European Parliament votes to bring EU fisheries into the digital era

Posted on October, 17 2023

After no less than 5 years of negotiations, the European Parliament has voted in favour of adopting the new EU fisheries Control Regulation.
After years of complex technical negotiations, the EU's new system to ensure that fisheries rules are effectively applied has been formally adopted by the European Parliament.

Cameras on vessels identified as being of high risk of breaking the rules (based on previous infringements), electronic logbooks, satellite tracking for the entire EU fishing fleet by 2030 - including for about 50,000 small scale vessels -, a digital information sharing system to ensure illegal imports are stopped, a minimum level for fines to harmonise sanctions across the EU, and improved data collection for recreational fisheries are just some of the new measures that will propel EU fishing practices and EU standards for seafood sold in its market into a far more sustainable reality. 

Louis Lambrechts, Ocean Policy Officer at the WWF European Policy Office, said: “This is the most significant development in EU fisheries policy for a decade. All these new measures will conjunctively help the EU deliver on its sustainable and environmental objectives, and help further materialise the EU’s zero-tolerance approach to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Still, today only marks a first step: important details will be decided in the coming months.”

Vera Coelho, Deputy Vice President of Oceana in Europe, said: “The European Union will be the first major fishing jurisdiction in the world to require vessel tracking devices and electronic catch reporting on its entire fleet. From the largest pelagic trawler to the smallest artisanal vessel, every fishing boat will be traceable in real time. This will improve knowledge of the fishing activities, protect areas where fishing is forbidden, and offer tangible benefits to fishers, such as improved safety at sea. Considering that the EU has one of the biggest fishing fleets in the world, with more than 70.000 vessels, this measure sets a bold example for other nations to follow.” 

Gonçalo Carvalho, Executive Coordinator at Sciaena, said: “With this regulation, EU fisheries will be able to be fully accountable and prove that they are truly committed to sustainability. There will be changes in the day-to-day of fishers at sea, but we are ready to support them in implementing this regulation, as it is a unique opportunity to empower the sector and to show it has a role to play in achieving healthy marine ecosystems and vibrant coastal communities.”

Of particular significance is the move from a paper-based system - where more than 250,000 paper catch documents for seafood products were arriving at EU borders annually - to a digital system, where information and alerts can be shared much faster and at an EU-wide scale. Additional information, such as a vessel’s unique identification number, are also now mandatory to include. 

A recent high-profile investigation has shown the dramatic environmental and human costs of certain seafood which may end up on our plates. To prevent this, complete transparency and robust traceability for all seafood products all along their supply chains is imperative – something the new Regulation directly supports.

In the coming months and years, however, many key details will need to be ironed out by the European Commission and adopted by all Member States: for instance, the establishment of a traceability system for processed seafood, and the technical specificities of future IT tools. 

The EU fisheries Control Regulation is due to enter into force on the 1st of January 2024.
Trawler operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
© Isaac VEGA / WWF