Marine fish stocks

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Indicator

EU indicator past trend

Selected objective to be met by 2020

Indicative outlook
of the EU meeting
the selected
objective by 2020

Status of marine fish stocks

Green triangle: improving trend

Ensure healthy fish stocks — Common Fisheries
Policy and Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Red circle: it is unlikely that the objective will be met by 2020


The EU is improving the state of its commercial fish and shellfish species in only North-east Atlantic and Baltic waters. As the objective of healthy commercial fish and shellfish populations applies to all marine waters, it is unlikely that it will be met by 2020

For further information on the scoreboard methodology please see Box I.3 in the EEA Environmental indicator report 2017

 

The Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP), in line with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), requires the EU to meet its 2020 objective of achieving good environmental status (GES) of the marine environment, which means that the different uses made of Europe’s seas are conducted at a sustainable level. Fishing is one of the main pressures affecting GES, in particular the state of commercial fish and shellfish species. Historically, fishing beyond sustainable levels has made it difficult to reach the objective of healthy fish and shellfish populations. Currently, around 74 % of fish and shellfish stocks in Europe’s seas are not in GES when assessing both the level of fishing mortality and reproductive capacity; this assessment does not yet include the third GES criterion on age and size structure of the populations as this  cannot be assessed at present. The situation has started to improve, albeit with strong regional differences. In the North-East Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, clear signs of the recovery of fish and shellfish stocks have been visible since the early 2000s. In the Mediterranean and Black Seas, the situation remains critical given the prevalence of overfishing, and a significant lack of knowledge on the status of fish and shellfish stocks. Given this context, the 2020 objective of healthy fish and shellfish populations is unlikely to be met for all of Europe´s seas, and further collective action is required.

Setting the scene

The 7th EAP stipulates that the EU shall ensure that by 2020 the impact of pressures on all marine waters is reduced to achieve or maintain GES, as required by the MSFD (EU, 2013a). Fishing is one of the main pressures affecting the marine environment, in particular the state of commercial fish and shellfish species. Ensuring healthy fish and shellfish populations is essential for well-functioning ecosystems, but also to sustain fishing as a source of healthy food in the long term.

Policy targets and progress

Safeguarding healthy commercial fish and shellfish populations is one of the 11 descriptors of the MSFD (EU, 2008) for achieving GES. This objective is closely related to the objectives of the new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) (EU, 2013b), in particular the objective of ensuring the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for all stocks by 2015 where possible, and at the latest by 2020[1].

Currently, around 74 %[2] of the assessed fish and shellfish stocks in Europe’s seas are not in GES, whereas only 26 % are in GES when assessing both the level of fishing mortality and reproductive capacity (EEA, 2017); this assessment does not include the third GES criterion on age and size structure of the populations as this cannot be assessed at present. In addition, there are strong regional differences, as shown in Figure 1.

Approximately 78 % of the stocks in the North East Atlantic (i.e. Barents Sea, Bay of Biscay, Celtic Sea, Greenland Sea, Iceland Sea, North Sea and Norwegian Sea) and the Baltic Sea meet at least one of the two GES criteria (fishing mortality and reproductive capacity) while 34 % are in GES according to both of these criteria. The status of fish and shellfish stocks is especially critical in the Mediterranean and Black Seas where only 6 % are in GES, a figure only based on one criterion (fishing mortality).

Figure 1. Status of fish and shellfish stocks in regional seas around Europe

Sources: North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea stock assessments provided by ICES; Mediterranean and Black Sea stock assessments provided by STECF.

Note: This figure shows the proportion of assessed stocks per regional sea that are in good environmental status (GES). The numbers on the charts indicate the number of fish and shellfish stocks. Status refers to fishing mortality (F) and reproductive capacity (SSB) criteria, as defined by Commission Decision 2017/848/EU, which sets criteria and methodological standards on GES of marine waters. The GES criterion on healthy age- and size-distribution cannot be assessed at present. Stocks in the Northeast Atlantic and Baltic waters were assessed based on advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) for 2016. Stocks in the Mediterranean and Black seas were assessed based on information from the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) for 2016.

