Britain's coastal waters are so overfished that they can supply the nation's chip shops, restaurants and kitchens for little more than six months of every year, research has shown.
Overfishing has caused so much damage to fish stocks across Europe that the quantity landed each year to satisfy the public appetite has fallen by 2 per cent on average every year since 1993.
So great is demand that next Saturday, 16 July, has been dubbed Fish Dependence Day – the day on which imports would have to be relied upon because native supplies would have run out if only home-caught fish had been eaten since 1 January. Last year it fell on 3 August, almost three weeks later, and in 1995 it was six weeks later.
Other European countries consume fish at an even greater rate and the EU as a whole reached its Fish Dependence Day on 2 July, compared with 9 July last year, with fishermen estimated to have landed 200,000 tonnes less than a year earlier. Spain became dependent on non-EU imports on 8 May, Germany on 27 April, Italy on 30 April and France on 13 June.
The demands made on UK and European fisheries are making them less productive, and unless they are better managed the supply of fish will dwindle and thousands of jobs will be lost, the report shows. Aniol Esteban, of the think tank NEF and the author of the report, said: "Eating more fish than our oceans can produce is playing dangerous games with the future of fisheries and fishing communities. Unless we change course, the jobs and livelihoods of many people in Europe and beyond are at risk.
"Our current appetite is putting our oceans under pressure. It's hard to understand why a country surrounded by potentially rich seas needs to import one out of every two fish that it eats."
As Maria Damanaki, the European Fisheries Commissioner, puts the final touches to proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which she will announce on Wednesday, Mr Esteban urged that the long-term health of fish stocks be given priority over short-term gains by fishermen.
"We need urgent action to ensure that jobs, revenues, food and the environment are protected from overfishing," he said. "Policymakers need to look beyond the short-term costs that could result from reform and give priority to the long-term benefits that healthy marine resources will provide for the environment, the economy and society. In a context of finite resources and growing populations, the current EU model is unsustainable."
The report, Fish Dependence, highlights growing concerns that Europe can only feed its craving by exploiting the waters of poorer developing nations – which can leave their fisheries depleted and the human population unable to access a valuable source of nutrition.