Fishing the Boundaries of Law: How the Exclusivity Clause in EU Fisheries Agreements was Undermined

Last modified: 
September 12, 2017 - 10:35am
Type: Report
Year of publication: 2017
Date published: 09/2017
Authors: Vanya Vulperhorst, Lacey Malarky, María Cornax, Beth Lowell
Publishing institution: Oceana

The European Union (EU) recently agreed on a reform of the legal framework for its external fleet that fishes outside of EU waters. EU vessels fish in third-country waters under different arrangements; one such arrangement is the official EU-funded bilateral agreements—termed (Sustainable) Fisheries Partnership Agreements or (S)FPAs—that allow EU vessels to fish for surplus stocks in the coastal State’s waters. However, under the previous governing framework, there was a catch: EU vessels could also fish in foreign waters under private agreements without EU oversight or standards, while enjoying the same EU market access as EU vessels with official access agreements.

To show the importance of effective implementation of the future legal framework, especially regarding the lack of EU-wide control for private agreements, and as part of its efforts to bring transparency to commercial fishing, Oceana used Global Fishing Watch ( to investigate the fishinga activity of EU vessels operating in the waters of the eight countries with “dormant” (S)FPAs. When there is an active (S)FPA, EU-flagged vessels are forbidden to fish under private agreements. This is also known as “the exclusivity clause” (see annex 1 for full definition). This exclusivity clause also applies if the fisheries agreement is considered “dormant” (i.e. there is no protocol, and therefore no fishing under the agreement is allowed, but the agreement itself is not denounced).

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