Socio-economic Review of Community Fisheries
MegaPesca Lda, Portugal

Community Overview

Economic importance of fisheries
Fisheries may be defined as the exploitation of living aquatic resources, and is pursued for subsistence, economic and recreational purposes. Within the European Union one of the principal benefits of this activity is the socio-economic impact on jobs and incomes, not just in fishing, but also in up- and down-stream activities. Whilst fisheries only contributes an estimated 0.2% of GDP of the Union, the benefits frequently fall in areas which have few other alternative economic activities. A recent study footnote 1) estimated that in 1997 the EU possessed some 17 regions at NUTS 3 level (footnote 2) where fisheries accounted for more than 5% of the regions jobs. Higher levels of dependency are found with smaller regions; at NUTS 4 or 5 level the study identified at least 123 regions where more than 5% of the jobs were related to fisheries.

In the EU, as elsewhere, fisheries-related employment is affected by several factors. Like other industries based on exploitation of natural resources, it is subject to changes in the resource base, and to global trends in supply and demand, and to competitive pressures.  The restructuring of the fishing industry resulting from these factors is frequently accompanied by unemployment and hardship for people who are dependent upon fishing for their livelihoods. These effects have particular impact where a whole community is affected, where other industries in the area are tied in closely with the fishing industry, creating negative up- and down-stream effects, and where there are few opportunities for finding alternative work. An important part of the Common Fisheries Policy is to compensate for these negative effects, by providing support, either directly or through investment in job creation and training programmes.

Fleet Structure
In 1998, there were a total of 99,170 registered fishing vessels in EU Member States. Total fishing power was just under 8 million kW, and the total tonnage was just over 2 million GRT. Table 1 highlights the enormous variation in structural characteristics of the EU fleet. Greece had the largest fleet in terms of numbers, with over 20,000 vessels (20% of the total), but over 93% of these vessels were under 12m in length. Spain has the second largest fleet with almost 29% of the total tonnage of the EU. This is despite 75% of the vessels being under 12m in length.

Outside the Mediterranean and the Baltic regions, the pattern of a small modern segment of the fleet representing a large percentage of the capacity is common. For the EU as a whole, 63% of the vessels are under 12m and 53% under 9 metres. In Germany for example, out of a total of 2,373 vessels, 12 large trawlers represent almost 50% of the fleet tonnage. Only in the Netherlands and Belgium are there greater numbers of vessels over 12m than under. On the whole, the EU fleet is an ageing fleet, with few vessels introduced in recent years - only 16% of the total EU fleet had been purchased in the ten years previous to 1998. The regions with relatively newer fleets are the Netherlands, Northern France, Finland and Belgium.

Between 1991 and 1998, there was a nominal reduction in the registered EU fleet capacity of 4.5% in tonnage and 9.1% in power, but during this period, the EU fleet was also increased by the accession of two maritime nations, Sweden and Finland, and the re-unification of Germany.  Based on the fleet of the EU 12 in 1991, by 1998 tonnage had declined by 8% and power by 14.7%.

Table 1
EU Fleet Structure, 1998


No. vessels

Capacity 3

Power kW

Av. Tonnage3

Av. power (kW)















































































EU 15







Based on Marsource (derived from the Community Register of Fishing Vessels, 1stJanuary 1998)


1997 data


1997 data for tonnage and power, 1999 data for No. of vessels.


Statistical tonnage (mixture of GRT, GT and national standards)

Landings of marine fish
In the EU 15 member states, landings of fish in 1990 were 6.38 million tonnes, rising to 7.45 million tonnes in 1995. Since then they have declined to 6.3 million tonnes in 1998, with an estimated value of ECU 7.3 billion. Overall, the EU fleet accounts for about 7.5% (by quantity) of global marine capture fisheries.

Although Denmark lands some 30% of the EU total by volume (1.9 million tonnes) most of this is used for reduction, and is of relatively low unit value. With the exception of Sweden, in most other regions the landings are utilised mainly for human consumption, and have much higher unit value. After Denmark, Spain had the next highest landings, with 964,603 tonnes, followed by UK, France, Netherlands and Italy. EU vessels landed 423,000 tonnes outside the EU in 1998, particularly from UK and Spanish vessels.

