Overfishing in the Mediterranean

The azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea are a global icon of a coastal paradise, and have sustained civilizations for millennia.

However, the Mediterranean is in crisis; fish stocks are 96% overfished, while its waters are under pressure from pollution, shipping and mass tourism. Its shark species are under risk of extinction, while illegal fishing in the Mediterranean is rampant and often driven by criminal organisations (1)(2)(3).

For southern Europeans, the Mediterranean is mare nostrum – our sea, the embodiment of a cultural identity. But that very identity is now under threat. What would a sea empty of fish, mean to the people of the Mediterranean region?

On March 30, 2017, Mediterranean ministers reacted to this threat, signing an agreement to save Mediterranean fisheries, with EU Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella announcing:

“Today we are making history. In signing the Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration, we are affirming our political will to deliver tangible action: on fisheries and other activities that have an impact on fisheries resources, on the blue economy, on social inclusion, and on solidarity between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean”.

The MedFish4Ever Declaration is good news, but Our Fish believes it is not  enough to fix the problem –  the declaration seems little more than “a plan to develop plans by 2020”. The scientific community believes there is still time to turn things around, but not without meaningful urgent action from national governments.

Despite the need for change, big players in the Mediterranean fishing industry are challenging any new serious management measures and have convinced EU Governments that sustainable fisheries management is optional. They are wrong. Massive, ambitious cooperation is needed between members states and the EU to save the EU’s Mediterranean fisheries and the people that depend on them. But despite public commitments, member state actions are falling far short of what is needed. Our Fish believe it’s time tell the world the truth about the Mediterranean, to demand bold action – beyond the signing of declarations –  and catalyse the change that is needed.

Our Oceans

In  October 2017, Commissioner Karmenu Vella will host the Our Ocean Conference in Malta, aiming to attract international praise for the EU by focusing the conference on ocean governance and plastic pollution. However, by locating the Conference in Malta, he is unwittingly drawing attention to the critical state of the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean is clearly the worst example of the EU’s failure to effectively implement the pillars of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and to end overfishing.

At Our Oceans, we want to see the EU’s most important Mediterranean fishing nations commit to delivering action by 2018  that will protect the Mediterranean from overfishing.


Bold Urgent Action by 2018

Without serious immediate action there is a risk that overfishing  will push the Mediterranean beyond a point of no return – creating a future where this vital sea  can no longer provide a secure source of seafood or sustainably support a fishing economy (4).

We call on EU’s Mediterranean states, by 2018, to:


Significantly increase enforcement on the water and at port to stop widespread illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in the Med, and stop propping up the pirates with subsidies. More info


Apply science-based fishing limits for commercial species, including emergency measures for severely depleted stocks, and allocate access equitably, favouring those fishing practices that have less impact on the environment and greater social and economic benefits. More info


Create a network of fisheries restricted areas  to protect the most vulnerable habitats, nursery and spawning grounds, to ensure that populations can rapidly rebound. More info


The bottom trawling fleet is the most systematic, destructive form of fishing in the Mediterranean and there are too many boats for the number of fish left. Use EU funds to remove the most environmentally destructive trawlers and substantially reduce the capacity of the fleet, and assist the transition of communities to more sustainable fisheries. More info




(1) Suaria, G et al (2016), The Mediterranean Plastic Soup: synthetic polymers in Mediterranean surface waters. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 37551  

(2) Dulvy, N.K., Allen, D.J., Ralph, G.M. and Walls, R.H.L. (2016). The conservation status of Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras in the Mediterranean Sea [Brochure]. IUCN, Malaga, Spain.

(3) Phelps Bondaroff, Teale N., Reitano, Tuesday and van der Werf, Wietse (2015).The Illegal Fishing and Organized Crime Nexus: Illegal Fishing as Transnational Organized Crime.” The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime and The Black Fish.

(4) Chiara Piroddi, Marta Coll, Camino Liquete, Diego Macias, Krista Greer, Joe Buszowski, Jeroen Steenbeek, Roberto Danovaro & Villy Christensen (2017), Historical changes of the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem: modelling the role and impact of primary productivity and fisheries changes over time. Scientific RepoRts | 7:44491 | DOI: 10.1038/srep44491

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