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Towards a better knowledge of European small-scale fisheries

In spite of their economic and social importance in many coastal regions, European small-scale fisheries have long been overlooked and remain poorly known; yet a detailed knowledge of their structure and functioning is necessary for their sustainable management.

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In Europe, small-scale fisheries have long been neglected by scientists and managers, who under-estimated their importance and role within coastal socio-ecosystems. If they are defined by vessel smaller than 12 m, they include 70,000 boats (84% of the Community fishing fleet) and provide about 100,000 direct jobs.

This work is an analysis of small-scale fisheries in Europe based on the comparative method . A selection of nine case studies of small-scale fleets was made, covering different areas/fisheries/species, encompassing the diversity and specific conditions under which they operate:
- Estonian pound net fishery for herring in the gulf of Riga (Baltic)
- Greek net and line fishery targeting hake and other species in the gulf of Patraikos (Mediterranean)
- gillnetter fishery from Corsica island (France) harvesting finfish and spiny lobster (Mediterranean)
- dredge fishery of Algarve (Portugal) targeting different shellfish species (Atlantic)
- breton hook and line fishery for sea bass and pollack in Iroise sea (Atlantic)
- kelp harvest dredgers operating on seaweed and scallops in Iroise sea (Atlantic)
- Irish whelk potters (Atlantic)
- Irish crab potters (Atlantic)
- hook and line vessels fishing on moored fish aggregating devices off Martinique (Caribbean)


Back from fishing in Brest harbour


The comparison was conducted through a multi-criterion approach, with indicators about fisheries management and fishermen involvement mechanisms, impact on stocks, competition for resources and space in the coastal zone with large-scale fleets and other marine activities. The analysis also deals with productivity and socio-economic characteristics (product valorization, employment, etc.) of these fleets to measure their vulnerability. When possible, these results were compared with those of vessels larger than 12 m in the same countries or targeting the same species, with regard to technical characteristics, crew sizes, gears used, fishing grounds, degree of specialization, prices and markets, productivity, costs, competition for resources, conservation measures and rules.


Average vessel characteristics

< 12 m

> 12 m

Length (m)



Engine power (kW)



Tonnage (TJB)



Crew (men)



Days at sea/yr



Number of main species (>70% of catch value)



Yearly turnover (k€)



Price of fish at first sale (€/kg)



Productivité (k€/homme)



Productivity (€/kW/day)



Productivity (€/kW/hour)



Fuel consumption (litres/year)



Fuel consumption (litres/day at sea)



Fuel cost as percentage of gross revenue (%)



Examples of economic indicators computed for the comparison among European fisheries


The results outline the strong heterogeneity of European small-scale fisheries. Beyond species and gear diversity, very different situations can be found in terms of range of operation, marketing scale, dependency on fuel, etc. However the comparative approach makes apparent a number of common features which distinguish them from larger-scale fisheries, such as the predominance of passive gear (lines, nets, pots) or the higher degree of polyvalence enabling them to adapt to changes in resource availability. In addition, some traits are not specific to small-scale fleets but also pertain to larger vessels, like their almost exclusive dependency on the coastal zone or the fact that most vessels are owner-operated.

Owing to a better valorization of their product and a lesser dependency on fuel, these vessels are economically less vulnerable than the larger ones. Conversely, their fishing rights are not always firmly established and the competition for access to the coastal waters can be strong.


Average prices at first sale for the same species (groups of bars) caught by small-scale (blue) or large-scale (red) fisheries


Small-scale fisheries are well represented into local and regional institutions in charge of fisheries management, but much less so at the national and European levels; this can be explained by the local scale of their activity, but also by the fact they are poorly known by the higher decision-making levels. Yet it is estimated that they generate as much employment as large-scale fisheries, not to mention the many indirect jobs which cannot easily be distinguished from the industrial sector.

As part of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, a more efficient management framework for these fisheries could be developed within the contexts of the global management of the fishing sector and of coastal zone management. Their high dependence on coastal and territorial waters would justify the reinforcement of fisheries management systems that are more closely aligned with fishing rights within this space. The authors advise to strengthen monitoring systems, so as to have a better assessment of their impact within coastal socio-ecosystems.


The paper

Guyader O., Berthou P., Koutsikopoulos C., Alban F., Demanèche S., Gaspar M.B., Eschbaum R., Fahy E., Tully O., Reynal L., Curtil O., Frangoudes K., Maynou F., 2013. Small scale fisheries in Europe: A comparative analysis based on a selection of case studies. Fisheries Research 140 : 1-13.
See the first page


The authors

This study results from the collaboration between researchers from Amure laboratory (IUEM) and from seven other European laboratories: Ifremer-Brest, University of Patras (Greece), INRB/L-IPIMAR (Olhão, Portugal), University of Tartu (Estonia), Marine Institute (Oranmore, Ireland), Ifremer-Antilles, Institut de Ciències del Mar (Barcelona, Spain).


The journal

Fisheries Research is an international journal published since 1981 by Elsevier in the field of fisheries and fishery resources: fishery biology and ecology, gear technology, management, social and economic aspects. Papers deal mostly with marine fisheries, but the journal also publishes works on freshwater, brackishwater or lagoon fisheries.


Further readings

Guyader O., Berthou P., Koustikopoulos C., Alban F., Demanèche S., Gaspar M., Eschbaum R., Fahy E., Tully O., Reynal L., Albert A., 2007. Small-Scale Coastal Fisheries in Europe. Final report of the contract no. FISH/2005/10.


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