Indicator Assessment

Fishing fleet capacity

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-31-en
  Also known as: CSI 034
Published 29 Nov 2005 Last modified 11 May 2021
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The size of the EU fishing fleet is following a downward trend, with reductions of 19% in power and 11% in tonnage in the period 1989-2003, and 15% in numbers in the period 1989-2002. Similarly, the combined fleet of Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland and Slovenia decreased its tonnage by 50% over the period 1992-1995. However, the EFTA fleet increased in terms of power (by 12%; 1997-2002) and tonnage (by 34%; 1989-2003) despite a drop in numbers by 40% (1989-2002).

Changes in European fishing fleet capacity: 1989-2003

Note: Power changes refer to 1989-2003 for EU 15 and 1997 -2002 for EFTA

Data source:


European Fishing Fleet Capacity: Number of vessels, 2003

Note: Data availability: Number of vessels 1989-2002 for EU-15; 1989-1992 & 1998-2002 for EFTA; 1989-1995 & 2001 for EU-10; 1992-1995 & 2001 for AC countries.Legend:Countries have been grouped into the following categories: EU-15 (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Findland, Sweden,United Kingdom), EFTA (Iceland and Norway), EU-10 (new member states: Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, and Slovenia), CC (accession countries: Bulgaria and Romania).

Data source:


European Fishing Fleet Capacity: Engine Power, 2003

Note: Data availability: 1989-2003 for EU-15; 1997-2002 for EFTA countries, no data for EU-10 and AC countries

Data source:

DG Fisheries, EUROSTAT

European Fishing Fleet Capacity: Tonnage, 2003

Note: Data availability: 1989-2003 for EU-15; 1989-1992 & 1998-2003 for EFTA; 1989- 1995 for EC; 1992-1995 for BS countries

Data source:


Country ratio in European Fishing Fleet Capacity: Engine Power, 2003

Note: Assessment in 2003 for EU 15 and Iceland and 2002 for Norway

Data source:

DG Fisheries, EUROSTAT

Country ratio in European Fishing Fleet Capacity: Tonnage, 2003

Note: Assessment in 2003 for EU 15 and EFTA

Data source:


Country ratio in European Fishing Fleet Capacity:Number of vessels, 2003

Note: Assessment in 2002 for EU 15, EFTA; 2001 for ES, CY, MT, LT LV,PL, and SL

Data source:


Power and tonnage are the main factors that determine the capacity of a fleet and thus approximate to the pressure on the fish stocks. Excess power is considered to be one of the major factors that lead to over-fishing.


Currently, the total power of the fishing fleet amounts to 7 122 145 kW in the EU-15 (2003) and 2 503 580 kW in EFTA (2002). Data for Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania are not available. Over the past 15 years the EU fleet capacity in terms of power has been gradually decreasing, but the power of the EFTA fleet increased at a considerable rate of almost 13% over the period 1997-2002. Norway, Italy, Spain, France and the UK retain the largest power in their fleets, which accounted for almost 70% of the total fleet in 2003.


The fishing fleet tonnage (GRT) in 2003 consisted of 1 922 912 tonnes in the EU-15 and 579 097 tonnes in the EFTA countries. The last recorded census for Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland and Slovenia in 1995 reported 543 631 tonnes. In the period 1989-2003, the EU fleet was gradually reduced in tonnage by approximately 10%; at the same time the EFTA fleet experienced an almost 30% increase (Fig. 4). The fleets of Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland and Slovenia faced a dramatic decrease of 50%, and those of Bulgaria and Romania 70%, due to the restructuring of the economies of the former Eastern Block countries; there are no data available on fleet tonnage in these countries before 1995. Currently, Spain, Norway, the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands retain the fleets of largest tonnage, accounting for almost 70% of the total fleet in 2003.


In 2002 there were 90 595 fishing vessels in the EU-15 and 12 589 in the EFTA countries. According to DG Fisheries, the fleets of Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland and Slovenia amounted to approximately 6 200 vessels in 2001. Both EU and EFTA fleets have been gradually reduced in size over the past 15 years, whereas the fleet of Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland and Slovenia has  increased gradually over the past 10 years (Fig. 2). It is noteworthy that the peak value observed in 1994 was due to the introduction of new countries, namely Finland and Sweden, into the registry. Greece, Italy, Spain, Norway and Portugal retain the largest number of vessels, accounting for almost 70% of the total fleet in 2003.  In the case of Greece and Portugal, a comparison of the number of vessels with the  fleet capacity indicates that these two fleets consist mainly of small vessels.


Despite the overall drop in size and capacity (power and tonnage) experienced by the EU fleet in the past 15 years, no visible improvement in the condition of the fish stocks has been observed. According to DG Fisheries 'One of the most fundamental and enduring problems of the Common Fisheries Policy has been the chronic overcapacity of the EU fleet. Conservation measures have persistently been undermined by fishing activities at levels well beyond the level of pressure that the available fish stocks could safely withstand. As new technology makes fishing vessels ever more efficient, the capacity of the fleet should be reduced to maintain a balance between fishing capacity and the quantities of fish that can safely be taken out of the sea by fishing'. The Multi-Annual Guidance Plans (MAGPs) have proved inadequate and  have been replaced by a simpler scheme in the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (January 2003).

Supporting information

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



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



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.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 034
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled once per year
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage



Filed under:
Filed under: fisheries, csi
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