Moreover, a lack of information on the status of stocks was observed for a large (33 %) proportion of fish stocks (EEA, 2017). Figure 2 shows that there are also strong regional differences in terms of availability of information. An assessment of status is not possible for 90 % of the total landings from the Mediterranean and Black Seas, compared with 20 % of those from the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea (EEA, 2017).

Figure 2. Proportion of fish and shellfish landings with Good Environmental Status information

Sources: Catch statistics North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea provided by ICES; Catch statistics Mediterranean and Black Sea provided by FAO; North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea stock assessments provided by ICES; Mediterranean and Black Sea stock assessments provided by STECF. It should be noted that FAO and ICES receive their catch statistics from Eurostat (http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/fisheries/data/database).

Note: This figure shows the proportion of commercial fish and shellfish landings per regional sea with GES assessment information, as defined by Commission Decision 2017/848/EU, which sets criteria and methodological standards on the GES of marine waters. GES assessment information relates to fishing mortality (F) and reproductive capacity (SSB) criteria, since the criterion on healthy age- and size-distribution cannot be assessed at present. Landings data for all fish and shellfish  stocks are from 2014, given the availability of data for the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

It is clear that the overall use of fish and shellfish stocks in Europe currently remains beyond the limit for long-term environmental sustainability. Nevertheless, historical trends in fish landings show that total landings in Europe’s seas reached a peak in the mid-1970s, but have been mostly declining ever since (Pastoors and Poulsen, 2008; Gascuel et al., 2014).

Important signs of improvement are being observed in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea. Since the early 2000s, better management of fish and shellfish stocks has contributed to a clear decrease in fishing pressure in these two regional seas (EEA, 2015; EC, 2015). Between 2002 and 2015, the number of stocks exploited at sustainable levels (i.e. fishing at or below MSY in accordance with the fishing mortality or the reproductive capacity criteria) increased from 2 to 26 (EC, 2015). Signs of recovery in the reproductive capacity of several fish and shellfish stocks have started to appear (EEA, 2017). If these efforts continue, meeting the 2020 objective for healthy fish and shellfish stocks in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea could be possible based on two of the three criteria (i.e. fishing mortality and reproductive capacity). In contrast, there is little likelihood that the 2020 policy objective will be met in the Mediterranean and Black Seas (EC, 2015). This is because of fishing pressures, significant lack of knowledge on the status of fish and shellfish stocks and the difficulties in the Mediterranean Sea in adopting management measures for a single stock due to the high multi-specificity of Mediterranean catches. Given this, and despite the EUs commitment to ensuring better governance for sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean region, the 2020 objective of healthy commercial fish and shellfish populations is unlikely to be met for all marine waters and further collective action is required.

Outlook beyond 2020

Fishing management measures, when effectively implemented, can have a positive effect on the state of fish and shellfish stocks, as can be seen in the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea. However, ensuring healthy fish and shellfish populations does not depend solely on fishing at environmentally sustainable levels, although it is a necessary condition. Healthy fish populations depend on healthy marine ecosystems but, today, our use of Europes seas and their natural capital is not sustainable (EEA, 2015). Europes marine ecosystems continue to display symptoms of degradation and loss of resilience, which will be exacerbated by the effects of climate change. These systemic changes are still complex and to a large extent poorly understood, but they are closely linked to the loss of biodiversity. Without an integrated approach to the management and protection of Europes seas which would make ecosystem-based management a reality, as required by both the MSFD and the CFP the outlook beyond 2020 for productive seas and healthy fish and shellfish populations is a cause for concern.

About the indicator

The indicator assesses the status of fish and shellfish stocks in Europes regional seas, which represent the populations of commercial fish and shellfish species, in relation to their GES. The indicator also provides an overview of the availability of information to provide a GES analysis. The indicator follows the GES methodological standards as currently defined by Commission Decision 2017/848/EU (EC, 2017). It measures GES by assessing two criteria the level of fishing mortality (i.e. fishing pressure) and the reproductive capacity of fish stocks (i.e. spawning stock biomass) against their sustainable reference levels (i.e. MSY or a proxy). The third GES criterion on healthy age and size distribution cannot be assessed at present.  The indicator reflects the current level of implementation of the MSFD and data availability for an assessment at the EU level.