The processing sector provides markets for fish caught by EU fishermen, as well as an important source of employment in fishery dependent areas. The sector has been relatively stable throughout the last decade, with an output of about ECU 10.3 billion in 1998. Spain and France have the largest processing sectors by value (corresponding to 22%  and 20% of output) but Germany and Denmark also produce over ECU 1 billion of output per year. 

The aquaculture sector is an important part of the EU fishery industry, with an output in 1998 of 1.1 million tonnes (up from 0.94 million tonnes in 1990). The EU accounted for 4% of total world aquaculture in production in 1997, and 8% of marine aquaculture production.

A recent study to characterise the sector (footnote 3) found that in 1997/1998 the production from marine aquaculture was 845,905 tonnes, with a value of over ECU 1.36 billion. The major producers are France (208,065 tonnes), Spain (208,065 tonnes), Italy (157,719 tonnes) and the UK (113,425 tonnes) but in terms of value, France and UK are the most important, with outputs of ECU 359.1 million and ECU 350 million respectively.

About one third of the marine aquaculture production by value comprises bivalve mollusca. The major producing regions are found in Galicia in Northern Spain (mussel production) and the West Coast of France (oyster production). The main species of fish produced by marine aquaculture are salmon, seabass and bream, eel and turbot. Total production of this species was 181,929 tonnes with a value ECU 793.8 million. The sector is dominated by the production of salmon (mainly in Scotland), followed by seabass and seabream in Greece; Ireland is the only other producer of note (mainly producing salmon). Greek hatcheries are also a major supplier of juvenile fish, generating revenues of another ECU 31.4 million, all of which is consumed by the aquaculture sector.

Inland aquaculture production is widely practised, with some production in all EU member states. The output of inland aquaculture was estimated to be ECU 605 million in 1997/1998, corresponding to 261,858 tonnes. The main species produced are trout and carp. Italy produces 22.4% of EU output value and Germany 14.5 % by value, with France and Denmark (mainly trout and eels) also being significant producers, followed by the UK, with trout production accounting for 10% by of EU output value.

Inland capture fisheries
Unlike marine fish landings, there is no formal recording of catches from inland fisheries. However, the sector is not of major economic importance compared to other fishery sub-sectors, with an estimated total production of 106,600 tonnes in 1997. Production appears to have increased by about 17,000 tonnes throughout the last decade. Inland capture fishing is of significance in only a few EU countries. Germany is by far the largest producer, with 52,000 tonnes (nearly 50% of the total), although much of this is dervied from re-stocking from aquaculture facilities. The main species are carp, trout, eels and members of the perch family.

Regional and Socio-Economic Importance Of Fisheries

click to view EU fisheries Employment data table

In 1998 the various parts of the EU fishery sector provided a total gross output of about ECU 20 billion and provided direct employment for at least 514,054 people. Table 2 provides a summary of output and employment by sector, with full-time equivalent (FTE) and gender breakdown estimates also shown. Net sector output will be somewhat less since a significant proportion of output is consumed within the fisheries branch. For example, the outputs of marine fishing are partially consumed by fish processing and, to an extent, by the aquaculture sector. Because of the nature of fishing, numbers employed in this activity are difficult to record and are often under-estimated, and the number employed in the sector is likely to be higher than indicated above. By applying known employment multipliers calculated for the EU fisheries sector (see Section 1.2.4) we can estimate total sector employment in 1998 to be about 550,000 (footnote 4).

Table 2
Principal economic dimensions of the EU fishery sector


Sector Output

No. employed


Tonnes 1000


ECU million









Marine fishing









Fish processing









Marine aquaculture









Inland aquaculture









Inland fishing









Other fishery sector1


















Source: National statistical sources and Regional Socio-economic Studies on Employment and the Level of Dependency on Fishing’ Directorate General for Fisheries, 2000

Notes:  1

Other is 1996/97 estimate and  includes distribution, mollusc gathering, vessel construction and repair; it is likely to underestimate employment


FTE and gender estimates are based on the data  factors from the 1997 figures, assuming no change in employment departments between 1996 and 1998


A significant proportion of primary output from fishing and aquaculture is consumed by other branches of the fishery sector (such as processing


1996/97 data


Employment in fisheries
Marine fishing accounts for the largest share of direct employment in the sector (241,010 jobs). Fish processing provides employment for a further 89,468 individuals. Aquaculture provides another 61,898 jobs and over 80% of these are in marine aquaculture where bivalve mollusc culture provides the most employment. The inland fishing sector is small in comparison with marine fishing and fish processing, employing only 9,521.

