Sustainability and net zero by 2050: EU’s ambitious plan for fisheries and aquaculture

The new package of measures aims to improve sustainability and resilience for the sector in the EU.
European Union announces new measures for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. Photo: Adobe Stock
European Union announces new measures for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. Photo: Adobe Stock

The EU's transition to sustainability continues with a new package of measures promoting the use of cleaner energy sources by fisheries and aquaculture sector, reducing the sector's impact on marine ecosystems, and supporting the full implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

"We are also promoting an energy transition to help the sector adapt its vessels and equipment, improve working conditions and move towards renewable, low-carbon energy sources," said Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.

"We know this is a challenging task. For this reason, the transformation will be gradual and we will promote dialogue between all communities to lay the foundation for a resilient fisheries and aquaculture sector," Sinkevičius added.

Net zero emissions by 2050

According to EU figures from 2019, the fisheries and aquaculture sector as a whole were responsible for 5.2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. The sector's dependency on fossil fuels is a key area the EU wants to tackle, in line with the European Green Deal ambition to reach climate neutrality in the EU by 2050.

Reducing the sector's dependency on fossil fuels also makes financial sense, EU figures suggest. Currently both fishing and aquaculture are highly vulnerable to fluctuations in fuel prices. For every 10 cent increase in fuel prices, the annual gross profits in the entire EU fisheries sector drops by over €185 million, according to EU figures.

In support of the net zero goal, the EU is launching its Energy Transition Partnership for EU Fisheries and Aquaculture, which will bring together all stakeholders to collectively address the challenges of the sector's energy transition. The Commission will also provide guidance to the sector on available financing tools for the take-up of new energy technologies.

Reducing by-catch and phasing out bottom trawling

To achieve long-term sustainability for the sector and the marine environments on which it depends, the EU is also proposing a new marine "action plan". This will includes the phase-out of mobile bottom fishing in all Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030. The plan will also promote using innovative solutions to fish more selectively and mitigate the impact of by-catch on sensitive species.

"The European Commission will work with local fishing communities, the aquaculture and fisheries sector and help them adopt sustainable practices, from reducing energy usage to using more selective fishing gear," Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, said.

"As part of efforts to restore and protect nature, we also ask Member States to phase out bottom trawling in fragile areas. When we ensure the sustainability of fisheries we invest in the resilience and future of the sector and its workers. Working together, we can find the right balance and establish healthy marine ecosystems all over Europe," he said.

The proposed measures are intended to protect fish spawning and nursery areas, reduce fish mortality rates and restore key habitats for sensitive species. The EU also hopes to build bridges between fisheries and environmental authorities through creation of a joint group.

Pact for fisheries and oceans

It is now ten years after the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, which aims to ensure long-term environmental, economic, and social sustainability for fisheries and aquaculture, as well as maintaining availability of food supplies and ensuring a fair standard of living for fisheries and aquaculture communities.

As part of the new measures, the Commission will report on the functioning of the CFP, as well as of the common market organisation. At the same time, it will set out a vision for sustainable fisheries of the future, creating a new "Fisheries and Oceans Pact" in support of the CFP looking ahead.

The pact, says Timmermans, is to enable all stakeholders to work together "to ensure sustainable and resilient fisheries, protect and restore our marine ecosystems, make the sector profitable and strengthen our food security in the long-term."

About the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy

The CFP is a set of rules for sustainably managing European fishing fleets and conserving fish stocks. Originally part of the common agricultural policy (CAP), the common fisheries policy (CFP) started with the objectives of increasing productivity, stabilising the markets, providing a source of healthy food and ensuring reasonable prices for consumers. Over time the CFP obtained a separate identity as a specific legislation and structural policy for fisheries, introducing the common market organisation in 1970. The latest CFP reform took place in 2013, including regulations on environmental, economic and social dimensions of fisheries, maximum sustainable yield, landing obligation, regionalisation and fleet capacity ceilings.

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