The Treaty of Rome did not provide for a fully-fledged fisheries policy, for it included fishery products in the products to be covered by the Common Agricultural Policy. Little by little, however, the specific characteristics of the fisheries sector pushed for a separate common policy. Towards the end of the sixties, therefore, the European Community began to turn its attention to the need to protect its resources in the Atlantic and the North Sea, under serious threat from overfishing. Its concern was heightened by the creation of exclusive economic zones, decided upon within the United Nations Conference on the law of the sea. A European policy to conserve fishery resources was necessary to protect the most threatened species in European waters. Its main manifestations have been the setting of total allowable catches (TACs), the allocation of catch quotas between the Member States and technical management and surveillance measures. Through an external fisheries policy, the EC/EU has sought to guarantee its own fleet access to the waters of countries with surplus resources and to restrict access to European waters for foreign vessels, notably Soviet, Polish and Japanese factory ships.
Six years of negotiations were required before, on January 25, 1983, the European Community reached one of its "historic compromises". On this date, a European system of resource conservation, endeavouring to protect the biological resources of the sea under severe threat from modern fishing methods, was added to the common fisheries policy. This system introduced measures to restrict fishing and set conditions under which it could take place, along with measures governing access to the waters of the Member States. Measures to conserve and manage fishery resources thus came to join the "common organisation of the market", which sets common marketing standards for fisheries and aquaculture products, dividing them up into a freshness grading and seeking to ensure that products which do not reach a satisfactory quality level are not marketed. It obliges the Member States to carry out conformity control checks on these products and to apply sanctions to any infringements. This policy therefore helps protect consumer interests. Producers' interests are not neglected either in the common fisheries policy. Structural policy, inaugurated in 1970, makes use of common measures to restructure, modernise and develop the fishery sector, to develop aquaculture, encourage experimental fishing and adapt European fishing capacities to disposal possibilities.
This does not mean that the EU fisheries sector is riding on the crest of a wave. The CFP currently faces multiple challenges: a number of stocks are in a critical state, the European fleet is suffering from over-capacity, the fisheries sector is beset by economic fragility and employment is on the decline. The depletion of resources, due notably to the over-fishing of juveniles combined with fleet over-capacity, make the entire European fisheries sector extremely vulnerable from the economic and social viewpoint. The results achieved in the areas of surveillance systems, inspection and surveillance activities, fleet controls and the application of penalties are not satisfactory, because there are many differences in how the Member States are implementing controls at national level and the cooperation and coordination arrangements established by them are not adequate. In order to redress this situation, there must be reduction in both fishing and fishing capacity through more stringent regulation of access to resources and closer monitoring of vessel movements in order to respect the general interest. For this reason, the Commission launched, in 2009, a wide-ranging public debate on the way EU fisheries are managed. At international level, the EU should coordinate its development cooperation policy and the external aspects of the common fisheries policy, stressing the importance of environmental and socioeconomic factors for promoting sustainable and responsible fisheries.
In light of the lasting nature of restrictions on authorised catches, fishery concerns should seek to raise the qualitative value of their production, an objective that is consistent both with the common fisheries policy and with consumer protection policy. Due to the fall in prices for the majority of species, to the imperatives of freshness and hence of conservation and to operating constraints, many firms in the sector are, however, facing a shortage of financial resources and a lack of profitability. This crisis situation is tending to become entrenched because of the growing share of imports, upon which the European market is already dependent for over 50% of its supply.
To remedy the crisis, actions should be taken to improve resource management and restructure the industry within the framework of the new structural rules. The aim of these actions should be to avoid the collapse of fisheries by achieving a better match between resources and fishing capacities; but account should also be taken of the development of regions dependent on fishing. Outside its waters, the EU should promote rational and responsible exploitation of fishery resources, particularly through partnership with developing countries of the African coast.