The Common Fisheries Policy

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the fisheries policy of the European Union, the aim of which is to achieve a thriving and sustainable fishing industry in Europe. It was created in 1983 and is currently in the process of being reviewed.

Major decisions regarding the Common Fisheries Policy are made by Member States’ governments in Council following consultation with the Members of the European Parliament.

What are the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy?

The Common Fisheries Policy:

  • lays down rules to ensure that Europe’s fisheries are sustainable and do not damage the marine environment;
  • provides national authorities with the tools to enforce the fishing rules and to punish offenders;
  • monitors the size of the European fishing fleet to ensure that it does not expand any further;
  • provides funding and technical support for initiatives aimed at making the industry more sustainable;
  • negotiates on behalf of European Union countries in international fisheries organisations and with non-EU countries around the world;
  • helps producers, processors and distributors to obtain a fair price for their produce and ensures that consumers can be confident in the seafood that they eat;
  • supports the development of the aquacultural (farmed fish) sector;
  • funds scientific research and data collection to ensure a sound basis for policy and decision making.


At the heart of the Common Fisheries Policy lies a quota system whereby Member States are permitted only to land certain amounts of each type of fish. The aim of the quota system is to ensure that fishing pressure is not higher than the stocks can sustain.

Under the quota system “Total Allowable Catches” (TACs) for each fish stock are agreed by Member States each December in the EU Fisheries Council. These are then shared between the Member States according to a system of “relative stability” under which each Member State received a quota for each type of fish based on each Member State’s historic catches.

The quota system has proved controversial as when fishermen run out of quota for one species they are still permitted to continue to fish for other species for which they still have quota. Inevitably during this process species are caught for which the fishermen have exhausted their quota. Such fish which are known as “discards” or “by-catch”, cannot be legally landed and, therefore, have to be returned to the sea, even if they are dead.

Stock recovery and technical measures

Due to a decline in the number of certain type of fish measures known as “stock recovery” have been put in place to halt and ultimately reverse the decline.

Technical measures regulate how and where fishermen can fish. Such measures can be used to protect young fish for example, by restricting fishing areas or encourage the use of more selective fishing methods such as a minimum mesh size for nets.