Ecosystem overviews

Greater North Sea ecoregion

Social and economic context


Socio-economic interests related to fisheries (represented by effort, landings, and values) are widely distributed around the coasts of the Greater North Sea ecoregion (Figure 11). The fleet associated with specific ports varies in vessel size and time spent at sea, with busier ports indicated by larger circles (e.g. Peterhead, Hantsholm, Skagen, and Ijmuiden). Analyses of the fishing activity in the ecoregion indicate that most of the fish landed and fishing effort are associated with the countries bordering the ecoregion, with few landings associated with other countries, e.g. in Ireland, Faroe Islands, and Spain.

The fleet in the region consists of mainly (59%) small‑scale vessels. These account for around 39% of the days at sea, provide job for around 18% of full‑time equivalent (FTE) employees that produce 10% of value landed, and generate 11% of value added. The rest of the fleet is represented by larger scale vessels and a distant fleet. The distant fleet represents a small proportion of vessels that contribute to 5% of total days at sea and employs 12% of FTE employees that generate 31% of value landed in the region.

Over the period 2012–2019, fishing effort in days at sea from EU Member States and UK (i.e. excluding Norway), declined by 11%, reaching around 560 000 days at sea in 2019. The highest fishing effort was reported by UK, followed by France, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Belgium.

The weight of EU Member States and UK fishing fleet landings in 2017–2019 was about 1.6 million tonnes, while the value was about EUR 2 billion, representing 26% of the total revenue for both fleets. The fleets operating in this ecoregion contributed EUR 1083 million gross value to coastal nation economies and produced EUR 477 million gross profit in 2019, a decrease of 10% in gross value added and 16% in gross profits compared to 2018.

The ecoregion provided jobs for around 15 000 fishermen in 2017–2019, or around 10 000 FTE jobs.

Specific socio-economic drivers

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted fisheries in the ecoregion. The governments of coastal states enforced lockdowns, fishers were prevented from going to sea, and processing factories, hotels, restaurants and catering were all negatively affected.

Since 1 January 2021, UK has been an independent coastal state (i.e. Brexit), with full responsibility over its EEZ, which constitutes a significant proportion of the ecoregion. The current challenge in the ecoregion is to ensure the sustainable management of more than 100 fish stocks with respect to the relative stability agreement in allocations between the EU, Norway and now UK following Brexit, through cooperation. For 2021 this resulted in collective overfishing above scientific advice by northeast Atlantic countries in the ecoregion for species such as mackerel, herring, and blue whiting.

​Since the winter of 2022, disruption to the energy markets has resulted in increased fuel prices that have, in turn, directly impacted the operating costs of fishing with bottom‑towed gears, the most fuel‑intensive fisheries. In the ecoregion, some countries operate mainly towed gears (e.g. Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark), while others operate mainly passive gears (Sweden, UK, and France).​

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Fishing effort (panel a), landings by weight (b), and value landed (c) for each port with vessels operating in the Greater North Sea ecoregion, 2017–2019. The size of circles indicates magnitude; colours indicate the vessel length category. Small‑scale fisheries (vessels < 10 m) are not included due to a lack of data. Note: Norwegian data are missing. Data source: ICES RDB. (click on the image to enlarge)

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Greater North Sea ecoregion

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