Who Speaks for the Fish? The Tragedy of Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy

The Common Fisheries Policy, enacted in 1983 as the European Union’s primary overfishing regulation scheme, is widely regarded as a failure. Vast overexploitation in Europe’s fisheries persists thirty years later, posing grave ecological consequences as well as economic devastation to Europe’s fishing industry. In 2013, the EU overhauled the Common Fisheries Policy and enacted measures that oblige the EU and member states to support ecologically sustainable fishing practices, ban the harmful practice of discarding fish at sea, and give the member states more flexibility to tailor implementation to suit local conditions. While the 2013 reforms were momentous, those changes may not sufficiently address the tension inherent in open access fisheries between short-term economic interests of fishermen and long-term sustainability. This Note proposes that the proper solution to the lingering overfishing crisis in Europe requires expanding the role of Regional Advisory Councils such that they can standardize sanctions for violators across the region and restrict member states’ ability to harmfully subsidize their fishing fleets. These changes would help level the playing field among competing fishermen, creating the regulatory conditions necessary to intercept the open access dynamic that perpetuates overfishing.