Spain has most fishers, employing 68,297 in 1996 (about a quarter of the EU total) followed by Italy with 18% and Greece with 17% of the total. Other Member States with relatively large numbers employed at sea are Portugal (27,197), France (19, 163) and UK (17,847). Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, Sweden and Netherlands all have less than 7,000 fishers. There is no employment in marine fishing in land-locked Austria and Luxembourg.

Between 1990 and 1998, the numbers of fishers in the EU fell by about 66,000 from a nominal 306,961 to 241,010, corresponding to an overall decrease of 21%. The last decade has seen a net reduction of about 8,000 fishers in the sector each year. Three countries (Spain, Portugal and Italy) showed quite substantial declines in the number employed with the greatest fall in employment being recorded in the Spanish industry. Here the number employed declined by over 24,000, about one quarter of the 1990 total of 92,424, with the main decline experienced in the North and Atlantic coast regions. Part of this fall can be attributed to the reduced access to the Moroccan fishery under successive fisheries agreements between the EU and Morocco.

Portugal, with 27,197 fishers, was the country to show the next largest decline in fishing employment with a fall of over 10,000 (since 1981). Fishing employment in Italy also fell by 9,194 fishers, to 43,289 (a 17.4% decline). Some regions in the EU have shown an apparent slight increase in numbers of fishers since 1991 (such as the Azores and Greece). The majority of other areas experienced a smaller decline in employment in marine fishing, and in several regions (e.g. Sicily and Sardinia, Finland and Scotland & Northern Ireland) there were no significant changes in fishing employment.

Employment in fish processing
The distribution of employment in fish processing is quite different to that of employment in marine fishing. Fish processing is more evenly distributed throughout the EU, with the UK accounting for 18,140 jobs (20% of the EU total in this activity). France, with 11,899 (13%) and Spain with 15,449 (17%) employed also have significant employment in fish processing. Italy and Greece, despite having relatively high numbers employed in fishing (18% and 17% of fishers) have only relatively low levels of employment in processing (accounting for 7% and 3% of processing employment). This is the converse of the situation in Germany, which has a relatively large processing sector of 11,280 (13% of the EU processing employment), compared to employment in fishing of only 2,932 (1% of fishers).

Despite expansion of the EU, employment in fish processing fell from 104,316 in 1990 to 89,468 in 1998 (a decline of just over 14%). Portugal and Denmark experienced the largest apparent declines in employment in processing. Significant declines were also suffered in Italy, France and the UK (around 20% over the period). Spain experienced a lesser decline (around 12%) and numbers employed in fish processing appear to have increased slightly in Belgium and in Germany.

Dependency of the processing sector on the EU fishing industry
Whereas numbers employed in processing have fallen by 14%, employment in fishing has declined by 21% over the same period. In many sectors of the EU processing industry there is no directly proportional link between employment at sea and employment in processing.  It is known that the EU imports substantial quantities of fish to be used as raw material for processing and the importance of imported raw material in sustaining employment in the fish processing industry is recognised by the Common Fisheries Policy in the establishment of import tariffs for fishery products.

Some of the major imports are white fish fillet blocks, herring, tuna for canning and frozen crustacea.  Overall, only an estimated 53% of processing jobs appeared to be dependent on EU landings in 1996/97. Sectors of the EU processing industry which are considered to be still substantially dependent on EU landings are tuna and sardine canning, and the primary processing of white fish.

The tuna canning sectors of Spain, France and Portugal are respectively substantially dependent on EU landings into Galicia, Brittany and the Azores. The Italian tuna canning industry is considered to be exceptional, since it is now almost 100% dependent on imported raw material from third countries.

Sardine canning provides employment linked exclusively to local landings in Spain (Huelva in the South), Portugal (Mainland) and France (Brittany and Bay of Biscay). In Italy about 35% of fish processing employment is linked to local landings, mainly in the sardine canning and anchovy conserving sectors.

