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Conservation and exploitation of marine resources

This summary has been archived and will not be updated. See 'The EU’s common fisheries policy' for an updated information about the subject.

Conservation and exploitation of marine resources

Regulation 2371/2002 sets out the economic, environmental and social basis of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the objective of which is to guarantee sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources. The measures adopted under this Regulation are based on applying the precautionary principle and sound scientific advice. They concern the conservation and protection of fish stocks and marine ecosystems, access to waters and resources, the fleet, control of activities, decision-making and the involvement of stakeholders at all stages of the policy.


Council Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 of 20 December 2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy [see amending act(s)].


The Common Fisheries Policy covers the conservation, management and exploitation of marine resources, and the processing and marketing of fishery and aquaculture products. It provides for coherent measures concerning:

  • conservation, management and exploitation of living aquatic resources;
  • limitation of the environmental impact of fishing;
  • conditions of access to waters and resources;
  • fleet capacity;
  • control;
  • aquaculture;
  • common organisation of the markets;
  • international relations.

Conservation and sustainability

The European Union (EU) takes the necessary measures to govern access to fishing zones and resources and the sustainable pursuit of fishing activities. These measures apply to each stock of fish or to groups of stocks. They aim to limit fishing mortality and the environmental impact of fishing activities by:

  • adopting recovery plans for stocks outside safe biological limits;
  • adopting management plans to maintain stocks within safe biological limits;
  • setting objectives for sustainable exploitation of stocks;
  • limiting catches;
  • setting the number and type of vessels authorised to fish;
  • limiting fishing effort;
  • adopting technical measures to promote more selective fishing or fishing which has a smaller impact on marine eco-systems and non target species fishing. These measures may also relate to the structure of fishing gear, the number and size of fishing gear on board, the introduction of zones and/or periods in which fishing activities are prohibited or restricted.

The European Commission and the Member States may take emergency measures in the event of a serious threat to the conservation of resources or to the ecosystem for periods of up to six or three months. The Member States' decisions may apply only to waters falling under their sovereignty. They may also take non-discriminatory conservation measures, within the 12-mile limit, to preserve the ecosystem. Where these measures affect the vessels of other Member States, the Commission, the national governments and the Regional Advisory Councils concerned must be consulted. Member States may adopt other conservation and management measures for vessels flying their flag provided that they are compatible with the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Adjustment of fishing capacity

Member States have an obligation to adjust their fishing capacity in order to balance fishing capacity with fishing opportunities. Given the critical situation of many stocks in European waters, the total capacity of the Community fleet has been ‘frozen’ since 31 December 2002. Therefore a new fishing vessel cannot join the fleet unless another of the same capacity (measured in tonnage (GT)) and engine power (kW) has left it. From 1 January 2003, the only increases in tonnage possible without an associated exit from the fleet are alterations to vessels intended to improve on-board health and safety.

The necessary reductions in capacity are part of the management and recovery plans. Any withdrawal of a vessel that benefits from a public grant (from the Member State and/or the Community) is definitive and the vessel withdrawn may therefore not be replaced. Every year, the Commission sends a summary of the results of the Member States' efforts to achieve a sustainable balance between fishing capacity and opportunities to the European Parliament and the Council, based on annual reports from the Member States. It also maintains a Community fishing fleet register including all details of the characteristics and activities of the vessels necessary for monitoring the proper implementation of the CFP.

Access to waters and resources

Community fishing vessels all enjoy equal access to waters and resources except in the 12-mile zone, which falls within the sovereignty of the Member States (Annex I). Special rules apply in the Shetland Box (Annex II). Total allowable catches (TAC) are set annually by the Council and fishing opportunities are distributed among Member States taking care to ensure that fishing activities for each stock or fishery remain relatively stable for each State. Member States are then free to allocate these opportunities to their vessels and may exchange those allocated to them. The Council also decides on the fishing opportunities available to third countries with access to Community waters.

Control and enforcement

A European fisheries control system is established to ensure compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) with throughout the production chain, from the boat to the retailer. Controls are still carried out at sea, but are also reinforced in the ports, during transport, in the processing plants, on the markets, etc., in order to ensure that fish are caught legally.

The control system applies to all fishing activities in Community waters, and to the fishing activities of Community vessels and vessels of EU nationals, both in Community and non-Community waters. It also applies to the processing and marketing of fishery products and leisure fishing affecting sensitive stocks and aquaculture.

Decision-making and consultation

Decisions concerning fisheries are taken by the European Parliament and the Council on a proposal from the Commission after consulting the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. In some cases, a decision will be taken with the consent of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture in accordance with the procedure established by Decision 1999/468/EC laying down the procedures for the exercise of implementing powers conferred on the Commission.

