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Commission proposes action for sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean

Today, the European Commission has proposed a comprehensive set of management measures seeking to tackle the causes of overexploitation and other unsustainable fishing practices in the Mediterranean. The last decades have witnessed increasing fishing effort and decreasing catches in this region (see graphs). In the Adriatic and the strait of Sicily, for example, the catch rates for some species are 60% lower than they were around 20 years ago. This Commission legislative proposal is the major follow up of an EU Action Plan for sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean, tabled last October in the framework of the CFP reform.

The proposal seeks to achieve this aim by building on existing measures and devising new ones adapted to the specific conditions of fisheries in this region. It includes measures such as a progressive increase in mesh sizes or the strengthening of the current ban on certain trawling activities to better protect young fish, specific action for swordfish, improving control, the sharing of management responsibility between the EU and Member States and the introduction of fishing effort management. A ministerial conference will also be held in November in Venice with other Mediterranean States to discuss the prospect of a co-ordinated approach to declaring fisheries protection zones.

Commissioner Franz Fischler, responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, commented: “Fish stocks are in decline, also in the Mediterranean. This proposal is a fresh approach to achieve sustainable fishing in this area to safeguard the future of 100,000 fishermen. Many of the elements have been suggested by the industry with which we will continue our discussions. But the Mediterranean is not confined to EU territory. Therefore, international co-operation through the « General Commission for Fisheries in the Mediterranean » is key. The forthcoming international conference in Venice will provide an opportunity to discuss these matters also with neighbouring countries in order to progress towards more effective and co-operative management of fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea.”

A comprehensive approach to responsible fishing

As indicated in last year's EU Action Plan, conservation problems have to be tackled through the adoption of a comprehensive and precautionary approach. To this end, the Commission proposes action on the following points:

Technical measures to protect young fish

Current technical measures need to be updated to take account of new scientific advice. This is to ensure the protection of young fish - so that they can contribute to the replenishment of the stocks - and a reduction in the amount of unwanted fish thrown overboard dead. The measures proposed by the Commission include a gradual increase over 6 years in the mesh size in towed nets from 40mm to 60mm.

The first increase to 50mm will take place before the end of 2005 and to 60mm before the end of 2008. The size of hooks will also be increased on longlines targeting a number of species.

In order to prevent the use of devices that reduce the selectivity of towed nets, the rigging of such nets will have to comply with specified technical requirements. In addition, rules will be established on the maximum size of certain fishing gears to limit fishing effort.

The proposal also strengthens the current ban on certain trawling activities in order to protect some coastal areas where young fish congregate and which harbour sensitive habitats. These measures will encourage the use of more selective gears used by small-scale fishermen. To discourage catches of immature fish, minimum landing sizes are proposed for over twenty fish, crustaceans and molluscs.

A number of measures are proposed specifically for highly migratory species . As the EU accounts for over 75% of the catches of swordfish in the Mediterranean, the Commission proposes measures to prevent catches of immature swordfish. A minimum landing size will be established for swordfish along with an annual four-month ban from 1 October to 31 January on the use of longlines targeting highly migratory species. Some of the proposed technical measures are aimed at finally ending the use of driftnets for highly migratory species following the ban that became effective on 1 January 2002.

Sharing responsibility: EU and national management plans

Given the nature of Mediterranean fishing which ranges from fisheries on the high sea to fisheries restricted to certain sub-zones and the tradition of managing fishing effort at sub-regional level, the Commission proposes that management plans be set up both at EU and national levels. These plans will introduce greater responsibility and control into the system as well as allowing for the flexibility required to take into account these various elements.

EU plans may include measures to limit fishing effort, specific technical measures, extension of the use of the vessel monitoring system (VMS) to vessels between 10 to 15 metres and/or restrictions to certain zones. Suggestions for the setting up of such plans could be made to the Commission by Member States or a Regional Advisory Council for the Mediterranean.

For their part, Member States will adopt management plans, after transmitting them to the Commission, for certain fisheries in their territorial waters by 31 December 2004. Where such plans are likely to affect the vessels of other Member States, they will only be adopted after consultation with the Commission, the Member State(s) concerned and the Regional Advisory Council.

Strengthened control

A number of control measures are proposed to complement or strengthen those currently in place. These include the landing of catches made by specified fishing gears at designated ports. This measure will also have a positive impact on the marketing of fisheries products and encourage the development of producers' organisations.

Recreational fishing activities

Recreational fishing is particularly important in the Mediterranean, representing more than 10% of the total fisheries production in this area. Measures are therefore proposed to govern these activities and ensure that data are provided on the catches concerned.

Access to waters around Malta

Measures have been included to limit fishing effort in the 25-mile management zone around Malta to implement the provisions contained in Malta's Treaty of Accession. These measures are in line with the CFP Mediterranean strategy seeking to enforce fishing effort control and to use technical measures such as closed areas for certain fishing gears.


Mediterranean fisheries play an important socio-economic role in the European fishing industry. Around 106,000 fishermen are employed on over 40,000 vessels (80% of them under 12 metres ), representing 42% of the employment in the EU catching sector. These vessels contribute 12% to EU catches.

Fisheries in the Mediterranean have been influenced by a number of characteristics specific to this region. These include the narrowness of the continental shelf which means that a substantial part of the fishing activities are carried out close to the coast, the presence of several straddling and shared fish stocks, the dispersion of scientific data, the importance of recreational fisheries and a lack of co-operation in fisheries management in this region.

Many of the fish resources targeted in the demersal (close to sea floor), pelagic (mid-water) and highly migratory fisheries are overexploited. (Hake in the Gulf of Lions and Tyrrhenian Sea, sardine in the Adriatic, crawfish in Corsica and Sardinia and red sea bream in the Gibraltar Strait, to name but a few). In addition, the concentration of many fisheries in the narrow coastal band requires the protection of coastal areas because of their importance from both environmental and stock conservation standpoints.

The EU is a member of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) which provides a framework for regional co-operation on the conservation and management of Mediterranean resources.

High quality scientific data are essential to sound fisheries management. Despite recent progress, these remain widely dispersed in the case of the Mediterranean. As announced in the Action Plan for the Mediterranean, a Communication on improving scientific and technical advice for EU fisheries management has since been adopted and its implementation will strengthen the standard of fisheries science in this region, too.

In addition to the consultation that took place with stakeholders after the publication of the Green Paper on the CFP reform and of the Action Plan for the Mediterranean last year, the Commission held two meetings with the Mediterranean sector during the preparation of this proposal. Some of the measures proposed have been recommended by the sector. Moves are also underway, in the framework of the EU Action Plan, to set up a Mediterranean association grouping fisheries operators from the whole region.

Brussels,10 12 2003
European Union Redaction
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