Ecosystem overviews

Celtic Seas Ecosystem Overview

Our Ecosystem Overviews use risk-based methods to identify the main human pressures and explain how these affect key ecosystem components in each ICES ecoregion.

​​The Celtic Seas ecoregion covers the northwestern European continental shelf and seas, from western Brittany in the south to north of Shetland.​ It is characterized by a diversity of habitats, such as an extensive slope, canyons, ridges, and seamounts that support vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs).

The oceanography and climate of the region is strongly influenced by conditions in the adjacent Atlantic Ocean. Ocean currents support strong linkages between the Celtic Seas ecoregion and its neighbouring ecoregions.

 Key signals

 Human activities and their pressures

  • Fishing continues to be the main threat to ecosystem health despite a decrease in fishing pressure since the late 1990s, and an associated reduction in physical seabed disturbance from 2003 to 2014.
  • Land-based industry and waste water are important causes of pressures like marine litter, nutrient enrichment, and the introduction of contaminants from riverine run-off.

​State of the ecosystem

  • Changes to the composition and distribution of plankton species in inshore areas have been observed which may have implications for the frequency and intensity of harmful algal bloom events (HABs).
  • Fishing-induced physical disturbance is estimated to have resulted in an overall (albeit patchy) decrease of invertebrate benthic biomass.
  • The stock sizes of most groups of commercial species are generally above levels that can provide the maximum sustainable yield (MSY); however, some individual species are still be below MSY levels.
  • The numbers of many seabird species breeding in the ecoregion have been declining in the past decade, linked to breeding failures and possibly also due to changes in prey availability and contaminant loads.

Climate change

  • Climate change is causing changes in water masses. This has implications for plankton and fish species within the ecoregion.
  • Climate change induced cascading effects are likely to occur throughout the ecosystem with consequences for the spatial distribution of fisheries.

Environmental and socio-economic context

  • The current trend of increased fuel prices is likely to result in a further reduction of demersal fishing and disturbance of seabed habitats. If this leads to a shift toward less fuel-intensive fisheries such as gillnets, it may increase the bycatch risk of seabirds and marine mammals, and effects from lost and abandoned fishing gear.
  • Small-scale coastal fisheries contribute less than 10% of total fish landings but attract 22% of full-time equivalent (FTE) employment in the sector and 14% of total fisheries revenue.

​Download the Ecosystem Overview.

View the interactive diagram.​​



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Celtic Seas Ecosystem Overview

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