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Europe Runs Out of Fish

Credit: EJF
Credit: EJF

By The Maritime Executive 2019-07-08 19:24:53

July 9 is European Fish Dependence Day, the moment when the E.U. has used up all its own seafood resources and must rely entirely on imports for the rest of the year to meet demand. 

This year it falls about a whole month earlier than in 2000. Illegal fishing and over-fishing are eroding food security, says the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) To end this, transparency in the industry must be improved, allowing consumers to make sustainable choices. 

Europe consumes far more seafood than it can catch in domestic waters or produce in fish farms. More than half of the yearly demand comes from abroad, and developing countries account for about half of the imports.

Austria is the first country to run out of fish, only reaching January 17 before exhausting its own supply. The U.K., as a seafaring nation, would reach September 7, still leaving around four months relying entirely on imports.  

30 years ago, Europe could meet demand with fish from domestic waters until September or October.

Although some European fish stocks have stabilized – due to action taken under the E.U. Common Fisheries Policy – too many stocks are still over-fished, says the EJF, and E.U. self-sufficiency is still too low. According to the E.U. Commission, 41 percent of assessed fish stocks in the Atlantic are considered over-fished. This figure rises to 88 percent in the Mediterranean. 

EJF Executive Director Steve Trent says transparency measures, such as those laid out by EJF’s Charter for Transparency, would allow businesses and consumers to secure legal, sustainable and ethical seafood, eradicating most illegal fishing, and the human rights abuses that often accompany it.

On average, each European citizen consumes 22.7 kg of seafood products each year. Portugal (55.3 kg), Spain (46.2 kg), Lithuania (44.7 kg), France (34.4 kg), and Sweden (33.2 kg) have the highest consumption rates in the E.U. Together, these five countries account for about one third of E.U. fish consumption.

Only four countries produce as much or more than they consume (Croatia, Netherlands, Ireland and Estonia).