The Commission is assisted by the Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (ACFA) created in 1971. ACFA is a forum for permanent dialogue with the industry. Its 21 members represent the main branches of the fisheries and aquaculture industry (production, processing and trade), as well as consumer groups and organisations which deal with environmental protection and development. ACFA is made up of four working groups responsible for preparing opinions:

  • Group 1: Access to fisheries resources and management of fishing activity;
  • Group 2: Aquaculture: fish, shellfish and molluscs;
  • Group 3: Markets and trade policy;
  • Group 4: General questions: economics and sectoral analysis.

Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) are established in order to increase the involvement of the fishing industry and other groups affected by the CFP, such as environmental protection and consumer groups. They cover sea areas falling within the jurisdiction of at least two Member States. Scientists also participate in the work of the Regional Advisory Councils. They may be consulted by the Commission, for example on the implementation and preparation of management and recovery plans. They will also, on their own initiative, present recommendations where necessary and inform the Commission and the Member States about problems associated with implementing the CFP.

The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), made up of highly qualified scientists, is to be regularly consulted on matters relating to the conservation and management of living aquatic resources. The Commission will take account of advice from the STECF when formulating proposals on fisheries management.

A report on conservation and sustainability and the adjustment of fishing capacity will be delivered by the Commission to Parliament and the Council before the end of 2012.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002



L 358 of 31.12.2002


Derogations concerning the management of fishing fleets registered in the Community outermost regions:Regulation (EC) No 639/2004 [Official Journal L 102 of 07.04.2004].Amended by:Regulation (EC) No 1646/2006 [Official Journal L 309 of 09.11.2006];Regulation (EC) No 1207/2008 [Official Journal L 327 of 5.12.2008]. Given the importance of the fisheries sector in the outermost regions of the Community, this Regulation takes account of the specific structural, social and economic situation regarding the management of the fishing fleet in these regions.

Derogations granted to the new Member States from certain provisions of Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 relating to reference levels of fishing fleets:Regulation (EC) No 1242/2004 [Official Journal L 236 of 7.7.2004];Regulation (EC) No 783/2007 [Official Journal L 175 of 5.7.2007]. These Regulations provide for derogations for the new Member States regarding reference levels and aid grants for fleet renewal.

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 865/2007



OJ L 192 of 24.7.2007

Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009



OJ L 343 of 22.12.2009

Regulation (EC) No 1152/2012



OJ L 343 of 14.12.2012

Successive amendments and corrections to Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 have been incorporated into the original text.


Fishing opportunities

Council Regulation (EU) No 40/2013 of 21 January 2013 fixing for 2013 the fishing opportunities available in EU waters and, to EU vessels, in certain non-EU waters for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks which are subject to international negotiations or agreements [Official Journal L 23 of 25.1.2013].

Council Regulation (EU) No 39/2013 of 21 January 2013 fixing for 2013 the fishing opportunities available to EU vessels for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks which are not subject to international negotiations or agreements [Official Journal L 23 of 25.1.2013].

Council Regulation (EU) No 1262/2012 of 20 December 2012 fixing for 2013 and 2014 the fishing opportunities for EU vessels for certain deep-sea fish stocks [Official Journal L 356 of 22.12.2012].

The fleet

Commission Regulation (EU) No 1013/2010 of 10 November 2010 laying down implementing rules on the Union Fleet Policy as defined in Chapter III of Council Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 [Official Journal L 293 of 11.11.2010].

This Regulation applies to all Community vessels except those used exclusively in aquaculture and those registered in the French, Spanish and Portuguese outermost regions. It sets out the formulae which determine the reference levels in gross tonnage (GT) and power for each Member State at 1 January 2003. It also sets out the eligibility conditions for an increase in tonnage. Each Member State shall collect information related to the implementation of the CFP and on withdrawals (or replacements) of vessels in the European Union’s fleet. Any modernisation of a vessel resulting in a change to its fishing capacity must also be notified.

Commission Regulation (EC) No 26/2004 of 30 December 2003 on the Community fishing fleet register [Official Journal L 5 of 9.1.2004]. This Regulation determines the minimum information on ships flying the flag of a Member State which must be shown in the national register kept by that State. It also lays down the obligations of Member States concerning the collection, validation and transmission of those data to the Commission, as well as the latter’s obligations regarding the management of the Community fishing fleet register. Vessels are identified by means of a unique CFR (Community Fleet Register) number which is permanently assigned to a vessel and cannot be reassigned to another one.

See consolidated version

See also

  • Management of fisheries resources and the environment

Last updated: 08.02.2013