Four new ICES Fisheries Overviews released

Bay of Biscay and Iberian coast, Barents Sea, Icelandic Sea, and Norwegian Sea ecoregions now covered.
Published: 29 November 2019

​​​​​ICES fisheries overviews portfolio has expanded with the release of four new overviews covering the Barents Sea, Norwegian Sea, Icelandic Sea, and the Bay of Biscay and Iberian coast, as well as updates of the North Sea and Celtic Seas overviews. This release also gives mixed-fisheries a more prominent position in the overviews.

What is a fisheries overview?​​

A fisheries overview is advice that provides a summary of the fishing activity and impacts within an ecoregion. Over the past two years, ICES has published fisheries overviews for the Greater North Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Celtic Seas.

Each overview gives a historical perspective and landings over time since the 1950s, as well as contemporary information on national fleets, recent fishing effort trends, the composition of their catches, and the gears and methods used. The overviews also highlight stock management and the current status of resources and longer term trends, including information on stocks relative to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and the precautionary approach. 

The wider effects of fishing activity on the ecosystem are also described – such as trawling's impact on the seabed, and bycatch of other fish species and protected seabird and marine mammal species. This marks a continuation by ICES to embed its fisheries advice in the context of ecosystem based management.

New ecoregions

In the Icelandic Waters ecoregion, about 1700 vessels are in operation - mainly Icelandic but vessels from Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands are also allowed to fish within the Icelandic EEZ. Catches are taken from over 40 stocks. The fishing effort has declined over the past 20 years for both pelagic and demersal and therefore demersal biomass is increasing.

There are currently 12 nations with fisheries targeting the stocks in the Barents Sea ecoregion which covers the shelf sea to the north of Norway and Russia. The largest pelagic fishery targets capelin using midwater trawl. The largest demersal fisheries target cod, haddock, and other gadoids. The cod stock, while decreasing, remains large. The Barents Sea haddock stock is also in good condition, although biomass is also decreasing.

In the Norwegian Sea ecoregion, Norway and the Russian Federation are responsible for the largest landings, followed by the Faroe Islands and Iceland, all mainly pelagic fisheries. The pelagic fisheries, using purse seine and pelagic trawls, account for the largest catches by weight and target herring, blue whiting, mackerel, and other pelagic species. The largest demersal fishery targets cod, haddock, and saithe using trawls, purse seine, and gillnets. ​The annual catch in the ecoregion has varied from 700,000 tonnes to almost 1 million tonnes.​​

Per Arneberg, Institute of Marine Reseach, Norway,  has noted that, "With the publication of fisheries overviews for the Barents and Norwegian Seas, broad information about the largest fisheries in Norwegian waters is now easily available. This will benefit various management processes and be of great interest for the significant proportion of the general public in Norway that is interested in the development of the fishery industry.​​​"

The Bay of Biscay and Iberian coast has a diverse and spatially varied fishing industry with vessels mainly from Spain, Portugal, and France but also Ireland, Belgium, and UK, While the most common gear used in the area are bottom trawls which target demersal species, the highest landings are taken by midwater trawls mainly targeting species such as blue whiting, mackerel, and to a lesser extent species such as sardine.

All overviews explore the impacts of fishing on the ecosystem beyond the removal of biomass, including bycatch of protected, endangered, and threatened species, abrasion, ghost fishing, damage to benthic fauna by demersal trawling. In all ecosystems, several regulatory and research efforts are in place or are being developed, to reduce the impact of fishing on the ecosystem.

Mixed-fisheries considerations

Mixed-fisheries present a challenge for sustainable management of individual fish stocks. Fisheries managers and stakeholders need to understand the various interactions: who is catching what species with what gears and in what areas. 

Mixed-fisheries considerations are included in the new Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast fisheries overview and the updated North Sea and Celtics Seas overviews. Within these considerations, the presentation of various scenarios illustrate the tradeoffs involved in moving from single stock management to mixed fisheries management.

Benefits to users

Kristin Kleisner, Senior Scientist, Oceans, Environmental Defense Fund is pleased with the geographical expansion of the overviews. “ICES Fisheries Overviews are extremely helpful for fisheries scientists, managers, policy-makers, fishermen, and other interested parties to quickly locate and understand key information in regions around the Northeast Atlantic. Such information includes historical and current trends in fisheries landings and effort, management changes, and ecosystem considerations. The expansion of these overviews to Icelandic Waters, the Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea, and the Bay of Biscay and Iberian Coast will provide useful baselines, particularly as changes in species' distributions and abundance occur with climate change.“ 

A bigger picture 

The seven fisheries overviews follow the development of our Ecosystem Overviews, also available for these seven ecoregions (ecosystem overviews for the Oceanic Northeast Atlantic and Azores are set to be published in December 2019).

"ICES single stock advice address how much you can take of a stock  next year in accordance with the agreed management objectives, but it doesn't say anything about how they are being taken, by whom and how it impacts the ecosystem. The fisheries overviews address this by ecoregion while our ecosystem overviews put the fishing activities into the context of the trends and status of the marine ecosystem as a whole," explains the Chair of ICES Advisory Committee (ACOM) Mark Dickey-Collas.  

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Four new ICES Fisheries Overviews released

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