The European Commission has identified overcapacity as a deep-rooted problem in need of reform. The exact level of overcapacity in the EU fleet is by and large unknown, but in some cases it is estimated at two to three times the level needed to sustainably catch the available resources.
Overcapacity is one of the main drivers behind overfishing. In the EU, an unsustainable level of fishing pressure has been exerted by both too many and too powerful boats, leading to a decline in fish abundance. The reformed CFP needs to reduce fishing power to match the available resources, and measures to reduce capacity must ensure that the remaining fleet is sustainable in both size and characteristics.
Fleet overcapacity has been sustained by harmful subsidies which enable unprofitable vessels to continue fishing despite being economically unviable. Overcapacity has been a key failure of European fisheries management and the failure to address the issue effectively has been a feature of successive CFP reforms.
Overcapacity is not only a “size” problem but also a qualitative problem; as different fleet segments and gears have different impacts on the marine environment, different fuel requirements, deliver different qualities of fish and so result in different social outcomes.
Over the past 15 years, the capacity of the EU-15 fishing fleet has decreased at a steady yearly rate or approximately 1.5 percent in terms of tonnage and 2 percent in terms of power. Moreover, many of the countries who became members of the EU in 2004 scrapped large portions of their fleet. However, as so called technological creep is estimated to occur at a rate of 2–3 percent (as measured by the Commission), the catching capacity of the EU fleet has actually increased during this timeframe despite there being less vessels in operation. Thus even if capacity is addressed, in terms of the volume of ships, catching capacity tends to gradually increase again due to technical advances