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Indicators of fishing capacity and effort

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Indicators of fishing capacity and effort

This communication kicks off a debate on how to improve fishing capacity and effort indicators under the common fisheries policy (CFP). Capacity is currently measured in terms of vessel tonnage and engine power, and effort is the product of capacity and actual fishing activity, expressed as the number of days spent at sea. The Commission looks at alternative indicators, such as the type and size of fishing gear used, and puts forward an action plan for developing this approach.


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 5 February 2007 on improving fishing capacity and effort indicators under the common fisheries policy [COM(2007) 39 final – not published in the Official Journal].


The Commission sparks off a debate on the most appropriate way of measuring fishing * capacity * and effort. Though technical, these questions are of major importance in the context of the common fisheries policy (CFP).

CFP reform introduced a system for limiting European Union (EU) fishing capacity to bring it into line with available resources. There are also measures under the CFP aimed at matching fishing effort to existing stock levels.

The sustainable exploitation of stocks depends on the use of common indicators, without which it is impossible to measure the fishing capacity and effort of Europe's 88 000‑vessel fishing fleet.

Fishing capacity

Fishing capacity can be quantified on the basis of two main types of indicators:

  • vessel characteristics; and
  • fishing-gear characteristics.

In the CFP context, fishing capacity has until now been calculated on the basis of vessel characteristics. The indicators used currently are the tonnage of a vessel, which indicates its enclosed volume, and its engine power.

There are other indicators of fishing capacity based on vessel characteristics (e.g. the volume of its fish holds, freezing capacity and, in the case of trawlers, towing power), but these do not add any value compared to the two main indicators.

Apart from tonnage and power, fishing-gear characteristics can also be taken as alternative indicators of fishing capacity. For the purposes of measuring capacity on this basis, gear should be divided into two types. The first type covers gear that stays attached to the vessel, such as:

  • trawls, with fishing capacity calculated in terms oftrawling speed and the opening of the net at the water's surface;
  • longlines, the capacity of which can be quantified on the basis of the number of hooks or the length of the line;
  • purse seines, where capacity depends on the total length of the net, the depth of which is specific to the target species.

The second type includes gear that is not attached to the vessel, such as:

  • pots, the capacity of which can be measured on the basis of number and size;
  • gillnets and trammel nets, the capacity of which is directly related to their size.

Shortcomings and drawbacks

The Commission is satisfied with the common definition of tonnage which is used for all vessels across all Member States, thus avoiding the inconsistency that existed in the past.

When it comes to measuring and certifying vessel power, on the other hand, the Commission focuses rather on the shortcomings of the current system. An engine can be certified with a power much lower than its maximum power and this is very difficult to monitor.

Fishing vessels also use auxiliary power. Increased auxiliary power has made it possible to use bigger nets and to fish at greater depths. The Commission wants to include the power of auxiliary engines in the definition of fishing capacity.

Fishing effort

Fishing effort is defined as fishing capacity times fishing activity, calculated on the basis of time spent in a well-defined area.

According to the Commission, a more suitable indicator for measuring activity would be the actual time spent fishing, or "soak time" (the time during which the fishing gear is actively in the water), despite the difficulty of properly monitoring this in the case of gears (nets, pots, etc.) not attached to a vessel.

The Commission underlines the vital role of the logbook in monitoring a vessel's activity. The vessel monitoring system (VMS) and implementation of the electronic logbook allow activity to be monitored with precision.

Action plans

In view of the shortcomings of indicators based on vessel characteristics, the Commission proposes:

  • consolidating the tonnage measurement provisions currently included in Council Regulation (EEC) No 2930/86;
  • continuing consultations with engine manufacturers and classification bodies in order to determine the best technical solution for the certification of engine power, following which there will be exchanges with Member States’ experts. On the basis of these discussions the Commission would propose new legal provisions on engine power.

Regarding the use of fishing gear characteristics as indicators, the Commission may take measures on the basis of:

  • consultations on the issue during 2007 with Member States, stakeholders and scientists;
  • case studies aimed at gathering information from the Member States as to limits applying to fishing gear type and size at national, regional and local level;
  • possible pilot projects in 2008 involving some selected fisheries being managed on the basis of the indicators mentioned in the Communication.

Key terms used in the act

  • Fishing capacity: the capacity of a vessel or a group of vessels to catch fish;
  • Fishing effort: in Community law, the fishing effort of a vessel (or a fleet) is defined as the product of its capacity, expressed in tonnage and engine power, and its activity. The capacity represents the power and the activity represents the period during which use is made of that power.

Last updated: 18.10.2011