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Indicator Specification

Status of marine fish and shellfish stocks in European seas

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: CSI 032 , MAR 007
Published 12 Jul 2021 Last modified 12 Jul 2021
16 min read
The indicators track the status of commercial fish stocks in European regional seas and the pressure exerted by fisheries on those stocks, as well as the quality of the information available. To that end, the following is reported: the status of marine fish and shellfish stocks based on the current level of exploitation and reproductive capacity; the importance of the (sub-)region, reflected by the total landings (as a proxy of catch) of fish from commercial fisheries in European seas per MSFD (sub-)region; the availability of appropriate information for the status assessment, as reflected by the proportion of those landings covered by quantitative stock assessments (i.e. the proportion providing the required indicators and their reference levels). State of marine fish and shellfish stocks The MSFD requires 'Good Environmental Status' to be achieved by 2020 (EC, 2008). According to the MSFD (Descriptor 3), three criteria are relevant to determining if a fish or shellfish stock has achieved GES. Stocks should be: (1) exploited sustainably consistent with high long-term yields, (2) have full reproductive capacity in order to maintain stock biomass, and (3) the proportion of older and larger fish/shellfish should be maintained (or increased) being an indicator of a healthy stock. Sustainable exploitation: sustainably exploited stocks are stocks for which F is at or below levels that deliver MSY, i.e. F ≤ F MSY . If values for F and F MSY  are available from a stock assessment, the stock is considered to have met the GES criterion if F ≤ F MSY . For some ICES stocks without stock assessments, proxy methods exist to estimate the status of F in relation to F MSY by using catch length and other available biological information. Reproductive capacity: in areas assessed by the ICES, the criterion for sustainable reproductive capacity (SSB > SSB MSY ) has been modified, for pragmatic reasons, to SSB > MSY B trigger . Spawning stock biomass (SSB) is consistently provided as part of ICES stock assessments, i.e. of the North-East Atlantic and Baltic Sea, but not, for the most part, by STECF assessments, i.e. of the Mediterranean and Black Sea stocks. Similarly to the above, a stock is considered to have been assessed against this criterion if values of SSB and a good proxy for SSB MSY  (i.e. MSY B trigger ) are available from a stock assessment, and the stock is considered to have met the GES criterion if SSB > SSB MSY  (or appropriate proxy). Healthy age and size structure: in this case, the assumption is that a stock with sufficient numbers of old and large fish is healthy. However, this criterion is not sufficiently developed and no threshold for GES is known for this criterion. Therefore, it is not included. This has resulted in four assessment categories: Not assessed: no sufficient information available to assess status; F: status assessed based only on F in relation to F MSY; SSB: status assessed based only on SSB in relation to SSB MSY  (or some proxy, i.e. MSY B trigger ); F & SSB: status assessed based on both F and SSB. Due to the ongoing discussions of the criteria integration rules for Descriptor 3, the stocks are classified as: Stocks meeting both the available GES criteria for F and SSB  Stocks meeting only one of the available GES criteria, i.e. either F or SSB criteria are met  Stocks not meeting any of the available GES criteria, i.e. neither F nor SSB criteria are met   For those stocks for which adequate information is available to determine GES for fishing mortality (F) and/or reproductive capacity (SSB) a second distinction is made between: (1) stocks in good status based on both fishing mortality and reproductive capacity; (2) stocks in good status based on only one criteria (either because one of the two criteria are not in good status or data is only available for one criteria and it is in good status); and (3) stocks not in good status (either because one of the two criteria are not in good status or data is only available for one criteria and it is not in good status).   Total landing Landings information for the North-East Atlantic and the Baltic Sea is based on the Stock Assessment Graphs landings data for the assessed stocks, and in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Official Nominal Catches, 2006-201 8 dataset in the case of unassessed stocks/landings. Fisheries nominal catch statistics are reported annually by the national offices. In cooperation with Eurostat and FAO, ICES prepares and publishes the Official Nominal Catch statistics dataset for the Northeast Atlantic (FAO major fishing area 27). SAG catches are used whenever available, as these take discards and potential area reporting issues into account, neither of which are reflected in the nominal catches. Landings information for the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea is based on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) capture production dataset For the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the figure is based on 2018 landings data. In this case, it was not possible to use landings data from the assessments as these refer to GSAs which are not specified in the FAO capture production dataset, divided in larger aggregation areas. Only some of the species/taxa in the landings data can be considered 'commercial fish', which, for assessment purposes, may consist of several stocks. Only some of these stocks are covered by quantitative stock assessments such that their status can be assessed based on the above criteria.   Stock In the North-East Atlantic area, stocks are generally defined based on biological criteria and knowledge of population migration, mixing and spawning areas. For example, cod in the northeast Atlantic is currently considered to form sixteen different stocks, between which mixing is generally negligible. These stocks are found over multiple MSFD ecoregions, and some individual stock distributions cover more than one ecoregion. However, in this analysis each stock has been assigned to a single ecoregion (see Methodology). In the Mediterranean and Black Sea, on the other hand, stocks are mostly defined by management area because of a lack of biological knowledge. Because these stocks are based on a specific geographical area, most can be attributed to a specific MSFD (sub-)region. In the Mediterranean, assessments can refer to several stocks of the same species, but these stocks remain separate management and functional units.  