In most of the more northern EU countries such as Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and in parts of the UK, the EU-landing related employment in processing is limited to primary processing of whitefish and some shellfish processing (e.g. shrimp processing in Netherlands and Denmark). In Germany, nearly 100% of the processing inputs (fillet blocks and herring) are imported, and there are few, if any links to landings. In Belgium also, the larger industrial processors rely on imports. In Denmark although the fish meal industry does rely exclusively on local landings, it provides little employment relative to the volume of material processed.

Employment in other fisheries activities
The aquaculture sector accounts for 61,898 of the fishery-related jobs in the EU (about 15%) and more than 80% of these are in marine aquaculture. Spain and France are the two countries with substantial employment in marine aquaculture, with 14,500 employed in the former and 14,055 in the latter, between them accounting for 57% of employment in the marine aquaculture sector. Most of these jobs are in the culture of bivalve mollusca. Italy also has substantial employment in this activity (8,665 jobs). Greece and UK (in particular Scotland) are the two regions where there is a substantial production of fish (seabass/ seabream and salmon respectively). Here employment is lower at 2,910 (5.8% of EU employed in the sector) and 1,617 (3.24%) respectively, despite the relatively higher value of production. Inland aquaculture in the EU employs 11,569, with the major centres of employment found in Germany (2,825), Austria (2,300) and Italy (2,142). Although all other regions have some employment in this activity, France is the only other country in which employment exceeds 1000. 

Inland fishing accounts for only 2.3% of fishery sector employment. However there is no data for some regions and under-recording is suspected in the regions where zero employment is reported. Greece (2,701 employed), France (2,501 employed), Portugal (1,939 employed) and Finland (995) are the regions in which substantial numbers are recorded.

Women in EU fisheries
An estimated 84,000 jobs in the fisheries sector were held by women throughout the EU in 1998, as indicated in Table 2. Even in fishing, which is traditionally regarded as a male preserve, women hold about 6% of the jobs. Female participation is recorded in harvesting of bivalve molluscs in Spain and Portugal, in an on-shore capacity in fishing enterprises in Belgium and Spain, and in gear repair and preparation in Greece. Women also hold the majority of jobs in fish processing (53,000 employed) and also fill an estimated 30% of the 47,000 jobs in aquaculture, especially those related to the production of bivalve mollusca.

The proportion of women in fish processing jobs shows some regional variations, the highest levels being in Italy (about 87%). Employment of women in the Portuguese processing sector is also high (over 70%).  Lower levels of female employment in the sector are found in the Netherlands (39%) and Greece (32%). High levels of female employment are particularly associated with the (labour intensive) processing of canned tuna and sardines. It is important to note that these sectors of the processing industry are those which are most dependent on EU landings for their raw material inputs.

Employment multipliers
All industrial activities support jobs in related up- and down-stream industries. Employment multipliers give a measure of the relative numbers of dependent jobs in these related industries. In the EU fishery sector, it has been estimated (footnote 5) that for every job at sea, there are a further 0.8 related jobs on land. However, there are many land-based fisheries jobs that are not at all related to fishing (such as processing of imported raw material, aquaculture and inland fisheries). When these jobs are included, for every fishing job at sea, there are, on average, a further 1.15 jobs directly related to fisheries on land. The apparent employment multipliers are notably higher by a factor of 3 or 4 in Netherlands, Belgium Germany and Denmark compared to countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal. The former countries are characterised by relatively low fleet employment in labour-efficient, capital intensive fishing operations, and a high level of processing employment, mainly in enterprises utilising imported raw materials. These regions therefore show relatively higher apparent employment multipliers, even though the real linkages between the jobs in fishing and jobs on land are much weaker than in the regions with lower apparent values.

