The need for a policy to conserve fishery resources became evident towards the middle of the sixties, when, after long years of overfishing, production began to stagnate and the European Community's levels of self-supply began to fall for certain popular species, notably herring and tuna. Since a similar situation prevailed in the rest of the world, the concept of a total allowable catch (TAC) was adopted by the United Nations Conference on the law of the sea, culminating in the extension of fishing zones to 200 miles [Convention and Decision 98/392]. Under the TAC rule, each coastal state uses scientific data to set a catch level which enables sufficient reproduction of fishery stocks, then it determines the amount which can be fished by its own vessels and that which can be granted to third countries in exchange for or through sale of catch rights. The central aim of the TAC is to conserve and enhance existing fishing zones in the interests of both the fishing industry and consumers.
In a Resolution of November 3, 1976 made public on May 7, 1981, the Council agreed that the Member States would extend, by concerted action, the limits of the fishing zones to 200 miles from January 1, 1977 for North Sea and North Atlantic coasts, without prejudice to action of a similar nature for other fishing zones under their jurisdiction, notably the Mediterranean. From January 1, 1977, the Europe Community/Union's exclusive economic zone therefore embraced numerous and potentially rich fishing grounds, the conservation and correct management of which was the responsibility of the Community.
While the extension of the economic zones to a distance of 200 miles off coasts - or to the median line when the distance between coasts did not permit a limit of 200 miles - extends the rights of coastal States in these zones, it also means greater obligations for them. The most significant of these obligations is that of conserving biological resources which, given the interdependence of fishery stocks, is a matter of some importance to fishermen and consumers both of the coastal state and of neighbouring states.
Article 11 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU (Article 6 TEC) declares that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the Union’s policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development. The conservation of fisheries resources and the preservation of marine biodiversity are common objectives of the fisheries policy and of the environment policy. The environmental impact of fisheries and the sustainable development of resources are taken into account, in particular, by the systematic consultation of scientific experts when legislative measures on the exploitation of resources are drafted by the Commission. The Commission tries to coordinate the common fisheries policy with the EU's nature conservation policy, in order to achieve sustainable fishing [COM/99/363, see section 16.2.4]. But the proposals of the Commission, which are based on scientific opinions, are generally revised upwards by the Ministers responsible for fisheries, who at the annual fixing of TAC often yield to the pressures exercised by the influential fishing lobbies.
Fisheries research is essential for both the decision-making process and the implementation of the common fisheries policy, particularly the conservation and management of resources [COM/93/95]. The collection and management of the fisheries data needed to conduct the common fisheries policy is coordinated inside a European framework [Regulation 199/2008]. The Union contributes financially towards the expenditure incurred by the Member States in collecting data and in financing studies and pilot projects for implementing the common fisheries policy and the Law of the Sea [Regulation 861/2006, last amended by Regulation 693/2011]. The common research policy seeks to preserve the ecosystems and protect biodiversity which would also contribute to the sustainable use of marine resources and environment [Decision 1982/2006].
Stressing the need to ensure sustainable resources and apply the principles of good governance, the Commission proposed, in May 2002, a new multiannual framework for the conservation of resources and management of fisheries [COM/2002/181]. The main elements of this framework are: strengthening of technical measures; specific measures for fisheries management in the Mediterranean Sea; incorporating environmental concerns into fisheries management; the improvement of scientific advice; new rules on fleet policy, to limit capacity through a simple system, financial measures and restriction of aid; a new regulatory framework for control and enforcement, including effective penalties; a joint fisheries inspection structure; and a new strategy for aquaculture.