Many fish stocks – such as cod around Iceland, in the Baltic Sea and the Barents Sea, plaice in the North Sea, herring in the Norwegian Sea, the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, and sprat in the Baltic Sea – have been harvested sustainably according to the targets set by policy-makers, and fish populations have started to improve.
"Reduction in exploitation towards the long-term targets is the first step in rebuilding sustainable and stable fish populations and achieving a healthy ecosystem status", explained ICES Head of Advisory Services Poul Degnbol.
Improvements have not been the same for all species and regions. For instance, exploitation of cod and haddock in the Faroe Islands region has remained high over the past several decades compared to a marked decrease in fishing pressure for the same species in other regions. Additionally, several populations, such as cod in the Irish Sea, the Kattegat and west of Scotland, remain low, with ICES advising that there should be no directed fisheries and minimal bycatch for these species. In contrast, populations such as Northeast Arctic cod and the widely distributed blue whiting continue to increase.
The significant reductions in fishing pressure and the accompanying stock improvements are likely the result of several factors including reductions in Total Allowable Catches (TACs), changing market conditions, and increases in fuel prices.
The conclusions are a result of the annual meeting of the ICES Advisory Committee (ACOM), held last week in Copenhagen, Denmark, where scientists examined historical trends in exploitation of 85 major fish stocks across the Northeast Atlantic. ACOM is the body in ICES providing scientific advice to support the management of marine resources and ecosystems.
Average fishing pressure (measured as fishing mortality) (left) and average stock biomass (right) for 85 major fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic, both scaled to the mean over the time period (1960-2013), ie. if the y-axis value is 1 in a given year then this year’s value is equal to the mean over the time series; if it is 0.5 it is half the mean value; etc.