The seas of north-western Europe—the North, Irish, and Celtic seas, and the waters west of Scotland and Ireland—boast a rich and diverse mix of environments and wildlife that have shaped the cultures along their shores. For millennia, the natural bounty of these waters has spurred development of coastal communities and enabled the expansion of fisheries in pursuit of food and profit. In recent decades, however, the scale of that expansion has increased dramatically. Calls by scientists and environmentalists to reduce fishing pressure have been ignored too often by politicians who put short-term economic and political gains ahead of long-term sustainability. As a consequence, many fish stocks collapsed throughout the region, leaving fishing communities devastated. In response, the European Union (EU) recently agreed to a reform of its fisheries management, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), that should prove a successful first step in restoring and maintaining the health of fisheries and fish stocks, and of the communities and marine ecosystems that depend on them. This report takes an in-depth look at the seas in north-western Europe, their characteristics, their histories and the roles that their fisheries have played in the booms and busts of communities at the water's edge. An understanding of these distinct regions—and the critical part played by their fish stocks —emphasizes the importance of effective implementation of the reformed CFP, which requires an end to overfishing throughout Europe where possible by 2015 and at the latest by 2020. Now is the time to start making sure the policy goals move from rhetoric to reality.
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