Footnotes and references

[1] According to Annex I, populations of all commercially exploited fish (and shellfish) are within safe biological limits, exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock no later than 2020. Likewise, the scope of the CFP includes the conservation of marine biological resources and the management of fisheries targeting them. To that end, the CFP should adapt exploitation rates so as to ensure that, within a reasonable time-frame, the exploitation of marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested stocks above levels that can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). This should be achieved by 2015 or no later than 2020.

[2] This estimate cannot be compared with the estimate provided in the 2016 version due to (i) methodological improvements on handling widely distributed stocks (in the most recent version catches for stocks that cover more than one ecoregion have been redistributed over the different ecoregions whereas stock information on the GES criteria has been attributed to all ecoregions the stock is part of) and (ii) working with updated (the most recent version of the ICES Stock database for the North East Atlantic and Baltic Sea) and different (STECF Mediterranean and Black Sea Working Group Reports for the Mediterranean and Black Sea) data sources.

 

EU, 2008, Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) (OJ L 164, 25.6.2008, p. 19).


EU, 2013a, Decision No 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’, Annex A, paragraph 28g (OJ L 354, 28.12.2013, p. 171–200).

EU, 2013b, Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy, amending Council Regulations (EC) No 1954/2003 and (EC) No 1224/2009 and repealing Council Regulations (EC) No 2371/2002 and (EC) No 639/2004 and Council Decision 2004/585/EC (OJ L 354/22, 28.12.2013, p. 22–61).

EC, 2015, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council ‘Consultation on the fishing opportunities for 2016 under the Common Fisheries Policy’ (COM (2015) 239 final of 2 June 2015).

EC, 2017, Commission Decision (EU) 2017/848 of 17 May 2017 Laying Down Criteria and Methodological Standards on Good Environmental Status of Marine Waters and Specifications and Standardised Methods for Monitoring and Assessment, and Repealing Decision 2010/477/EU.

EEA, 2015, State of Europe’s seas, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/state-of-europes-seas) accessed 06 September 2017.

EEA, 2017, forthcoming, ‘Status of marine fish stocks (CSI 032)’, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/status-of-marine-fish-stocks-3/assessment).

Gascuel, D., Coll, M., Fox, C., Guénette, S., Guitton, J., Kenny, A., Knittweis, L., Nielsen, J. R., Piet, G., Raid, T., Travers‑Trolet, M. and Shepard, S., 2014, 'Fishing impact and environmental status in European seas: a diagnosis from stock assessments and ecosystem indicators', Fish and Fisheries, pp. 93–104.

Pastoors, M., and Poulsen, B. (Eds.) (2008). Report of the Workshop on historical data on fisheries and fish (WKHIST). Copenhagen: International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. (ICES CM 2008/RMC:04).

 


Environmental indicator report 2017 – In support to the monitoring of the 7th Environment Action Programme, EEA report No21/2017, European Environment Agency

Related content

Based on indicators

Status of marine fish and shellfish stocks in European seas Safeguarding healthy commercial fish and shellfish populations is one of the 11 descriptors of the Marine Stretegy Framework Directive (MSFD) for achieving GES. This objective is closely related to the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), in particular the objective of ensuring the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for all stocks by 2015 where possible, and at the latest by 2020. Currently, around 74 % of the assessed fish and shellfish stocks in Europe’s seas are not in GES, whereas only 26 % are in GES when assessing both the level of fishing mortality and reproductive capacity; this assessment does not include the third GES criterion on age and size structure of the populations as this cannot be assessed at present. These percentages vary considerably between MSFD (sub)regions — from at least 67-88 % of the stocks meeting at least one of the GES criteria in the regions in the NE Atlantic and the Baltic Sea to only one out of 27 (4 %) and one out of 8 (13 %) in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea respectively. Important signs of improvement are being observed in the NE Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea. Since the early 2000s, better management of fish and shellfish stocks has contributed to a clear decrease in fishing pressure in these two regional seas. Signs of recovery in the reproductive capacity of several fish and shellfish stocks have started to appear. If these efforts continue, meeting the 2020 objective for healthy fish and shellfish stocks in the NE Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea could be possible based on two of the three criteria (i.e. fishing mortality and reproductive capacity). In contrast, there is little likelihood that the 2020 policy objective will be met in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

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