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Maximum sustainable yield

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Maximum sustainable yield

With a view to ensuring the sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources, this Communication sets out a new guideline for fisheries policy. The Commission is proposing that Community fisheries management should be based on maximum sustainable yield (MSY), a long-term management system designed to ensure the exploitation of living marine resources in sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions.


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Implementing sustainability in EU fisheries through maximum sustainable yield [COM(2006) 360 - not published in the Official Journal].


Through this Communication, the Commission aims to improve the economic performance of the fisheries sector and ensure the industry's viability in keeping with the spirit of the decisions made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

At that summit, the Commission and Member States signed up to the aim of achieving a maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for depleted stocks by 2015 at the latest.

The Commission considers that the time has come for Community fisheries management to be handled differently, looking for success rather than merely seeking to avoid failure, by replacing stocks using MSY-based management.

The Commission draws attention to the potential benefits of this new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) guideline. Several scientific studies have shown that management based on maximum sustainable yield (MSY) could restore 80 % of the European fish stocks currently affected by overfishing.

The MSY approach is based on a long-term strategy whereby catch rates are fixed, enabling fish stocks to reproduce so that exploitation can occur in sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions.

The benefits of an approach based on MSY

The Commission feels that fishing at MSY levels would help reverse the trend of allowing aquatic stocks to run out. This approach would benefit the sea environment as a whole, since it would lead to an increase in available resources and renewed balance within ecosystems.

The approach also brings economic benefits, since it allows for a reduction in the cost of fishing activity. Exploitation of stocks will become less problematic once the availability of resources becomes more stable again.

Fishing within MSY limits will mean that the number of large-scale and high-value catches will increase while the proportion of discards will decrease.

In recent years, over 10 million tonnes of fish have been imported each year, which represents 60 % of European fish consumption. An MSY approach to fisheries management would increase the European fisheries industry's competitive edge by ensuring stable and high-quality supply.

Making this approach a reality

Fisheries management has to be based on sustainability and stability. The Commission is therefore recommending a balance between fishing activity and the reproductive capacity of fisheries resources.

In order to meet this objective, it is important to define, on a yearly basis, appropriate catch rates for the different stocks of fish. The Commission has already emphasised the importance of improving the process by which fishery management decisions are made.

The success of the transition to this new approach is dependent on the ability of national fishery authorities to adapt to a new situation, and also on regular consultation between the Commission and these authorities.

This period of gradual adaptation may result in two different approaches. One would involve Member States being able to encourage the development of a smaller, more efficient and more profitable fishing sector, one which would involve lower numbers of fishermen. The other would involve employment in Member States remaining high, without a reduction in fleet sizes, although this would mean companies being less profitable.

Since Member States decide on an economic strategy for fishing, the Commission notes that in the past, solutions other than the decommissioning of fishing vessels have created problems of enforcement and social acceptance, since it is difficult to maintain an over-large fishing fleet without using it.

Long-term plans

The Commission will propose, over the coming years, a series of long-term plans to ensure that, by 2015, resources exploited in Community waters will reach MSY levels. Each plan will define the fishing rate appropriate for the stock in question. The principles governing these long-term plans consist of:

  • consultation with fishermen, consumers and any other stakeholders;
  • impartial scientific advice being the basis of any plans;
  • the economic, social and environmental impact of proposed measures being taken into account;
  • a target fishing rate and a means of gradually reaching that target being set;
  • the harmful effects of fishing on the ecosystem being reduced;
  • where different stocks are normally caught together, technical measures ensuring that fishing of all the stock is compatible with their respective targets;
  • the possibility of exploiting some stocks more lightly than at MSY levels in order to achieve some gain of productivity for other species;
  • targets being set irrespective of the biological condition of the stock when the plans enter into force, even though the plans may require stronger conservation measures if a resource is depleted more quickly than expected;
  • appropriate guidelines if, due to lack of data or other circumstances, scientific advice cannot quantify the actions needed to meet maximum sustainable yield conditions;
  • plans and targets being subject to periodic review.


During the 2002 reform of the CFP, the importance of longer-term fisheries management in order to preserve sustainable fish resources was emphasised. This was also reflected in the organisation of plans to replace the stocks most at risk. However, overfishing has meant that catch rates for several species have been much reduced over several years. There is therefore, according to the Commission, the need for a further stage and to reverse the downward trend as regards the majority of fish resources. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, Member States also made a commitment to bringing stocks to levels compatible with the principle of MSY by 2015 at the latest.

Last updated: 17.10.2011