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Status of marine fish stocks (CSI 032) - Assessment published Feb 2009

Indicator Assessment Created 08 Jan 2008 Published 18 Feb 2009 Last modified 11 Sep 2012, 04:51 PM

Key messages

Most of the commercial catch is taken from stocks that are assessed. There is however a clear trend from north to south, with almost all catch coming from assessed stocks in the north to about  half of the catch in the south. In the Black Sea no stocks are assessed. Of the assessed commercial stocks in the NE Atlantic, about one third is outside safe biological limits. In the Mediterranean, about half of the assessed stocks are fished outside safe biological limits.

Is the use of commercial fish stocks sustainable?

Total catch in ICES and GFCM fishing regions of Europe in 2006

Note: Catch is divided into proportions of catch of assessed stocks (green) and catch of unassessed stocks (white)

Data source:

GFCM and ICES

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Status of the fish stocks in ICES and GFCM fishing regions of Europe in 2006

Note: The chart shows the proportion of assessed stocks which are overfished (red) and stocks within safe biological limits (blue)

Data source:

GFCM and ICES

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State of commercial fish stocks in N E Atlantic and Baltic Sea in 2006.

Note: N/A

Data source:

ICES

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State of commercial fish stocks in Mediterranean Sea up to 2006

Note: N/A

Data source:

GFCM, ICCAT

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Many commercial fish stocks in European waters remain non-assessed (Figure 1). In the NE Atlantic, the percentage (of catch in weight to the total catch) of non-assessed stocks range from a minimum of 3 % (W. Scotland and West of Ireland) to a maximum of 34 % (Irish Sea and Iberian Peninsula). There is a general trend from North to South of an increase in percentage of non-assessed stocks.  In the Mediterranean region, the percentage is higher ranging from 23% in the Adriatic Sea to 70% for tuna and tuna like species for the entire Mediterranean. In the Black Sea no stock is assessed.


Of the assessed commercial stocks in the NE Atlantic, 8% (Baltic Sea)  to 80 % (Irish Sea) are outside safe biological limits (SBL) (Figures 2 and 3).  For the other areas in the NE Atlantic the percentages of stocks outside safe biological limits vary between 25% and 55%. It can be seen that the 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 (Figure 3). In the Mediterranean the percentage of stocks outside SBL ranges from 44% to 73%, with the Aegean and the Cretan Sea being in the worst condition (Figure 2). Here the small pelagic stocks like anchovy and sardine are doing better than demersal stocks like hake and red mullet and bluefin tuna (Figure 4). 

When examining the NE 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 have 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. Many assessments that cover wider areas are based on preliminary results. 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 Seas.
  • According to the latest assessment by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT 2003) a strong recruitment of swordfish over recent years has rendered the exploitation of the stock sustainable.
  • Concern still remains about the over-exploitation 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 and ICCAT states in its recent assessment of 2006: "it is apparent that the total allowable catch is not respected and is largely ineffective in controlling overall catch. The Committee's evaluation of the current regulatory scheme is that, unless it is adjusted to impose greater control over the fisheries by improving compliance and to reduce fishing mortality rates, it will lead to further reduction in spawning stock biomass with high risk of fisheries and stock collapse."

The main recommendations and actions taken by EU, Norway and ICES to recover the NE Atlantic stocks outside safe biological limits are: 

    •  Recovery plans have now been developed and agreed for several demersal stocks. 
    •  ICES recommends to ban cod fishing in the North Sea, Irish Sea and west of Scotland, the Kattegat and the Central Baltic and to develop recovery plans to rebuild the stocks. 
    •  Days-at-sea regulations have been added to the existing regulations (Total Allowable Catches, license, minimum mesh and landing sizes, closed areas and seasons etc.).
    • Illegal landings are still taking place in some areas and in some fisheries, but the control seems to be improving.  Estimating the illegal landings is difficult and there is at present no institution within the entire management system which is given the task. Thus, this has been left up to ad hoc attempts mainly by scientists. These estimates are very uncertain, but seem to have improved in precision in recent years. In some cases like for Northeast Arctic cod illegal landings of over 100 000 t (about 30% of the officially reported catch) in a given year have been estimated.
    • ICES advises that fishing for deep-sea fish species should be permitted only when there are accompanying programmes to collect appropriate data. The expansion of such fisheries should be very slow until reliable assessments indicate that increased harvests are sustainable. This scientific advice is not yet fully implemented by the fishery management bodies.

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

The indicator tracks the ratio of the number of over-fished stocks to the total number of commercial stocks per fishing area in European seas.
Fish species rarely reproduce randomly with con-species throughout their geographical range, but form a series of stocks that are reproductively isolated in space and time. Cod for instance form a stock in the North Sea and another one in the Iceland area. These are isolated from each other and one can potentially be fished out while the other is thriving. European eel is an example of an extreme situation where there is only one stock as all mature eel migrate to the Sargasso Sea to spawn in random mixture with each other. 

It should be noted that in the Northeast Atlantic area stocks are generally defined based on biological criteria and knowledge of population migration, mixing and spawning areas, while in the Mediterranean due to lack of biological knowledge, stocks are defined largely by area and not in general on the basis of well established biological knowledge on population units.