Social and Economic Impacts of the Common Fisheries Policy

Factors impacting on socio-economic aspects of EU fisheries
Planned changes under the Common Fisheries Policy, and discontinuities in fishery activity brought about by external factors over which policy does not have complete control, can impact on fisheries employment in European Union fisheries. In the present environment discontinuities are often negative and there are some significant threats to employment, related both to consequences of over-fishing as well as other externalities. The main threats to employment, both in the long- and the short-term, may be summarised as:

·         Structural adjustment and effort reduction under MAGP IV and beyond

·         Quota reductions where present quotas are fully utilised

·         Loss of access to third country fisheries

·         Competition from imports as a result of reduced tariff barriers under WTO

Relation between employment in fishing and fleet adjustment
The Multi-annual Guidance Programme (MAGP) is a programme of fishing capacity and effort reduction measures which was introduced in 1992. Under the MAGP IV, each Member State (MS) has agreed capacity targets (in terms of tonnage and power) for the period 1997 to 2002. In some cases capacity targets may differ where alternative measures for effort reduction are in place. The MAGP IV progress during the first year was reviewed in 1998, and a report published by the Commission in April 1999 (footnote 6) .

The report details the progress towards capacity reduction targets and the amount of fleet structural adjustment remaining to be achieved. During the period between 1991 and 1998 there was a nominal reduction in EU 12 fleet capacity of 8.4% in power and 15% in tonnage, compared to an average reduction in fishing employment over the same period of about 21%.  Between 1990 and 1996/97 Spain showed an employment reduction of 26%, yet a capacity change of only 3.3% in power and 13% in tonnage. The pattern of employment changes in excess of fleet capacity reductions is reflected in most regions. This may be partly due to the tendency for the least efficient vessels in each fleet segment to be withdrawn first, with greater employment impact, but will undoubtedly also be due to the impact of other socio-economic impacts on the sector.

On a Community level and in most cases, the MAPG IV targets have been met, with tonnage 16% below target and power 7% below target. However France and Netherlands had not met their objectives by 1999, and in these countries additional reductions in capacity may be anticipated during the period up to the end of 2002. Furthermore targets for some fleets segments in some countries have not been met, and these segments are also likely to suffer higher rates of adjustment.

The potential impact of a given change in capacity or quota for some defined fleet segments is considered in Table 3. This indicates numbers of vessels and employment by fleet segment in some EU fleet segments, and suggests in general terms the nature of the relationship between capacity and jobs. However it is clear from the experience of the last 10 years that, at the margins, the decrease in fishing employment is only partially related to structural changes in the fleet induced by the CFP. More work is required to improve the understanding of the impact of given reductions in tonnage and power, especially in relation to up- and downstream impacts based on the estimates of employment multipliers.

Table 3
Potential employment impact of changes in capacity
in selected segments of  the EU fishing fleet



Fleet Segment


No. of Vessels

Average employment per vessel

No. of jobs involved per 20% fleet reduction

Total impact (based on multiplier)


Beam Trawlers







Trawler W.Coast

Trawler E.Coast












Trawler W.Coast

Trawler N.Coast












Beam Trawl







Trawler Scotland






Based on data derived from “Economic Performance of Selected European Fishing Fleets – Annual Report 1998” which is from a Concerted Action study (FAIR PL97-3541).

1 indicates data from 1996, all other data is from 1997

Although fish processing is only partially dependent on EU landings, within the MAGP there may be more or less emphasis on some fleet segments that are important sources of raw material for parts of the processing sector. For example, reduction of the North Sea beam trawl fleet could impact heavily on Belgian fish process workers who fillet and freeze flatfish. The minimum unit of fleet reduction is one vessel, which in the case of the Belgian and Netherlands fleets, accounts for a significant proportion of fleet capacity. Capacity reductions for this sector under MAGP III and IV took this feature into account. For other sectors, for example sardine purse seining or tuna pole and line fishing, capacity reductions may not even result in reduction of landings, since other vessels would tend to compensate (assuming that the quota and resource is available).

Even if landings were reduced by a capacity reduction or quota measure there may not be an overall loss of supplies into processing, since the processing industry may have an opportunity to source raw materials from elsewhere. This is clearly the case for tuna, where imported raw material forms a significant proportion of processing inputs in most canneries. In sardine canning, any overall shortfall in raw material could result in the diversion of some supplies from fresh consumption to processing, or could even pull in imports, so again the impact on processing employment may not be so great.  The primary processing of whitefish (for which the quotas are in any case fully utilised) appears to be the sector where employment in fish processing is most strongly threatened by capacity reduction and quota measures of the CFP.

