Ecosystem overviews

Faroes 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 Faroes ecoregion covers the shelf and surrounding waters inside the Faroese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and covers a sea area of 274 000 km2. The waters around the Faroe Islands are in the upper 500 m dominated by the North Atlantic Current, which to the north of the islands meets the East Icelandic Current. Clockwise current systems create retention areas on the Faroe Plateau (Faroe Shelf around the Faroe Islands) and on the Faroe Bank. In deeper waters to the north and east and in the Faroe Bank channel there is deep Norwegian Sea water, and to the south and west is Atlantic water.​​

Key signals

Human activities and their pressures

  • Fishing is the main threat to the ecosystem. While biomass ratios are currently in a desirable condition for many stocks, several stocks in the ecoregion have current fishing mortality rates above FMSY: cod (Gadus morhua), haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), ling (Molva molva), golden redfish (Sebastes norvegicus), Norwegian spring-spawning herring (Clupea harengus), blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou), and mackerel (Scomber scombrus).
  • Pressures from other activities are less prevalent. Activities that will likely expand in the future include aquaculture and renewable energy in the open ocean, while shipping and tourism are also expected to increase.

State of the ecosystem

  • ​While no trend in phytoplankton production has been observed during the past three decades, a declining trend in silicate concentrations may influence future primary production.
  • Egg production of the copepod Calanus finmarchicus has declined on the Faroe Shelf during the last two decades.
  • There has been an apparent increase in benthic crustacean biomass in the past two decades.
  • The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) of all gadoid stocks is above MSY Btrigger, except for Faroe Plateau cod. The biomass of demersal stocks (in relation to MSY Btrigger) has increased in recent years. The mean SSB of pelagic stocks has decreased since it peaked in 2017; however, the biomass of blue whiting has increased substantially since 2022.
  • The number of seabirds has declined substantially in the ecoregion since the 1950s. The decline of common guillemots (Uria aalge) amounts to over 60% since the 1970s.
  • The abundance of the baleen whales has increased in the ecoregion during the past three decades.
Climate change

  • Future climate derived changes will likely result in increasing stratification with a further reduction in nutrients because of decreasing overturning of deep nutrient‑rich water.
  • Climate change is causing a warming of surface water temperature, which may result in the reduction of the fat content of the key forage fish (sandeel [Ammodytes spp.]) in the ecoregion. This will likely induce cascading effects to higher trophic levels.
  • The previously documented pattern on the covariation of salinity and temperature of the major circulating surface currents in the ecoregion has been disrupted since 2010. This may be a product of climate change.

Environmental and socio-economic context

  • ​​More than 60% of the Faroe Plateau is now closed to bottom‑fishing activities either as seasonal or year-round closures to protect important fish habitat and biodiversity.
  • Although the economic importance of the fisheries has decreased, it still represents about 10% of GDP. Employment in the fisheries industry has gradually decreased since 1985 and now represents about 50% of historic levels.
  • Employment in the aquaculture has increased over time making aquaculture an increasingly important industry in the Faroe Islands
  • Recent challenges, such as ensuring the sustainability of jointly shared fish stocks, changes in international markets for seafood products, and the increased operating costs of trawlers are related to external socio-economic drivers.

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Faroes ecosystem overview

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