The European Commission has announced a full review of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, saying the current regime fails to protect fish stocks.
The commission says that fishermen who obey the fishing rules are being penalised by the irresponsible behaviour of others who flout them.
That "vicious circle" has undermined the ecological balance of the oceans, the commission says.
The EU wants to cut the size of fleets and the time fishermen spend at sea.
The commission says there are still too many vessels chasing too few fish, and that ecological sustainability must take precedence over economic or social factors.
In other words, just because a community has traditionally depended on fishing does not mean it can continue to do so.
The Common Fisheries Policy was established in 1983 and last reformed in 2002.
It sets quotas for catches and is aimed at curbing harmful practices such as "discards" - when trawlers throw organisms back into the sea.
Overfishing is the main threat to the future of fish stocks, and the current policy rewards narrow-minded and short-term decision-making, the commission says.
In 2003, 29% of open sea fisheries were assessed as being in a state of collapse, defined as a decline to less than 10% of their original yield.
Fishermen are using ever more powerful boats, cleverer technology and bigger nets; but even so the global catch of fish is falling because there are fewer of them. Between 1994 and 2003 it declined by 13%.
Many species in EU waters are at risk of extinction, according to scientists.
The EU is the world's second largest fishing power after China.