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
 

Rationale

Justification for indicator selection

Commercial fish and shellfish provide most of the seafood derived from European waters and, if sustainably exploited, they could be a continuous source of healthy protein. However, the heavy exploitation of fish and shellfish can affect their reproductive capacity and thus their potential for recovery. To achieve sustainability, the levels of exploitation and reproductive capacity need to be analysed to assess the status of marine fish and shellfish in Europe. The fact that only those stocks for which regular quantitative stock assessments are conducted can be included in such a status assessment means that it is important to show what proportion of commercial species is covered by quantitative stock assessments.

Therefore, this indicator consists of three parts:

  • the proportion of the total catch in the MSFD (sub-)regions of Europe covered by the quantitative stock assessments conducted by the ICES and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM);
  • the proportion of the total number of stocks in the MSFD (sub-)regions of Europe covered by quantitative stock assessments conducted by the ICES and the GFCM;
  • an overview of the status of assessed fish stocks per MSFD (sub-)region and its trend over time, with GES being based on two criteria being met:
    • a sustainable level of exploitation (assessed by F);
    • reproductive capacity not being compromised (assessed by SSB).

Scientific references

Indicator definition

The indicators track the status of commercial fish stocks in European regional seas and the pressure exerted by fisheries on those stocks, as well as the quality of the information available. To that end, the following is reported:

  • the status of marine fish and shellfish stocks based on the current level of exploitation and reproductive capacity;
  • the importance of the (sub-)region, reflected by the total landings (as a proxy of catch) of fish from commercial fisheries in European seas per MSFD (sub-)region;
  • the availability of appropriate information for the status assessment, as reflected by the proportion of those landings covered by quantitative stock assessments (i.e. the proportion providing the required indicators and their reference levels).

State of marine fish and shellfish stocks

The MSFD requires 'Good Environmental Status' to be achieved by 2020 (EC, 2008). According to the MSFD (Descriptor 3), three criteria are relevant to determining if a fish or shellfish stock has achieved GES. Stocks should be: (1) exploited sustainably consistent with high long-term yields, (2) have full reproductive capacity in order to maintain stock biomass, and (3) the proportion of older and larger fish/shellfish should be maintained (or increased) being an indicator of a healthy stock.

