Indicator Fact Sheet

Fish stocks outside Safe Biological Limits in 2002

Indicator Fact Sheet
Prod-ID: IND-13-en
  Also known as: FISH 01a
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Assessment made on  01 May 2004

Generic metadata



DPSIR: State


Indicator codes
  • FISH 01a
Temporal coverage:

Policy issue:  Is the use of commercial fish stocks sustainable?

Key assessment

Many commercial fish stocks in European waters are not assessed (see Tables 1 and 2). In the NE Atlantic, the percentage of non-assessed stocks of stocks of economic importance range from a minimum of 13 % (North Sea) and maximum of 59 % (West Ireland). The Baltic Sea also has a high percentage of non-assessed stocks at 56 %. In the Mediterranean region, the percentage is much higher with an average of 80 %, and a range from 65 % (Aegean Sea) to 90 % (South Alboran Sea).

Following the assessment of stocks 33-60 % of commercial stocks in the NE Atlantic are outside safe biological limits. The Baltic and West Ireland Seas are in a better shape (with 33% of their stocks being overfished ) and West of Scotland area the worst ( with 60 % of stocks being outside safe biological limits) .For the Mediterranean the percentage of stocks outside safe biological limits range from 10 to 20 % with the Aegean and the Cretan Sea performing the worst. (see Tables 1 and 2).

Examining the 'safe' stocks in the NE Atlantic, their percentage ranges between 5 and 33%, values that correspond to Celtic Sea/Western Channel and the Arctic respectivelly. In the Mediterranean the range extends from 0% (S. Alboran and Cretan Seas) to 15 % (Aegean Sea) (see Tables 1 and 2).

Looking into stocks in details:

Herring stocks appear to have recovered since 2001 but this reflects different assessment methods. Assessments on stocks per area are shown in Tables 2, 3 and 4. According to the ICES ACFM data on stock development:

  • Almost all round fish stocks have declined and are currently not sustainable.
  • Cod stocks in the North Sea, Skagerrak, Irish Sea and waters west of Scotland are now so depleted that the chance of a collapse must be seriously considered. ICES is recommending that all fisheries with the target fish cod should be closed in these areas. Since cod is also caught as a by-catch in mixed fisheries, such as haddock, whiting, flatfish, shrimp and prawn fisheries, these fisheries should also be closed unless they can demonstrate that they are not causing a cod by-catch.
  • Hake stocks dramatic decline caused alarm leading to total allowable catch (TAC) cuts up to 50 % in 2001.
  • Whiting TACs were cut to 35 % for the west of Scotland in 2001.
  • Deep-sea species show signs of over-exploitation;
  • Flatfish stocks are heavily exploited but are close to sustainable levels.
  • Pelagic and industrial species are in better condition but need to be subject to reduced fishing rates.
  • In general, a 10 % cut in the TACs for 2001 for most of the species has been implemented.

In the wider Atlantic area, knowledge of the biology of most targeted species (mainly deep-sea species) is insufficient, but it is suggested that stocks can sustain low rates of exploitation. Bpa and Fpa have not been determined for all stocks.

In the Mediterranean region, demersal stocks are outside safe biological limits. Small pelagic stocks in the same area exhibit large scale fluctuations but are not fully exploited anywhere, except for the anchovy in the Algerian and Cretan Seas. Anchovy stocks in the Balearic, Adriatic and Ionian Seas are considered safe. Only two demersal and two small pelagic stocks are monitored by GFCM with a limited spatial coverage. Changes in fish stock status in the Mediterranean are shown in Tables 1, 3 and 5. The fish stock status differs between 2001 and 2002 as new areas are now in use, and only stocks with definite assessment by GFCM have been included.

Concern has been raised about the over-exploitation of bluefin tuna and swordfish. Since the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) and ICES/OSPAR management areas do not coincide there is no region specific data on the highly migratory tuna species. Uncertainties on stock assessment and lack of documented reporting (including EU Member States) hinder management of these highly migratory species. Bluefin tuna catches exceed the sustainable rate by 25 % and despite ICCAT recommendations (for both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean), no measures (despite TAC reductions) have been enforced.
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