European fisheries are incredibly diverse ranging from highly industrialised distant-water pelagic fleets to small-scale artisanal fisheries that typically operate near the coast, especially in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Member States in the south represent over half of the total tonnage but around three-quarters of the number of vessels, owing to the predominance of smaller vessels in this region1.
Currently, many EU fish stocks are exploited at levels well in excess of their maximum sustainable yield, in other words the optimal volume of catches that can be taken each year without threatening the future reproductive capacity of a fish stock. 21% of stocks in the Baltic Sea and 44% in the North Sea are considered to be fished beyond ‘safe biological limits’ (SBL). In the Mediterranean, the percentage of stocks outside SBL ranges from 44% to 78%, with the Adriatic Sea considered to be in the worst condition2.
Fishing is one of the most widespread pressures in the marine environment. Intensive fishing pressure can be a major driver or vector of change in marine ecosystems, resulting through the removal of fish and shellfish biomass, in change or even disruption to food webs, or in damage to sensitive habitats.
A major focus of interest in the VECTORS project has been set on fisheries, both in terms of understanding the impact that fishing pressure can have on ecosystems but also how commercial fisheries are themselves impacted by other drivers of change, such as the introduction of non-native species or long-term climate change.
Through the reform of the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), implemented on January 1st 2014, an important policy driver changed during the life time of VECTORS3.