European Parliament Fact Sheets

4.3.1.     The common fisheries policy: origins and general development


Articles 32 to 37 of the EC Treaty.


The Treaty of Rome made provision for a common fisheries policy: Article 33(1) sets out the objectives for the common agricultural policy (CAP), which are shared by the common fisheries policy (CFP) since Article 32 defines agricultural products as ‘the products of the soil, of stock-farming and of fisheries and products of first-stage processing directly related to these products’. These objectives are: to increase productivity, stabilise markets and ensure availability of supplies at reasonable prices for the consumer. The 2002 reform added the sustainable use of resources to these initial objectives.


  1. Background
    The common fisheries policy (CFP) originally formed part of the common agricultural policy (CAP), but it gradually developed a separate identity as the Community evolved, with the entry of countries with substantial fleets and fish stocks, and in order to tackle specific fisheries problems, such as conservation of stocks and international relations after the economic exclusion zones (EEZs) were introduced.
    1. Beginnings
      It was not until 1970 that the Council adopted legislation to establish a common organisation of the market (CMO) for fisheries products and put in place a Community structural policy for fisheries.
    2. First development
      Fisheries played a significant role in the negotiations leading to the United Kingdom , Ireland and Denmark joining the EC in 1972. This resulted in a move away from the fundamental principle, enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, of freedom of access to the sea; exclusive coastal fishing rights up to 12 miles were established and have been upheld ever since.
    3. The new generation CFP
      1. 1983 Regulation
        In 1983, after several years of negotiations, the Council adopted Regulation 170/83, establishing the new generation CFP, which enshrined commitment to EEZs, formulated the concept of relative stability and provided for conservatory management measures based on total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas. After 1983, the CFP also had to adapt to the withdrawal of Greenland from the Community in 1985, the accession of Spain and Portugal in 1986 and the reunification of Germany in 1990. These three events have had an impact on the size and structure of the Community fleet and its catch potential.
      2. 1992 Regulation
        In 1992, Regulation 3760/92, which determines fisheries policy until 2002, attempted to tackle the serious imbalance between fleet capacity and catch potential. The remedy it advocates is to reduce the Community fleet and alleviate the social impact with structural measures. A new concept of ‘fishing effort’ has been introduced, with a view to restoring and maintaining the balance between available resources and fishing activities. Access to resources should be regulated more effectively by the gradual introduction of fishing licences in order to reduce surplus capacity.
    4. Towards a new reform
      However, these measures were not effective and the deterioration of many fish stocks continued at an even faster rate. The major challenge of the reform was tackling simultaneously the risk of collapse of certain stocks, the disappearance of the most exploited species, significant economic losses and the loss of jobs. This critical situation resulted in a new reform being adopted at the end of 2002.
  2. The new common fisheries policy
    1. The legislative dimension of the reform
      This consists of three regulations which were adopted by the Council in December 2002 and entered into force on 1 January 2003 :
      1. Framework Regulation 2371/2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources (repeals Regulations 3760/92 and 101/76);
      2. Regulation 2369/2002 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector (amending Regulation 2792/1999);
      3. Regulation 2370/2002 establishing an emergency Community measure for scrapping fishing vessels.
    2. Reorientation of the objectives
      The primary objective of the new CFPreform is to ensure a sustainable future for the fisheries sector by guaranteeing stable incomes and jobs for fishermen while preserving the fragile balance of marine ecosystems and supplying consumers. The new CFP is an integral part of the Community’s policy on sustainable development and gives equal priority to the environmental, economic and social aspects.
    3. Details of the innovations of the reform 
      1. A more long-term approach to fisheries management, accompanied by emergency measures if necessary
        Multiannual management and stock recovery plans will be established with a view to enabling fish stocks to reproduce and fishermen to plan their activities better. They will take a precautionary approach and will be based on the recommendations of competent scientific bodies. If there is a serious threat to the conservation of resources, emergency measures may be taken by the Commission for a period of six months, renewable for a further six months. If a Member State disagrees with the measures, it may refer the matter to the Council.
      2. Reorientation of public aid to the fleet
        In order to avoid aggravating the imbalance between the overcapacity of the fleet and the actual fishing possibilities, from 2005 aid will be used exclusively to improve safety and working conditions on board and product quality or to switch to more selective fishing techniques or equip vessels with satellite vessel monitoring systems. This new system will gradually replace the old Multiannual Guidance Programmes (MAGPs), which have not solved the problem of the overcapacity of the Community fleet. The Member States will be entrusted with greater responsibilities in order to achieve a better balance between the fishing capacity of their fleet and the available resources. 
      3. More flexible socio-economic measures to support those in the industry during the transition period:
        • aid for the temporary cessation of activities , designed to support fishermen and vessel owners who have to stop their fishing activity temporarily, has been extended;
        • aid for early retirement and the retraining of fishermen in other professional activities allows them to continue fishing on a part-time basis if they wish to do so;
        • a ‘scrapping fund’ will help the sector to achieve the reductions in fishing effort required under the stock recovery plans. It will allocate premiums that are 20% higher than those available for decommissioning under the FIFG.
      4. More effective, transparent and fair controls
        These will be carried out by national and Community inspectors as part of the new Community control and enforcement system. Member States will continue to be responsible for the application of sanctions for infringements but cooperation among them will be strengthened. To this end, the Commission proposes the creation of a Joint Inspection Structure and a Community Fisheries Control Agency (CFCA).
      5. More direct involvement of fishermen in the decisions that affect them
        Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) consisting of fishermen, scientific experts, representatives of other sectors related to fisheries and aquaculture as well as local, regional and national authorities and environmental groups and consumers from the maritime or fishing zone in question will be set up. The RACs may be consulted by the Commission, submit recommendations and suggestions or inform the Commission or the Member State concerned about problems concerning the implementation of CFP rules in their area. Each RAC will cover sea areas under the jurisdiction of at least two Member States. It will establish its own procedures.
    4. Accompanying measures 
      1. As part of the reform, the Commission also presented a series of Community action plans which aim to clarify some aspects of the CFP and which will be implemented from 2003:
        • a Community Action Plan on fisheries in the Mediterranean ;
        • a Community Action Plan to integrate environmental protection requirements into the CFP;
        • a Community Action Plan for the eradication of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU);
        • a strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture;
        • an Action Plan to counter the social, economic and regional consequences of the restructuring of the EU fishing industry;
        • a Community Action Plan to reduce discards of fish.
      2. In addition, two important Commission communications complement the new CFP:
        • a communication on fisheries partnership agreements with third countries, and
        • a communication on improving scientific advice for fisheries management.


