Status of marine fish stocks (CSI 032) - Assessment published Nov 2005
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?
Many commercial fish stocks in European waters remain non-assessed. Of the assessed commercial stocks in the NE Atlantic, 22 to 53 % are outside safe biological limits (SBL). Of the assessed stocks in the Baltic Sea, the West Ireland Sea and the Irish Sea, 22, 29 and 53 %, respectively, are outside SBL. In the Mediterranean, the percentage of stocks outside SBL range from 10 to 20 %.
Status of commercial fish stocks in European Seas, 2003-2004
Note: Title in Maps and Graph: Commercial fish stocks outside safe biological limits, 2004
GFCM, ICCAT, ICES
State of commercial fish stocks in N E Atlantic and Baltic Sea in 2003-2004
Note: Colour coding: Blue= Within safe biological limits Red= Outside safe biological limits Grey= No assessment a
State of commercial fish stocks in Mediterranean Sea up to 2004
Note: Coverage 1
Changes in state of commercial stocks in the North East Atlantic and Baltic Sea
Changes in state of commercial stocks in the Mediterranean
Many commercial fish stocks in European waters remain non-assessed. In the NE Atlantic, the percentage of non-assessed stocks of economic importance range from a minimum of 20 % (North Sea) to a maximum of 71 % (West Ireland) which is an increase from 13 % and 59 % respectively in the previous assessment in 2002. The Baltic Sea also shows a high percentage of non-assessed stocks at 67 % compared with the previous 56 %. In the Mediterranean region, the percentage is much higher with an average of 80 %, and a range from 65 % (Aegean Sea) to 83 % in the Adriatic (the previous highest value was 90 % in the South Alboran Sea).
Of the assessed commercial stocks in the NE Atlantic, 22 to 53 % are outside safe biological limits (SBL). This is an improvement compared with the last record of 33-60 %. Of the assessed stocks in the Baltic and West Ireland Seas, 22 and 29 %, respectively, are over-fished (33 % in the past) while 53 % of stocks in the Irish Sea remain outside SBL (past record held by West of Scotland at 60 %). In the Mediterranean the percentage of stocks outside SBL range from 10 to 20 %, with the Aegean and the Cretan Sea being in the worst condition.
Examination of 'safe' stocks in the NE Atlantic shows a slight decline ranging between 0 and 33%; these values correspond to the West Ireland and North Sea, respectively. The last assessment of 2002 showed a range of 5 to 33 % for the Celtic Sea/Western Channel and the Arctic, respectively. In the Mediterranean, the range extends from 0% (Cretan Sea) to 11% (Sardinia) compared with a minimum of 0% (S. Alboran and Cretan Seas) and a maximum of 15 % (Aegean Sea) in 2002.
When examining the European stocks more closely, the following conclusions can be drawn:
- The recovery of herring stocks appears to continue.
- Almost all round fish stocks have declined and are currently not sustainable.
- Pelagic and industrial species remain in better condition but still need to be subject to reduced fishing rates.
- In the Mediterranean region, only two demersal and two small pelagic stocks 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) 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, despite ICCAT recommendations for both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, no measures (despite reductions in Total Allowable Catches) have been enforced.
Listed below are the main recommendations and actions taken by EU institutions and ICES to prevent collapse of different stocks:
- ICES recommends to ban cod fishing in the North Sea, Irish Sea and west of Scotland, and to develop recovery plans to rebuild the stocks,
- EU prohibited all fisheries in an area west of Scotland as of 1 January 2004, and established a cod protection area in the North Sea where vessels targeting haddock are not allowed to fish,
- European Commission proposed (March 2004) to adjust the area concerned accordingly and to change the percentages of haddock that can be caught by vessels not holding a special licence,
- European Commission tabled two proposals on long-term measures to help the recovery of sole stocks in the western Channel and Bay of Biscay, southern hake in the Cantabrian Sea and western Iberian Peninsula as well as plan for northern hake,
- 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.
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 (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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