Europe and Central Asia
23 Jul 2020

External Dimension of the European Common Fisheries Policy

© Justine Guiny, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia
By Justine Guiny

While EU fish stocks are severely overfished, around 1,000 European vessels are authorised, each year, to fish in the rich waters of the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. But fishing vessels are not the only ones interested in taking advantage of these more abundant marine resources. These distant waters are also important foraging grounds for hundreds of thousands of seabirds, traveling around the globe, from Europe and elsewhere, to feed in these waters. In Europe alone, 13 different seabird species use West African waters for breeding, as wintering areas, or as migration stopovers every year. While feeding at sea, seabirds become victims of bycatch - caught in fishing nets, hit by trawlers’ poles, or hooked on longlines. 

The external dimension of the Common Fisheries Policy provides a framework for authorising, monitoring and controlling the activities of EU vessels fishing outside of Union waters, which often take place in the framework of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPAs). These SFPAs are negotiated between the EU and a coastal State, and are meant to define the access rights of the EU fleet to the surplus of fish resources of this country. If they were fairly and sustainably negotiated, these agreements could present the potential to help populations in both Europe and the coastal state to sustain themselves with healthy fish stocks, while protecting marine ecosystems and supporting some non-European partner countries to develop themselves sustainably. Unfortunately, our latest assessment of the negotiations and implementation of the SFPAs tells another story, to the detriment of marine ecosystems and vital marine life such as seabirds.

The EU must be coherent with its commitment to leading the world on ocean protection by strengthening the external dimension of the CFP and ensuring that EU-flagged vessels truly fish sustainably in distant waters through concrete actions to reduce their impact on marine ecosystems, including seabirds. To achieve this objective, BirdLife strongly calls for:

  1. Good governance of EU fishing activities outside Union waters
  2. Stronger regional cooperation and compliance with RFMOs’ rules
  3. Socio-ecologically responsible EU funding of the EU distant water fleet
  4. Smarter and more transparent funding from SFPAs
  5. Improved and increased scientific data collection
  6. Mandatory use of Bycatch Technical Mitigation Measures for EU DWF
  7. Stronger Monitoring, Control and Surveillance

Read our new paper on the External Dimension of the EU Common Fisheries Policy here:


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.