Fisheries control aims to ensure compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy. Member States are responsible for controlling their fishing and related activities, while the Commission verifies how they fulfil their responsibilities.

Legal basis

The EU fisheries control system was initiated as part of the process of establishing the common fisheries policy (CFP). The first regulation was adopted in 1982 and amended several times. It was completely overhauled with the adoption of Council Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009 (the Control Regulation), which became the core of the control system. It was complemented by specific application rules through Implementing Regulation (EU) No 404/2011. The Control Regulation has been under revision since 30 May 2018, when the Commission put forward a proposal to amend it.

The control system also includes Regulation (EU) 2017/2403 on the sustainable management of external fishing fleets (the SMEFF Regulation), which provides a framework for authorising EU vessels fishing in waters beyond the national jurisdiction of the Member States, and non-EU vessels operating in EU waters. In addition, the EU has developed an instrument for action against global illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing: Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008, (the IUU Regulation), aimed at preventing the import of IUU-caught products into the EU. Together, the Control, IUU and SMEFF Regulations form a comprehensive control package covering Member States’ responsibilities in each of their roles as flag, coastal, port and market states.

In 2005, the EU established the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), based in Vigo, Spain, to improve the coordination of Member States’ control activities. Regulation (EU) 2019/473 codified the provisions for the functioning of the EFCA.


The EU fisheries control system is a key part of the CFP and is aimed at ensuring compliance with the CFP’s rules. The efficiency of the control system is widely recognised as a necessary condition for a successful fisheries policy. Although it was designed to support the CFP, whose core focus is one of the few exclusive competences of the EU, the control system was conceived as a national competence. Member States are responsible for controlling their fishing and related activities in order to ensure that operators comply with national law at each stage of production, while the Commission is tasked with verifying how the Member States are fulfilling their responsibilities.


A. The Control Regulation

The current system was laid down in the Control Regulation, which entered into force on 1 January 2010, thoroughly modernising the EU’s approach to fisheries control. In particular, it has brought the system into line with the rigorous measures which the EU adopted in 2008 to combat illegal fishing.

The successive CFP reforms also introduced new changes aimed at overcoming longstanding deficiencies. Examples of such measures include:

1. Better compliance and harmonised application of the rules

A list of serious infringements has emerged as grounds for effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions in national legislation: since 2012, Member States have been required to introduce a points system for serious infringements for licences linked to specific vessels, to be extended to masters of vessels.

2. Checks now carried out at every point in the chain

Fishing vessels cannot leave port without a licence to fish. For every shipment of fish, information must be provided that proves that the fish was caught legally. This system applies to all fishing activities in EU waters, and to all EU fishing vessels and EU nationals, wherever they fish. It also applies to recreational fishing for sensitive fish stocks and aquaculture, in so far as these are covered by rules at EU level – for instance, to fishing for eel or to certain recreational fisheries for bluefin tuna.

3. Modern technologies applied to monitoring and control have been progressively combined with traditional inspections

The electronic reporting system (or ‘e-logbook’) is now used to record data on catches, landings, sales, etc., and to report such data within Member States.

The vessel monitoring system is a satellite-based system providing data at regular intervals on the location, course and speed of vessels (both systems are now compulsory for vessels of over 12 m in length). Non-EU vessels of the same size are obliged to have an operational satellite tracking device installed on board whenever they are in EU waters. The Automatic Identification System is an autonomous and continuous vessel identification and monitoring system used for maritime safety and security, gradually extended to all EU fishing vessels of over 15 m in length.

B. Sustainable management of external fishing fleets

EU vessels fishing in waters beyond Member States’ jurisdiction, as well as non-EU vessels operating in EU waters, are subject to an authorisation procedure. Previously defined by Regulation (EC) No 1006/2008 (the Fishing Authorisation Regulation), the system of issuing and managing fishing authorisations was revised by the SMEFF Regulation.

The SMEFF Regulation has improved the monitoring and transparency of the EU’s external fishing fleet, based on the principle that any vessel fishing beyond EU waters must be authorised and monitored by its flag Member State, regardless of the area and the framework in which it operates. It extended the scope of the authorisation system to include practices such as private agreements between EU companies and non-EU countries, the chartering of EU fishing vessels and vessels returning to the EU fleet register after operating under a non-EU flag (reflagging). Member States are required to authorise fishing vessels using common eligibility criteria, complemented by specific conditions depending on the nature of the authorisation. The SMEFF Regulation made part of the electronic fishing authorisations register publicly accessible, showing who fishes for what and where.

C. IUU fishing

IUU fishing is widely recognised as a significant environmental, economic and social problem. In response to this global issue, the EU established the IUU Regulation, which remains a landmark piece of fisheries legislation worldwide. The IUU Regulation entered into force in January 2010, supplemented by Commission Regulation (EC) No 1010/2009, which details its implementation. It applies to all vessels using fishery resources destined for the EU market and to all EU nationals involved in fishing activities. However, it is not intended to replace the primary responsibility of flag states to discipline their vessels, or of coastal states to monitor their waters. It only intervenes in the event of these two mechanisms not working and serious infringements going unpunished by either the flag or coastal state.

The main objective of the IUU Regulation is to prevent, deter and eliminate the import of IUU-caught products into the EU. Accordingly, its key components are market-related measures: a catch certification scheme, intended to allow only fish certified as legal onto the EU market, and a carding procedure for non-EU countries considered to be uncooperative, which may lead to trade-restrictive measures. These key components are accompanied by a series of port state measures and provisions for the regular publication of a list of IUU vessels, as well as a procedure for penalising EU operators conducting or supporting IUU activities anywhere in the world and under any flag.

D. The European Fisheries Control Agency

Set up in 2005 and active since 2007, the EFCA has improved uniform and effective enforcement by pooling EU and national means for the control, inspection and monitoring of fishing activities and their coordination, using Joint Deployment Plans as its main instrument. With the adoption of the Control Regulation, new powers were assigned to the EFCA in order to enhance its effectiveness. Its operations are funded by three sources: the EU budget, payment for services provided to the Member States and income from publications, training and other services that it provides.

The EFCA’s mission is defined in Regulation (EU) 2019/1896. This includes cooperation with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the European Maritime Safety Agency, each within its mandate, with the aim of increasing the efficiency of coastguard functions[1]. The European Maritime Safety Agency provides integrated maritime services, based on ship reporting systems (e.g. vessel monitoring systems) and other surveillance tools, to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency and the EFCA. These information services include the detection, identification and tracking of vessels, the monitoring of departure points and anomaly detection, which facilitate the identification of IUU fishing.

Role of the European Parliament

Parliament has been co-legislator under the ordinary legislative procedure since the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon, playing a central role in the development of the CFP and its fisheries control system. The Committee on Fisheries scrutinises the policy’s control measures, given that effective and non-discriminatory implementation of the rules must be one of the fundamental pillars of the CFP. In this regard, acknowledging the existence of substantial differences in the application of the Control Regulation in the Member States, on 25 October 2016 Parliament adopted a resolution on how to make fisheries controls in Europe uniform. On 30 May 2018, Parliament adopted a resolution on the implementation of control measures for establishing the conformity of fisheries products with access criteria to the EU market. These resolutions contributed to the debate that led to the Commission proposal for the revision of the Control Regulation. In particular, following the adoption of the proposal, Parliament has played a key role in the long process of setting up the revised control system.

Parliament also reviews the EFCA’s annual report and approves the discharge of its budget.

Research for the Committee on Fisheries:


[1]Coastguard functions may include maritime safety, security, search and rescue, border control, fisheries control, general law enforcement and environmental protection.

Irina Popescu