Managing external and international fishing activities

All EU vessels that wish to operate in non-EU waters need to obtain an authorisation from their flag State (i.e. the country which authorises the vessel that caught the fish). These external fishing activities take place under different types of agreements:

Bilateral agreements

  • Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPAs) are concluded between the EU and third countries (i.e. non-EU) to allow EU vessels to fish for surplus stocks in that country’s exclusive economic zone. Under these agreements, the EU pays the country for access to its fishing resources. The majority of these SFPAs are arranged with developing countries.
  • Access of third country vessels to EU waters via access agreements with the EU. 

Reciprocal agreements

  • Northern Agreements cover the joint management of shared stocks between the EU and Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, respectively. Under Fishing Authorisation Regulation authorisations, EU vessels can fish in Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese waters, and vice versa.

Authorisations for EU vessels to operate within a regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) agreement area or in the high seas
As the EU is a contracting member to six tuna RFMOs and 11 non-tuna RFMOs, EU vessels are allowed to operate in the areas managed by these organisations, in accordance with the allocated quotas.

Private Agreements and Chartering Agreements

EU companies undertake private agreements with certain third countries that grant them access to fish in the waters of these coastal States. This is only allowed in the waters of third countries where there are no SFPAs in place. In addition, EU companies make chartering agreements for their EU vessels to access the resources of certain coastal States in collaboration with local companies.

The EU Sustainable Management of External Fishing Fleets Regulation

A robust external fishing fleet Regulation is a crucial part of the fight against IUU fishing. In January 2018, the Regulation on the Sustainable Management of External Fishing Fleets (SMEFF) was brought into force, thereby repealing its predecessor, the Fishing Authorisation Regulation. It  governs both the authorisations provided to the EU’s large fishing fleet operating outside EU waters and the authorisations of third country vessels to fish in EU waters. The SMEFF forms one of the three enforcement pillars of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, alongside the EU IUU Regulation and the EU Control Regulation.


Analysis of the EU fishing fleet’s implementation of the SMEFF Regulation: Reflagging behaviours, May 2022 EN

Position papers

EU External Fisheries: How To Make them Transparent, Accountable And Sustainable ﹘ A new and more effective EU Fishing Authorisation Regulation, July 2015
EN | ES | FR | DE | IT

Ensuring better control of the EU’s external fishing fleet, June 2015