Indicator Specification

Fishing fleet capacity

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: CSI 034
Published 07 Apr 2005 Last modified 04 Dec 2019
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The indicator is a measure of the size and capacity of the fishing fleet, including the average size of vessels, which in turn are assumed to approximate to the pressure on marine fish resources and the environment.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

Fishing capacity, defined in terms of tonnage and engine power and sometimes number of vessels, is one of the key factors that determine the fishing mortality caused by fishing fleets. Average size of vessels, although not usually considered as a measure of fishing capacity, is also an important parameter when assessing fishing pressure. Larger vessels generally have a larger fishing pressure than smaller vessels, namely because of the type of gear they use and also of its level of activity, as well as the geographical coverage that these vessels can reach.

EU fishing fleets can, in most cases, exert a fishing pressure on the stocks that is two to three times its sustainable level (European Commission, 2009). There is presently an imbalance between the fishing capacity of the fleets, the abundance of fish available in the seas and the EU annually-set ‘fishing opportunities’, which need to be urgently addressed in order to adjust the fleet to the availability of fishing resources. As new technology makes fishing vessels ever more efficient, the size and capacity of the fleet should be reduced to maintain a balance between fishing pressure and the quantities of fish available.

In simple terms, excess capacity leads to over-fishing and increased environmental pressure, which undermines the principle of sustainable use of marine resources. Managing the fleet capacity is thus an important factor in correctly managing fisheries, in order to obtain sustainable levels of fishing pressure.


Scientific references

Indicator definition

The indicator is a measure of the size and capacity of the fishing fleet, including the average size of vessels, which in turn are assumed to approximate to the pressure on marine fish resources and the environment.


The size of the European fishing fleet is presented as numbers of vessels, the capacity as the total engine power, given in kW and the gross tonnage (GT) given in tonnes. Average size is a derived measured given in GT/vessel.


Policy context and targets

Context description

EU fishing policies aim to achieve sustainable fishing on the long term within a sound ecosystem through appropriate management of fisheries, while offering stable economic and social conditions for all those involved in the fishing activity. Sustainable exploitation of the fish stocks is ensured through the EU Common Fishery Policy, formally created in 1983 ( Council Regulation (EEC) No. 170/83), which aimed to address the biological, economic and social dimension of fishing. Since then, adjustments to the fishing fleet  have been made, in order to achieve a sustainable balance between its capacity and size, and available resources.

This was first attempted by the successive implementation of four Multi-Annual Guidance Plans (MAGPs), which set for each coastal Member State maximum levels of fishing capacity by types of vessel. Commission Regulation (EC) No 2091/98 of 30 September 1998 dealt with the segmentation of the Community fishing fleet and fishing effort in relation to the multi-annual guidance programmes, and Council regulation (EC) 2792/1999 laid down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector, mainly through the Structural Funds and the Financial Instrument for Fisheries like the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG).

However, MAGPs failed to meet expectations and proved cumbersome to manage. Subsidies for construction/modernisation and running costs undermined the efforts made, also with public aid, to eliminate overcapacity, by helping the introduction of new vessels into the fleet. MAGP IV, which ended in December 2002, was therefore replaced by a simpler scheme, under the 2002 CFP reform (Council Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002). Under this new scheme, the fleet capacity were to be reduced gradually, i.e. the introduction of new capacity into the fleet without public aid must be compensated by the withdrawal of at least an equivalent capacity, also without public aid.

Regulation 2371/2002 sets out the economic, environmental and social basis of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the objective of which is to guarantee sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources. The measures adopted under this Regulation are based on applying the precautionary principle and sound scientific advice. They concern the conservation and protection of fish stocks and marine ecosystems, access to waters and resources, the fleet, control of activities, decision-making and the involvement of stakeholders at all stages of the policy.



No specific target exists. However, the aim under the reformed CFP is to reduce the size and capacity of the fishing fleet to achieve sustainable fishing.

Related policy documents

Key policy question

Is the size and capacity of the European fishing fleet being reduced?



Methodology for indicator calculation

Data for all the countries come from Eurostat and Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE). Eurostat compiles its fleet statistics from a Statistical Register of Fishing Vessels that is updated annually from an administrative file maintained by  DG MARE, in application of Commission Regulation (EC) No 26/2004. The data in the Statistical Register relate to the situation on 31 December of the reference year. The Statistical Register records the length, tonnage, power and year of construction of all registered fishing vessels.

Moreover, under a gentlemen’s agreement, once annually the national authorities of Norway and Iceland send Eurostat corresponding records for their fishing vessels to be included in the Statistical Register. Data on fleet statistics for new EU members (Bulgaria and Romania) are missing as they commenced their fishing fleet data submissions to the DG MARE’s as from 1 January 2007.

Regarding tonnage, under the EU legislation the Member States are required to record the vessel tonnage using the Gross Tonnage (GT) under the London Convention (1986) as opposed to the previously used Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) under the Oslo Convention (1946) (Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2930/86).

Percentage changes in capacity (power, tonnage, and numbers) have been calculated using the last and first years for which data exist. The average size of a vessel is a derived measurement based on the tonnage and number of vessels.

The changes in these parameters were evaluated over the period 1998-2008 for EU15 and EFTA countries, 2004 -2008 for EU7 and 2007- 2008 for Bulgaria and Romania, due to data availability and to allow for comparisons to be made.


Methodology for gap filling

no gap filling has been applied 

Methodology references


Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures



Methodology uncertainty


Data sets uncertainty

The change in recording tonnage from Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) to Gross Tonnage (GT) has taken place over a number of years throughout the 1990s and at varying rates in different countries. Given that the GT of a vessel is generally significantly greater than the GRT, great care has to be taken in comparing the tonnages of the various fleets at different times. Recording of tonnage by GT was largely complete by the end of 2002.


Data sets are fragmented both temporally and spatially. Moreover, data available in a consistent manner is lacking for EU7 before 2004 and for Bulgaria and Romania before 2007.

Rationale uncertainty

Restructuring the fleet and reducing its capacity do not necessarily lead to reduction in fishing pressure as advances in technology and design allow new vessels to exert more fishing pressure than older vessels of equivalent tonnage and power. Therefore capacity, as currently measured, is not showing the effective fishing pressure that is being exerted by European fishing fleets.  Other vessel characteristics, such as fishing gear, level of activity and technological developments must also be accounted for if fishing pressure and its impact on marine ecosystems is to be properly assessed.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Work description

This specification is currently under review.

Resource needs

No resource needs have been specified


In progress


2012/12/30 23:00:00 GMT+1

Work description

This indicator specification is under review.

Resource needs

No resource needs have been specified


In progress


2012/12/29 00:00:00 GMT+1

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Constança De Carvalho Belchior


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CSI 034
Version id: 1

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year


DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)


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