New Faroes Ecosystem Overview published

ICES now has a complete overview of the Northeast Atlantic marine ecosystem.
Published: 1 December 2023

​​​​​​​The Faroes ecoregion boasts a rich and diverse marine ecosystem shaped by the dynamic forces of the surrounding currents and the rugged topography of the seafloor. The Faroes ecosystem supports a myriad of marine life, including various fish species, seabirds, and marine mammals. The waters are renowned for their productive fisheries that play a vital role in the local economy. However, the ecosystem faces challenges from climate change, fishing pressures, and the need for sustainable management practices to ensure the continued health and resilience of the Faroes marine environment.

When ICES published the Faroes Ecoregion Fisheries Overview in 2021, it was the final piece of our fisheries overview portfolio for the Northeast Atlantic: we now had a complete overview of fisheries throughout the region. 

Today, the Faroes ecoregion marks another milestone for ICES. The Faroes ecoregion Ecosystem Overview is published and completes our Ecosystem Overview​ portfolio with all twelve ICES ecoregions in the Northeast Atlantic now covered (Baltic Sea, Barents Sea, Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast ecoregion, Celtic Seas, Central Arctic Ocean,  Greater North Sea, Icelandic Waters, Norwegian Sea, Greenland Sea, Azores, Oceanic Northeast, and, the latest, the Faroes ecoregion). The Faroes ecoregion is the third ecoregion for which we have all three overviews (i.e. fisheries, aquaculture, and ecosystem). ​

Leading the development of this ecosystem overview were Karin Margretha H. Larsen, Sólvá K. Eliasen, and Petur Steingrund from the Faroe Marine Research Institute (HAVSTOVAN)  along with contributions from the Working Group on Oceanic Hydrography (WGOH) and Working Group on Introductions and Transfers of Marine Organisms (WGITMO). 

"Compiling the wire diagram that shows different linkages between human activities and pressures, and how these affect key ecosystem components, was challenging", notes Steingrund, "but a necessary first step to understand and describe the ecosystem. This work has pushed our institute to gather all available pieces in the big puzzle of the Faroese ecosystem. And some of these are now presented in the overview". 

Larsen says they hope that the Ministry of Fisheries and politicians as well as other stakeholders will now use it. "It will hopefully also be useful for stakeholders with regards to e.g. Marine Stewardship Council work. It will certainly be very helpful for people that are not familiar with the ecoregion." 

"The Faroes ecoregion now has all three overviews: ecosystem, fisheries, and aquaculture", Eliasen states, "We hope that it will help politicians and managers in general". ​

Ecosystem-based management

Colm Lordan, Advisory Committee (ACOM) Chair states that the overviews are an important product within our ecosystem-based management approach. “The Ecosystem Overviews synthesise the current state of knowledge on ecosystem features, processes, and dynamics which is extremely useful context for advice users. This overview represents a significant step towards our mission to be knowledge and advice providers for ecosystem-based management (EBM) and sustainable use of our marine ecosystems”

The overview provides a comprehensive look at all aspects of the Faroes ecosystem. Here we take a look at some of the key signals.


Fishing is not the economic powerhouse of the past but still contributes about 10% of the Faroes GDP. Employment in the fishing industry is half what it was 40 years ago. To protect important fish habitat and biodiversity, more than 60% of the Faroe Plateau is now closed to bottom fishing activities either seasonally or year-round. However, fisheries still represent the main human pressure in the ecoregion with several stocks fished above FMSY (cod, haddock, ling, golden redfish, Norwegian spring-spawning herring, blue whiting, and mackerel). This may change in the future as aquaculture and offshore renewable energy industries are expected to increase in activity, along with shipping and tourism. Aquaculture in particular, has become an important industry in the Faroe Islands, and the region is seen as a global leader. While the increased operating costs of trawlers and ensuring the sustainability of jointly shared fish stocks has reduced the fishing industry, salmon production has remained profitable due to the absence of major diseases and a concurrently growing international market demand. ​

Climate change

Climate change has resulted in warmer sea-surface temperatures and possibly the disruption of the covariation of salinity and temperature of the major circulating surface currents in the ecoregion. Since 1920, sea-surface temperature has increased by 0.7°C. These warmer surface temperatures may result in the reduction of the fat content of the key forage fish, sand eel, which may in turn likely induce cascading effects to higher trophic levels. Going forward, climate-derived changes will likely result in increasing stratification with a further reduction in nutrients because of decreasing overturning of deep nutrient‑rich water. ​​

​Read the full Faroes ecoregion Ecosystem Overview online. View an interactive diagram that provides the different linkages between human activities and pressures, and how these affect key ecosystem components. The supporting Report of the Workshop for the production of the Ecosystem Overview of the Faroes Ecoregion (WKEOF) ​can also be viewed in our library.​


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What are Ecosystem Overviews?​

We must assess the impact of human pressures on the marine ecosystem - from the coasts to the deep sea, monitoring trends in species and habitat diversity - if we are to manage how human activities affect our seas and oceans. 

Ecosystem Overviews are one of ICES' key products that identify human activities and resulting pressures. Describing the current state of regional ecosystems, ICES Ecosystem Overviews explain how these pressures affect key ecosystem components at a regional level. Presenting the main human activities in a region creates awareness of their distribution and the resultant pressure on the environment and ecosystems across ICES regions.

The strength of the overviews lies in the quality of the data and information provided, based on contributions from a large number of expert groups within ICES community. The overviews are developed with the most up-to-date knowledge available to the scientific community, but they also inform where knowledge is lacking, alerting to situations that need further attention and where effort is needed to close the gap.

ICES ecoregions

ICES provides advice by ecoregion, allowing for further development of an ecosystem approach in European waters.

​​​​​​​​​​The ecore​g​ions​ set the boundaries for monitoring of the ecosystem and the context for providing the evidence for regional managers engaged in decision-making. They are based on biogeographic and oceanographic features and existing political, social, economic, and management divisions.​

ICES provides ecosystem overviews for twelve ecoregions covering the entire North: Barents Sea, Norwegian Sea, Icelandic Waters, Greater North Sea, Baltic Sea, Celtic Sea, Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast, Oceanic Northeast Atlantic, Azores, Central Arctic Ocean, Greenland Sea, and the Faroes.
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New Faroes Ecosystem Overview published

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