  • Sustainable exploitation: sustainably exploited stocks are stocks for which F is at or below levels that deliver MSY, i.e. F ≤ FMSY. If values for F and FMSY are available from a stock assessment, the stock is considered to have met the GES criterion if F ≤ FMSY. For some ICES stocks without stock assessments, proxy methods exist to estimate the status of F in relation to FMSY by using catch length and other available biological information.
  • Reproductive capacity: in areas assessed by the ICES, the criterion for sustainable reproductive capacity (SSB > SSBMSY) has been modified, for pragmatic reasons, to SSB > MSY Btrigger. Spawning stock biomass (SSB) is consistently provided as part of ICES stock assessments, i.e. of the North-East Atlantic and Baltic Sea, but not, for the most part, by STECF assessments, i.e. of the Mediterranean and Black Sea stocks. Similarly to the above, a stock is considered to have been assessed against this criterion if values of SSB and a good proxy for SSBMSY (i.e. MSY Btrigger) are available from a stock assessment, and the stock is considered to have met the GES criterion if SSB > SSBMSY (or appropriate proxy).
  • Healthy age and size structure: in this case, the assumption is that a stock with sufficient numbers of old and large fish is healthy. However, this criterion is not sufficiently developed and no threshold for GES is known for this criterion. Therefore, it is not included.

This has resulted in four assessment categories:

  • Not assessed: no sufficient information available to assess status;
  • F: status assessed based only on F in relation to FMSY;
  • SSB: status assessed based only on SSB in relation to SSBMSY (or some proxy, i.e. MSY Btrigger);
  • F & SSB: status assessed based on both F and SSB.

Due to the ongoing discussions of the criteria integration rules for Descriptor 3, the stocks are classified as:

  • Stocks meeting both the available GES criteria for F and SSB
  •  Stocks meeting only one of the available GES criteria, i.e. either F or SSB criteria are met
  •  Stocks not meeting any of the available GES criteria, i.e. neither F nor SSB criteria are met

 For those stocks for which adequate information is available to determine GES for fishing mortality (F) and/or reproductive capacity (SSB) a second distinction is made between: (1) stocks in good status based on both fishing mortality and reproductive capacity; (2) stocks in good status based on only one criteria (either because one of the two criteria are not in good status or data is only available for one criteria and it is in good status); and (3) stocks not in good status (either because one of the two criteria are not in good status or data is only available for one criteria and it is not in good status).

 

Total landing

Landings information for the North-East Atlantic and the Baltic Sea is based on the Stock Assessment Graphs landings data for the assessed stocks, and in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Official Nominal Catches, 2006-2018 dataset in the case of unassessed stocks/landings. Fisheries nominal catch statistics are reported annually by the national offices. In cooperation with Eurostat and FAO, ICES prepares and publishes the Official Nominal Catch statistics dataset for the Northeast Atlantic (FAO major fishing area 27). SAG catches are used whenever available, as these take discards and potential area reporting issues into account, neither of which are reflected in the nominal catches. Landings information for the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea is based on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) capture production dataset For the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the figure is based on 2018 landings data. In this case, it was not possible to use landings data from the assessments as these refer to GSAs which are not specified in the FAO capture production dataset, divided in larger aggregation areas.

Only some of the species/taxa in the landings data can be considered 'commercial fish', which, for assessment purposes, may consist of several stocks. Only some of these stocks are covered by quantitative stock assessments such that their status can be assessed based on the above criteria.

 

Stock

In the North-East Atlantic area, stocks are generally defined based on biological criteria and knowledge of population migration, mixing and spawning areas. For example, cod in the northeast Atlantic is currently considered to form sixteen different stocks, between which mixing is generally negligible. These stocks are found over multiple MSFD ecoregions, and some individual stock distributions cover more than one ecoregion. However, in this analysis each stock has been assigned to a single ecoregion (see Methodology).

In the Mediterranean and Black Sea, on the other hand, stocks are mostly defined by management area because of a lack of biological knowledge. Because these stocks are based on a specific geographical area, most can be attributed to a specific MSFD (sub-)region. In the Mediterranean, assessments can refer to several stocks of the same species, but these stocks remain separate management and functional units.

