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Maritime affairs and fisheries

The livelihoods of many EU citizens depend on the sea and its resources – fish, of course, but also energy from offshore wind parks and oil and gas fields. The EU's merchant fleet depends on the world's oceans for trade. Coastal areas are magnets for tourists - another source of livelihoods.

With so much at stake we must be responsible in our use of the seas' resources, prevent overfishing and ensure that oil and gas extraction does not harm the marine or coastal environment.

Fisheries – the importance of conservation

The EU fishing industry is the world's fourth largest, supplying some 6.4 million tonnes of fish each year. Fishing and fish processing provide jobs for over 350 000 people.

The EU makes every effort to ensure fishing is sustainable - both economically and environmentally - while protecting consumers' interests and taking fishermen's needs into account.

The reform of the EU's common fisheries policy that took effect in January 2014 has precisely these aims: to secure fishermen's livelihoods, while stopping overfishing and the consequent depletion of stocks.

The new legislation is underpinned by a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. Between 2014 and 2020, this will finance projects designed to

  • introduce innovative fishing techniques
  • create new outlets for seafood
  • improve the quality of life in coastal areas.

This will help fishermen to move towards sustainable fishing, and coastal communities to diversify their economies.

Fishermen unloading catch © Van Parys Media

Conserving fish stocks – a priority for EU fisheries policy.

International cooperation & assistance

The EU works with UN bodies and negotiates within regional and international fisheries organisations to ensure that waters everywhere are regulated in a transparent, sustainable way and that stocks are not overfished.

Bilateral agreements with non-EU countries give EU fishermen access to fish in distant waters, under the same sustainability conditions that apply within the EU. This helps to keep the EU market supplied. In return, the partner countries (including developing countries) receive a financial contribution that they can invest in developing their own fisheries industry and building up their own fish stocks.

Farming fish & seafood – sustainably

There is a widening gap between the amount of seafood eaten in the EU and the volume supplied by the fishing industry. This can be bridged to some extent by aquaculture. Today, a quarter of fish and seafood produced in the EU already comes from fish farms and other forms of aquaculture. Mussels, rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon are the main species farmed in the EU by volume, followed by oysters, sea bream, common carp, clams and sea bass.

European aquaculture maintains exceptionally high standards of environmental protection, animal health and consumer safety. However, the sector has been stagnating in recent years. New legislation is designed to reverse this trend and boost the supply of fresh, healthy and locally produced food.

Wind turbines © EU

Offshore wind parks – a source of clean energy, jobs & economic growth

The maritime dimension

The EU has the world’s largest maritime area (1200 ports) and the world's largest merchant fleet. 90% of trade with non-EU countries and 40% of trade within the EU is seaborne. The maritime industries employ several million people and are worth almost 200 billion euro.

In recent years the EU has broadened the scope of its maritime policy to encompass all uses of our maritime space, in a concerted effort to harness Europe’s longstanding maritime heritage to pursuing the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Maritime policy now includes

  • maritime security
  • maritime spatial planning
  • knowledge of the marine environment
  • competitive maritime businesses
  • scientific research
  • fisheries
  • protection of the marine environment.

The goal is to ensure economic development while safeguarding environmental sustainability.

To raise awareness of the crucial importance of healthy seas and oceans for our lives, the EU celebrates European Maritime Day on 20 May each year.


Maritime affairs and fisheries

Manuscript updated in November 2014

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series



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