Fisheries: European commercial fish stocks (SEBI 021) - Assessment published May 2010
Biodiversity (Primary topic)
- SEBI 021
Key policy question: What is the status of European commercial fish stocks?
Key messagesOf the assessed European commercial stocks, about 45 % are outside safe biological limits(1).
(1) A stock is considered to be outside 'Safe Biological Limits' (SBL) when the Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) (the mature part of a stock) is below a biomass precautionary approach reference point (Bpa), or when fishing mortality (F) (an expression of the proportion of a stock that is removed by fishing activities in a year) exceeds a fishing mortality precautionary approach reference point (Fpa), or when both conditions exist.
Status of fish stocks in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) fishing regions of Europe, 2006
Note: The chart shows the proportion of assessed stocks which are overfished (red) and stocks within safe biological limits (blue): In the Baltic Sea, 12 stocks were assessed and 20% of them are overfished.
GFCM and ICES, 2006
For many commercial fish stocks in European waters an assessment on whether they are within safe biological limits has not been made. In the north-east Atlantic, the percentage of stocks that are non-assessed ranges from 3 % (west of Scotland and Ireland) to 34 % (Irish Sea and Iberian Peninsula). Moving from north to south the percentage of stocks that are non-assessed generally increases. In the Mediterranean region, the percentage ranges from 23 % in the Adriatic Sea to 70 % for tuna and tuna-like species for the entire Mediterranean. In the Black Sea no stocks have been assessed.
Of the assessed commercial stocks in the northeast Atlantic, 8 % (Baltic Sea) to 80 % (Irish Sea) are outside safe biological limits (SBL). For the other areas in the north-east Atlantic the percentages of stocks outside safe biological limits vary between 25 % and 55 %. Pelagic stocks (fish living in the waters column well above the sea bottom and sometimes close to the sea surface) like herring and mackerel are doing better in general than demersal (fish living close to the sea bottom) stocks like cod, plaice and sole. In the Mediterranean the percentage of stocks outside SBL ranges from 44 % to 73 %, with the Aegean and the Cretan Sea in the worst condition. Here the small pelagic stocks like anchovy and sardine are doing better than demersal stocks like hake and red mullet or larger pelagics such as bluefin tuna.
Examining the north-east Atlantic stocks more closely, the following conclusions can be drawn:
- The pelagic stocks are generally fished sustainably;
- Almost all demersal stocks have declined and are currently not sustainable. Over the recent decades there has been a slight, but steady decline in the stocks and there is still no clear sign of a stop of this trend;
- Industrial species especially the capelin and sandeel stocks are not doing well. This is, however, more due to natural causes than high fishing pressure (ICES Advisory Report 2006).
In the Mediterranean region the following conclusions can be drawn:
- Only two demersal and two small pelagic species are monitored by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), with a limited spatial coverage. Demersal stocks remain outside safe biological limits. Small pelagic stocks in the same area exhibit large-scale fluctuations but are not fully exploited anywhere except for anchovy and pilchard in the Southern Alboran and Cretan Sea;
- According to the latest assessment by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) a strong recruitment of swordfish over recent years has rendered the exploitation of the stock sustainable;
- Concern still remains about the overexploitation of bluefin tuna. Uncertainties of stock assessment and lack of documented reporting (including EU Member States) still hinder management of these highly migratory species. Bluefin tuna catches continue to exceed the sustainable rate.
EU Member States will make an integrated 'initial assessment' of the environmental situation of their marine waters pursuant to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive Art. 8, by mid-2012.
It is important to note that the indicator may not reflect the complete ecological impact of stock status. For example, even if relatively few stocks in the Baltic are outside biological limits the demise of cod stocks has a very significant impact on the ecosystem (probably relatively much more so than some other stocks).
- International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES): www.ices.dk.
- General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean: www.gfcm.org/gfcm.
- International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: www.iccat.int.
- ICES advice: http://www.ices.dk/products/icesadvice.asp.
- EEA Core Set Indicator 032 Status of marine fish stocks: http://themes.eea.europa.eu/IMS/ISpecs/ISpecification20041007132227/IAssessment1116498234748/view_content.
- ICES Advisory Report 2006. Report of the ICES Advisory Committee on Fishery Management, Advisory Committee on the Marine Environment and Advisory Committee on Ecosystems. Available at: http://www.ices.dk/products/icesadvice/2006/ICES%20Advice%202006%20Book%201.pdf
Status of fish stocks
More information about this indicator
See this indicator specification for more details.
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoKatarzyna Biala
EEA Management Plan2010 (note: EEA internal system)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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