 

Units

The units used in this indicator are tonnes, as well as the proportion of catch for assessed stocks/non-assessed stocks. The assessment information is expressed as the proportion of landings covered by assessed stocks. The status of the assessed stocks are expressed as the proportion of the landings of assessed fish and shellfish stocks or the proportion of number of fish and shellfish stocks.


 

Policy context and targets

Context description

The scope of the CFP includes the conservation of marine biological resources and the management of the fisheries that target them. To that end, the CFP should adapt exploitation rates to ensure that, within a reasonable time frame, the exploitation of marine biological resources allows the restoration and maintenance of populations of harvested stocks above levels that can produce the MSY. This should have been achieved by 2015 or should be achieved no later than 2020.

The aim of the MSFD is to achieve GES of the EU's marine waters by 2020 and to protect this resource, upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend. The MSFD enshrines in a legislative framework the ecosystem approach to the management of human activities that have an impact on the marine environment, integrating the concepts of environmental protection and sustainable use.

To achieve its goal, the directive establishes European marine regions and sub-regions on the basis of geographical and environmental criteria. The MSFD significantly strengthens Member States’ competences and responsibilities to maintain or achieve GES for all exploited fish and shellfish stocks inside territorial waters and exclusive economic zones (EEZs) with common goals. Three criteria in relation to GES have been identified for commercial fish and shellfish:

  • the level of exploitation;
  • reproductive capacity;
  • age and size distribution.

These requirements for GES, according to the MSFD, are aligned with the requirement for MSY for both the 'level of exploitation' and 'reproductive capacity' criteria. The 'age and size distribution' criterion is not yet sufficiently developed.

Targets

The MSFD aims to ensure that:

  • 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 being produced no later than 2020 (EC, 2008, Annex I);
  • all EU fish and shellfish stocks should be fished to produce an MSY no later than 2015 (EC, 2006); this implies that the targets are to achieve F ≤ FMSY and SSB ≥ SSBMSY (MSY Btrigger is used as a best proxy for SSBMSY).

Related policy documents

Key policy question

Status of marine fish and shellfish stocks in European seas, aggregated level assessment

Specific policy question

Status of marine fish and shellfish stocks in European seas, disaggregate level assessment

 

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea

For the North-East Atlantic Ocean (considering the sub-regions) and Baltic Sea, this indicator is calculated using the ICES stock assessment database. The ICES stock assessment database consists of 198 stock assessments, and provides information, by stock and by year, on a number of variables. The period for which this information is available varies depending on the stock.

Proportion of assessed stock

Currently, the two criteria used to determine the status of commercial fish stocks are that they are:

  • exploited sustainably, consistent with high long-term yields;
  • have full reproductive capacity.

F and SSB, in combination with MSY-based reference values, are the most appropriate metrics for these two criteria. The metrics used for F and SSB may differ between stocks. Not all stocks can be assessed for both metrics.

 

Total landings in MSFD (sub-)regio

Stocks are assigned to an MSFD ecoregion based on the ICES subareas and divisions mentioned in the Stocks sub-section of the Indicator description. Note that the MSFD regions assigned to fish stocks are not conclusive and may change after further consultation. Under the MSFD, individual stocks may be considered in more than one ecoregion. However, for this analysis stocks are assigned to one ecoregion, considered to be most important to the stock and fishery. ICES is presently developing a system of assigning stocks to appropriate ecoregions based on distribution and migration patterns as well as location of landings.

Total landings data are extracted from the ICES Official Nominal Catches data set (note: in FAO terminology, ‘nominal catches’ refer to ‘landings’) and are assigned to the different MSFD regions based on area. The total landings for non-assessed stocks by ecoregion is calculated by subtracting total stock landings by ecoregion from the total landings by ecoregion.

