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Europe's fishing fleet size

100 000 fishing boats registered by EU countries share the 7.7 million tonnes of fish caught each year both in Europe's own waters and elsewhere.*

Greece has the most vessels with the national fleet hovering around 20 000. Italian and Spanish fishing boats are almost as numerous.

But Greece registers 20% of the EU's boats and catches only 2% of its fish (*1) while the Danes for example, with only 4 000 boats or 4% of the EU fleet, haul in almost a quarter of Europe's catch. So the number of vessels alone gives an inadequate picture of the real scale of the EU's fishing activity.

This disparity is clearly down to the difference in size or capacity of fishing vessels across the Community, measured in both vessel tonnage and power.

Greek boats, for example, are the EU's smallest, with an average of only 5 ton and 31kw capacity per vessel, dwarfed by the staggering 160t and 450kw average in Belgium and the Netherlands.

In terms of total fleet tonnage the Spanish, with almost as many boats as the Greeks, record by far the biggest capacity in Europe, taking up more than a quarter of the EU's 2mt potential. The UK and Italy, the second biggest fleets in tonnage, each only have half Spain's figure.

Spain leads the table in engine power too, with a fleet of around 1.4 million kw. Italy, France and the UK are not far behind.

Click here to download the table shown above

A profile of the EU's most important national fleets (*2)


Any study of the EU fishing fleet has to start with Spain, by far the EU's most significant fleet that ranks the highest in terms of tonnage, power and value of landings and is only tipped into second place by the Danes for landing volumes and the by Greeks for vessel numbers.

With such might in the Spanish sector, and Madrid's strong vote in the EU's ministerial decision-making machine - the European Council - Spanish interests will have to feature in the CFP reform package in 2002.

Spain has a vote worth eight points in the EU Council, while Italy, the UK, France and Germany each wield ten votes.

The country's fishing is divided into three regions. E1 denotes the North coast from Galicia to the French border. E2 is the short stretch of coastline from the Portuguese southernmost border with Spain down to the Gibraltar Straights and includes the Canary Islands. Spain's long South Eastern coast from Gibraltar to the French border and the Balearic islands make up E3.

Figures from 1996 show 10 000 of the Spanish 17 500 strong fleet operated from the E1 coast, of which 8 761 were based in Galicia. Average vessel sizes varied however, from the 29t and 79kw boats in the Galician fleet to the 164t 600kw boats that sail from Basque ports. Large scale tuna vessels as big as 476t, designed for longer trips further out to sea than vessels targetting other species, brought the average up in the Basque region.

The 3 256 Spanish vessels registered in E2 in 1996 were shared almost half and half between the mainland Atlantic Analusian coast and the Canary Islands, and the average tonnage of 192 was larger than in E1.

Sardines from Lanzarote (Canary Islands) destined for the fishmeal and oil industry formed the body of E2 catches, reaching 112 282t of the total 257 666t catch in the area. However higher value hake and shrimp catches made Cadiz in Andalusia the most profitable E2 port.

In the Mediterranean Spanish ships numbered 4967 in 1996, the second largest fleet in terms of numbers. But with average capacity only 23t per vessel, concentrating on small scale fisheries close to the shore, the whole fleet caught only 117 700 tonnes of fish in 1996 and a mere 73 463t the year after. Mollusc and crustacean catches were even smaller. Pilchard seems to have featured in Mediterranean nets more than other species, while octupus and shrimp types were popular among the extremely diverse mollusc and crustacean catches.


The UK is divided into two zones, one which covers England and Wales, and a second which incorporates Northern Ireland and Scotland.

In 1997 there were 4856 vessels in the UK1 fleet, and figures for 1996 recorded 2806 vessels in the two northern parts of the country.

The South West regions in 1997 were home to 37% of the UK1 vessels, operating mainly from Devon and Cornwall. But the area was dominated by smaller vessels, leaving the heavy work to larger Northern ports. Average tonnage capacity in the South West was 'only' 92t, although still significantly above the EU average of around 20t. By way of contrast, 207t was the average for vessels sailing out of the Northern region of Yorshire and Humber.

This area includes Hull, which recorded the biggest volume of landings in 1997 with 21 716t of the 179 635t brought to shore in UK1. Cod made up just short of 17 000t of the fish landed in Hull, and more than half the 31 000t of the species landed in England and Wales altogether.

But Newlyn, on England's Southwesternmost tip, proved a more profitable port, making better returns on other demersal species.