Status of marine fish stocks (CSI 032) - Assessment published Sep 2011
Fisheries (Primary topic)
Coasts and seas
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CSI 032
Key policy question: Is the use of commercial fish stocks sustainable?
Most of the EU commercial catch is currently taken from stocks that are assessed. There is, however, a clear trend from north to south: almost all catches in the north come from assessed stocks, whereas in the south this only happens for around half of the catch.
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. In the Black Sea no stocks are assessed.
State of commercial fish stocks in North East Atlantic and Baltic Sea
Note: The figure shows the state of commercial fish stocks in North East Atlantic and Baltic Sea. Status of fish stocks was assessed in 2009 in the ICES regions , although data refers to 2008. Elasmobranchs not included as they constitute only about 3% of the total catch in the NE Atlantic and consist of many species and stocks which would mask the general trend.
ICES, 2008. International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, www.ices.dk/indexfla.asp
State of commercial fish stocks in Mediterranean Sea
Note: The figure shows the state of commercial fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea. Status of fish stocks was assessed from 2001-2009 in the GFCM regions, although data refers to 2005. Year in the cells refer to year of ICCAT or GFCM assessments.
GFCM, 2005. General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, http://www.gfcm.org/gfcm/en
FAO General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean/Commission générale des pêches pour la Méditerranée. 2009. Report of the eleventh session of the Scientific Advisory Committee. Marrakech, Morocco, 1–5 December 2008/Rapport de la onzième session du Comité scientifique consultatif. Marrakech, Maroc, 1-5 décembre 2008. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Report/FAO Rapport sur les pêches et l’aquaculture. No. 890. Rome, FAO. 86p
Status of fish stocks in International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) fishing regions of Europe
Note: The map shows the status of the fish stocks in ICES and GFCM fishing regions of Europe in 2008. Status of fish stocks was assessed in 2009 (ICES) and from 2002-2009 (GFCM), although data refers to 2008 in the ICES regions and 2005 in the GFCM regions.
Total catch in International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) fishing regions in Europe
Note: The map shows the total catch in ICES and GFCM fishing regions of Europe. Status of fish stocks was assessed in 2009 (ICES) and from 2002-2009 (GFCM), although data refers to 2008 in the ICES regions and 2005 in the GFCM regions. Catch is divided into proportions of catch of assessed stocks (green) and catch of unassessed stocks (white).
- ICES 2008, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, http://www.ices.dk/indexfla.asp
- GFCM 2005, General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, http://www.gfcm.org/gfcm/en
The status of commercial fish stocks shows that overfishing in Europe's Seas continues to be a problem (Figure 1). At present, 30% of the stocks for which information exists are fished outside safe biological limits (SBL). Of the assessed commercial stocks in the NE Atlantic, 21% (Baltic Sea) to 62 % (Iberian Peninsula waters) are outside SBL. For the other areas in the NE Atlantic the percentages of stocks outside safe biological limits vary between 30% and 54%. In the Mediterranean, reports on status of fish stocks are sporadic and irregularly updated. Information from 2005 suggests that the percentage of stocks outside SBL ranges from 44% to 78%, with the Adriatic Sea being in the worst condition.
Although many commercial fish stocks are assessed (Figure 2), there is a tendency of assessing more stocks in the north than in the south. In the NE Atlantic, the percentage (of catch in weight to the total catch) of non-assessed stocks range from a minimum of less than 0.5 % (Arctic Northwest) to a maximum of 30 % (Celtic Seas and eastern and western Channel). In the Mediterranean region, this 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 assessment is sporadic and only beginning to be internationally coordinated.
In general, pelagic stocks (fish living in the waters column well above the sea bottom and sometimes close to the sea surface) are in better condition than demersal (fish living close to the sea bottom) stocks. When examining the NE Atlantic stocks more closely (Figure 3), 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 like capelin and sandeel are in a poor state. This is, however, more due to natural causes than high fishing pressure (ICES Advisory Report 2008).
In the Mediterranean region (Figure 4) the following conclusions can be drawn:
- Many assessments that cover wider areas are based on preliminary results.
- Demersal stocks remain outside safe biological limits. Small pelagic stocks in the same area exhibit large-scale fluctuations, but are generally not fully exploited, 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 2009) swordfish is now considered overexploited.
- Strong concern still remains about the over-exploitation or even risk of stock collapse of bluefin tuna. Uncertainties of stock assessment and a lack of documented reporting (including by EU Member States) still affect the management of this highly migratory species. Bluefin tuna catches continue to exceed the sustainable level and ICCAT states in its recent assessment of 2008: "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 new EC Community Fisheries Control Agency (http://cfca.europa.eu/pages/home/home.htm) has put bluefin tuna control as one of its top priorities for 2009 and 2010 work.
Across Europe, the status of the European eel is also of concern, because its stock has been decreasing constantly over the past 2-3 decades. In 2009, eel was included in CITES Appendix II that deals with species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with the survival of the species (see http://www.cites.org/eng/disc/how.shtml) and the EC agreed to implement a recovery plan. Eel stock is now managed with the aim of obtaining sustainable exploitation on a total stock level.
The main 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.
- It has been advised to develop recovery plans for cod fishing in the Irish Sea, west of Scotland and the Kattegat to rebuild the stocks.
- Days-at-sea regulations were added to the existing regulations (such asTotal Allowable Catches, license, minimum mesh and landing sizes, closed areas and seasons etc.) a few years ago to reduce fishing mortality.
- Improving control of illegal landings that in some countries have been estimated as high as 30%. However, estimating illegal landings remains a difficult task since there is at present no institution within the entire management system responsible for this.
- Only allow slow expansion of deep-sea fisheries until reliable assessments indicating that increased harvests are sustainable are available.
ICCAT Research and Statistics (SCRS)
provided by International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)
Cod and mackerel spawning stock biomass (ICES)
provided by International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES)
Fishery data (FAO)
More information about this indicator
See this indicator specification for more details.
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoConstança De Carvalho Belchior
EEA Management Plan2010 2.4.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
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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