessation of adverse impacts of certain fishing practices on the marine environment.

The Regulation implements the recommendations formulated by the General Assembly of the United Nations (Resolution 61/105 of 8 December 2006) regarding the adoption of measures to eliminate destructive fishing practices.

Key terms of the act
·         Bottom gears: gears deployed in the normal course of fishing operations in contact with the seabed, including bottom trawls, dredges, bottom-set gill nets, bottom-set longlines, pots and traps.

·         Marine ecosystem: a dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their nonliving environment interacting as a functional unit.

·         Vulnerable marine ecosystem: any marine ecosystem whose integrity is threatened by significant adverse impacts resulting from physical contact with bottom gears in the normal course of fishing operations, including, inter alia, reefs, seamounts, hydrothermal vents, cold water corals or cold water sponge beds. The most vulnerable ecosystems are those that are easily disturbed and in addition are very slow to recover, or may never recover.

·         Significant adverse impacts: impacts which compromise ecosystem integrity in a manner that impairs the ability of affected populations to replace themselves and that degrades the long-term natural productivity of habitats, or causes on more than a temporary basis significant loss of species richness, habitat or community types.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition into the Member States Official Journal
Regulation (EC) No 734/2008 31.7.2008 OJ L 201 of 30.7.2008



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