 

Commercial stocks are the stocks of economic importance on which the fishing effort is focused upon in each area aiming at a profit, i.e. a subset of exploited stocks. It is a broader term encompassing target species, by-catches and industrial species that are of economic importance to the market.
Overfished stocks are stocks outside safe biological limits
Safe stocks are stocks inside safe biological limits
Non-assessed stocks are stocks for which no assessment has been carried out.

The indicator also contains information on:
1. Numbers of commercial, assessed and over-fished stocks by sea area;
2. The state of commercial stocks (over-fished stocks per area), safe stocks, stocks for which an assessment has not been carried out.
3. Fish catch in specific seas from assessed and unassessed stocks.
4. Status of stocks by species and seas.

Units

Landings and spawning stock biomass are given in thousand tonnes, recruitment in million tonnes; fishing mortality is expressed as the proportion of a stock that is removed by fishing activities in a year.


Policy context and targets

Context description

The sustainable exploitation of fish stocks is regulated through the EU Common Fishery Policy (OJ C 158 27.06.1980). Regulatory arrangements, identifying harvesting levels  based on the CFP, the precautionary principle and multi-annual fisheries plans, were set through the Cardiff European Council (COM (2000) 803). Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for the stocks in the NE Atlantic and the Baltic Sea are set annually by the Fisheries Council. In the Mediterranean Sea, where no TACs have been set except for the highly migratory tunas and swordfish, fisheries management is achieved by means of closed areas and seasons to keep fishing effort under control and make exploitation patterns more rational. The General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean (GFCM) attempts to harmonise the process.

 

The latest Action Plan on Fisheries management as part of the CFP reform was presented to the Fisheries Council in October 2002, and Council Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 of 20 December 2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy is now in force. A new set of regulations has since been adopted on specific issues.

Targets

Sustainable exploitation of fish stocks is a target of the EU common fishery policy (CFP).

Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for the individual stocks in the NE Atlantic and the Baltic Sea are set annually by the Fisheries Council. In the Mediterranean Sea, where no TACs have yet been set (except for the highly migratory tunas and swordfish), fisheries management is achieved by means of closed areas and seasons that are designed to keep fishing effort under control and make exploitation patterns more rational.

Related policy documents

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Number of commercial stocks = 12
Number of assessed stocks = overfished +safe = 1+11= 12
Stock are regarded as within safe biological limits if the stocks size with a high probability is high enough to secure average future recruitment (in technical terms if SSB is above Bpa as defined by ICES). The numbers of overfished and safe stocks have been extracted from the relevant sources. Their ratio has been calculated and presented in pie charts per fishing area.

The above data are from ICES Advice 2006 (section 1.5.1.1 supplemented by Icelandic, Faroese and Barents Sea stocks).  The definition used here is the sum of the stocks listed as overfished and within safe biological limits. Shell fish are not included.

Fish species rarely reproduce randomly with con-species throughout their geographical range, but form a series of stocks that are reproductively isolated in space and time. Cod for instance form a stock in the North Sea and another one in the Iceland area. These are isolated from each other and one can potentially be fished out while the other is thriving. European eel is an example of an extreme situation where there is only one stock as all mature eel migrate to the Sargasso Sea to spawn in random mixture with each other. 


 

Methodology for gap filling

In the case of the Mediterranean since yearly assessment focuses only on four species with limited geographical coverage ( or 6 out of the new 27 units ) it was decided to use the old geographical units and include assessments of species that were presented (ad hoc) in the 2001 assessment.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

All international fisheries organisations use almost the same principles to determine the state of the stocks, and ICES has fine-tuned the methodology used. However decisions are based on safety margins usually set at 30 % above safe limits which in turn bears a degree of uncertainty since estimates of fishing mortality (F) and Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) are themselves uncertain; the decision on the reference points is then a task for managers, not scientists.

Species and spatial coverage for the Mediterranean is limited. No reference points have been defined for the Mediterranean stocks. The detailed stock assessments for the NE Atlantic and Baltic are obtained through ICES. In the Mediterranean, stock assessments are carried out by the General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean (GFCM) and, in the absence of complete or independent information on fishing intensity or fishing mortality, are based mainly on landings. Stock assessment is thus based mainly on analysis of landing trends, biomass surveys, and analysis of commercial catch per unit effort (CPUE) data. On the Mediterranean supplementary work is being carried out by DG Fisheries, and a number of internationally funded bottom trawl surveys (MEDITS, SAMED).

Shellfish and cephalopodes are not included in this assessment. It cannot be assumed that fish indicators represent the status of these two groups in relation to sustainable fishing, because they are mainly prey for fish species and will therefore often show the opposite stock development of the fish.

Data sets uncertainty

In the Mediterranean, fisheries management is considered to be at an early stage compared with the NE Atlantic. Catch and effort statistics are not considered to be fully reliable and much effort is directed at estimation of corrective factors (Papaconstantinou & Farrugio, 2000).
Unreported landings are still considered to be a major problem.

Rationale uncertainty

Slightly different approaches are being used in the Mediterranean and the NE Atlantic to determine whether a stock is outside safe biological limits.

Data sources

Generic metadata

Topics:

Fisheries Fisheries (Primary topic)

Coasts and seas Coasts and seas

Tags:
soer2010 | thematic assessments | fisheries | marine and coastal | csi | marine
DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 032
Geographic coverage:

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Constança De Carvalho Belchior

Ownership

EEA Management Plan

2010 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100