Impact of Quota Reductions
A similar approach may be adopted for assessing the employment impact of quota reductions, although here the impact in fleet employment is less direct, since at least in the short-term, quota reductions need not necessarily mean that vessels stop fishing. Rather reduced profitability forces less efficient vessels towards permanent withdrawal or export. Furthermore, one should also consider the efficiency with which quota measures are policed. With a sizeable supply of so-called "black fish" (footnote 7) (for example in the case of primary processing of white fish) reductions in quota could well leave supplies into processing and employment intact. Conversely, there could be a significant employment impact derived from strengthened enforcement measures.

EU fisheries agreements  
The European Union has established bilateral fisheries agreements with a number of other nations. Many of these provide access rights for EU flagged vessels to fish within the EEZ of the third country concerned, and many fishermen from EU Member States find employment in this type of activity.

Current access agreements may be classed as financial (17 agreements), reciprocal (8 agreements) and joint venture (1 agreement). Reciprocal agreements can be regarded as relatively stable and there are no significant changes in access anticipated. In fact four of the countries (Poland and the three Baltic States) are likely to accede to the EU within the foreseeable future so fisheries access will become more secure. Perhaps the greatest instability is introduced by the so-called financial agreements, in which fisheries access to an EEZ is granted by a state in return for a direct financial consideration. The two largest agreements were Morocco (ECU 125 million per year) and Mauritania (ECU 54 million per year). These agreements are of particular importance since a significant proportion of the fish caught under the agreement is landed directly in EU ports, in Southern Spain, Canary Islands and Portugal. EU policy has been to seek renewal wherever feasible.

The Morrocan fisheries agreement expired in November 1999. The access rights under this agreement were allocated mainly between Spain and Portugal. The fishery supported a significant number of EU jobs in fishing and processing (the latter mainly in re-processing demersal fish and cephalopods which were frozen at sea). In 1996 the Moroccan agreement sustained 1,117 fishing jobs in Portugal, mainly in Olhão and Sesimbra. None of the landings provide substantial inputs to the fish processing sector, and the impact of this agreement on processing employment on the Portuguese mainland was considered to be negligible. In Spain the main areas dependent on the Moroccan fisheries agreement were Cadiz, Huelva and la Luz in Las Palmas. In 1997 the total number of fishers employed in these NUTS 3 areas was 11,951, with a further 1,627 workers employed in fish processing (many of whom were dependent on access to the Moroccan fishery). However, the number of fishers had fallen from 23,000 in 1991, showing that the socio-economic dependency of the sector had already declined substantially prior to the loss of fisheries access.

The mauritanian agreement will continue until the end of July 2001. It provides for fisheries access by Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Irish, Dutch and French vessels. The agreement provides for licences for tuna fishing and for pelagic and demersal trawling. The employment impact of the Mauritanian fishery is more diffuse than for Morocco, although one of the key resources in terms of employment appear to be tuna, with the associated onshore employment impact on processing in Galicia in Spain and concarneau in Brittany.  

  1. 'Regional Socio-economic Studies on Employment and the Level of Dependency on Fishing', European Commission, Directorate General for Fisheries; (Lot 23 - Coordination and Consolidation Study) Megapesca Lda. and Centre for Agricultural Strategy.

  2. NUTS (Nomenclature des unités territoriales statistiques) is a classification of territorial units used throughout the EU. There are 1,031 NUTS 3 regions in the EU, corresponding inter alia to Départments in France, Counties in UK, Nomoi in Greece, Provincie in Italy, Provincias in Spain etc.

  3. Forward Study of Community Aquaculture, European Commission, Directorate General for Fisheries, December 1999 (MacAlister Elliott and Partners)

  4. includes 241,010 fishers, plus (241,010 x 0.8) up- and downstream fishing related jobs, plus 116,153 employed in aquaculture, inland fishing and processing of imported fish (assumed to be 50% of all processing jobs).

  5. by the 'Regional Socio-economic Studies on Employment and the Level of Dependency on Fishing'

  6. Annual report to the Council and the European Parliament on the results of the MAGP for the fishing fleets at the end of 1997.

  7. "black fish" is defined as fish which is retained onboard the fishing vessel in contravention of fisheries regulations