Abstract Minimum landing size (MLS) is one technical measure used to manage fisheries with the aim of allowing enough juveniles to survive and spawn. In this study the practical and ecological efficiency of the MLSs set by European Union (Regulation 1967/2006) and Greek legislation for 13 fish species caught with five gears in the Ionian Sea was tested using length measurements from 22 382 individuals. The percentage of individuals with lengths smaller than MLS was estimated. In addition, MLSs were compared against length at 50% maturity (L50) and the percentages of individuals caught per species and gear with lengths smaller than the L50 were also estimated. The mean percentage of individuals caught with lengths smaller than MLS ranged from 5.9% for longliners to 42.6% for beach-seiners, showing the practical inefficiency of this measure. In addition, all MLS were smaller than the corresponding L50 and L50 − SE values and across species the mean percentage of the immature individuals caught was very high, ranging from 55% for longliners to 92% for beach-seiners, indicating that the vast majority of the individuals caught did not have the chance to spawn even once. Thus, the existing MLSs are ecologically inefficient for sustainable management.