The Mediterranean Sea

Sarpa salpa – Mediterranean 2006 © Greenpeace / Roger Grace

The azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea are a global icon of a coastal paradise, an international biodiversity hotspot, and have sustained civilizations for millennia. For southern Europeans, the Mediterranean is mare nostrum – our sea – the embodiment of a cultural identity. But this icon is under threat, and without urgent, courageous action from national EU Governments, mare nostrum as we know it, could be gone within a generation.

The Mediterranean is in crisis – its waters are under growing pressure from fishing, pollution, shipping, and mass tourism: EU managed fish stocks are 96% overfished, with annual reports on fish stocks repeating dire warnings each year; its shark species are at risk of extinction; while illegal fishing in the Mediterranean is rampant and often driven by criminal organisations (1)(2)(3)(4).

In response to the increasing cacophony of threats, there has been a lot of talk about the need for action, most recently with the MedFish4Ever Declaration. But talk is cheap. A new draft multiannual management plan for the Western Mediterranean – a critical tool for rectifying fisheries management – indicates that EU decision makers lack courage to implement the radical actions required to save Mediterranean fish stocks (5).

Bold Urgent Action

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 (6). We call on EU’s Mediterranean states to immediately:


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. This includes a ban on bottom trawling to 150m depth. 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

Further reading:


On 17 October 2017, the 41st session of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) adopted the EU proposal for the establishment of a Fisheries Restricted Area in the Jabuka/Pomo Pit banning dermal fisheries!

“The protection by the GFCM of the Jabuka/Pomo Pit is a milestone decision, showing that  progress can be achieved even in areas heavily exploited by fisheries. We congratulate the  GFCM, the EU and all those scientists that have long worked for the recovery of this area and of the  Adriatic Sea,” Domitilla Senni from MedReAct.


(1) Froese, R., Garilao, C., Winker, H., Coro, G., Demirel, N., Tsikliras, A., Dimarchopoulou, D., Scarcella, G., Sampang-Reyes, A. (2016) Exploitation and status of European stocks. World Wide Web electronic publication. 

(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) Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) – Monitoring the performance of the Common Fisheries Policy (STECF-Adhoc-18-01).

(5) Oceana (2018). EU’s new proposal fails to save Mediterranean

(6) 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