 

Good status

The status of commercial species per MSFD ecoregion is assessed based on all stocks for which the required information on F and/or SSB is available, or (for some stocks assessed by ICES) proxy methods exist to determine the status. Overall numbers of stocks are also indicated (except for in the Mediterranean and Black Seas). Therefore for each region, four different categories are used to describe the degree of fulfillment of MSFD criteria for GES:

  • Stocks meeting both the available GES criteria for F and SSB
  • Stocks meeting only one of the available GES criteria, i.e. either F or SSB criteria are met
  • Stocks not meeting any of the available GES criteria, i.e. neither F nor SSB criteria are met
  • Stocks for which no information is available to assess F and SSB against GES criteria.

 

Mediterranean and Black Seas

Proportion of assessed stocks

In the Mediterranean and Black Sea stocks are mostly defined by management area because of a lack of biological knowledge. As such, they are referred to as ‘assessment units’ in this report to distinguish them from biologically defined stocks and no total number of stocks per region is reported. Assessment units in the Mediterranean Sea were assessed based on the assessments available through the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for fisheries (STECF), published in 2017-2019, and those in the Black Sea were based on the assessments facilitated by GFCM, performed between 2016 and 2018. As assessments are carried out in a multiannual cycle, different assessment units are included in each annual working group report. 

Initially, the two criteria used to determine the status of commercial fish stocks are:

  • exploited sustainably, consistent with high long-term yields;
  • have full reproductive capacity.

F and SSB, in combination with an MSY-based reference value, are the most appropriate metrics for these two criteria. The metrics used for F and SSB may differ between assessment units. This may result in a different number of stocks being assessed for each metric. 

Total landings in MSFD (sub-)regions

Landings information for the Mediterranean and Black Seas is extracted from the FAO regional workspace including on 'GFCM (Mediterranean and Black Sea) capture production'. Landings information is available by fishing area (FAO division). Total landings for the assessed stocks for the Mediterranean and Black Seas are calculated by selecting landings for the species for which STECF provides F/FMSY information, where the following assumptions are made:

  • As the multiple fishing areas of the Mediterranean Sea do not directly coincide with the GSAs, overall landings are used for the Mediterranean Sea for the assessed species.
  • Landings are extracted by linking the common name in the stock description with the species name in the landings data set.

The total landings for non-assessed stocks in the Mediterranean and Black Seas are calculated by subtracting the total landings calculated for assessed stocks from the total landings for these two regions. 

Good status

Assessed as for the North-East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea.

Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references

 

Data specifications

EEA data references

  • No datasets have been specified here.

External data references

Data sources in latest figures

 

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

MSFD (sub-)regions

The matching of catch areas and stocks to the MSFD regions/sub-regions is not final and may change following further consultations.

Data sets uncertainty

Catch and stock assessment data

Depending on the year selected, the suite of assessed stocks may change (in the Mediterranean and Black Seas because they do not conduct annual stock assessments for all stocks simultaneously; and in the ICES areas because many stocks are assessed only every 2 or more years). This may lead to indicator values changing simply because different stocks are considered each year.  Therefore, the analyses presented here use the results of the latest assessment for each stock from the last 3 years (under the assumption that the most recent assessment is indicative of status until the next assessment is conducted).

Rationale uncertainty

Status of commercial specie

The status of commercial species is expressed as the proportion of stocks that fulfils one or more of the GES criteria, as this is the most straightforward method since it does not require any additional information. However, the status can also be expressed as the proportion of catches or the proportion of biomass, depending on data availability. Each method is likely to give different results.

Similarly, the status of European marine fish and shellfish over time is shown for both GES criteria considered as the annual mean ratio indicator/GES threshold, while alternatively the annual mean ratio deviation of the indicator from the GES threshold relative to that threshold can be calculated. This is also likely to give different values but is unlikely to give rise to different conclusions.

For compliance with the status assessments in relation to the CFP, the same stocks for the Mediterranean Sea as those used by the STECF are adopted. This implies that, in contrast to the previous assessment, only stocks assessed by the GFCM (hence not the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)) are used for this assessment.

 

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Ana Tejedor

Ownership

European Environment Agency (EEA)

Identification

Indicator code
CSI 032
MAR 007
Specification
Version id: 6

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year

Classification

DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
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