  1. Competence
    • Fisheries legislation: consultative role.
    • EU membership of international conventions and conclusion of agreements having significant financial implications: assent.
  2. Role
    1. The reports on the Commission communications on various aspects of the CFP have given Parliament the opportunity to express opinions which go beyond the dictates of the economic situation and develop its own model for the CFP. This is the case for the following reports:
      • report A5-0392/2002 on the proposal for a Council regulation on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the common fisheries policy;
      • report A5-0362/2002 on the Commission communication on the Community Action Plan for the eradication of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing;
      • report A5-0360/2002 on the Commission communication setting out a Community Action Plan to integrate environmental protection requirements into the common fisheries policy;
      • report A5-380/2002 on the Commission communication on the reform of the common fisheries policy (‘Roadmap’).
    2. Parliament has also adopted own-initiative reports that have gone into greater detail on the main aspects of the CFP:
      • report A5-0365/2000 on the common fisheries policy and the challenge of economic globalisation;
      • report A5-0446/2002 on fisheries in international waters in the context of external action under the common fisheries policy;
      • report A5-0448/2002 on aquaculture in the European Union: present and future;
      • report A5-0162/2003 on the Commission communication to the European Parliament and the Council on the Action Plan to counter the social, economic and regional consequences of the restructuring of the EU fishing industry;
      • report A5-0171/2003 laying down a Community Action Plan for the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources in the Mediterranean Sea under the common fisheries policy;
      • report A5-0163/2003 on a Community Action Plan to reduce discards of fish.