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Positive development in fish stocks, but lower quota recommendation

Published on
June 30, 2021

The main fish stocks for the Dutch fishery in the North Sea are in good shape, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). However, ICES advises reducing quotas to keep stocks healthy so that the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) target can be met in the long term. The European Council of Fisheries Ministers will set the new catch quotas for 2022 at the end of 2021. ICES' catch advice plays an important role in this.

ICES advises the European Commission on the maximum quantities of catch that can be realised within the agreed objectives of the European Fisheries Policy. Because of Brexit, an advice with MSY-bandwidths for all North Sea stocks is no longer given, just the MSY-advice.

North Sea sole on the rise

The adult North Sea sole stock is estimated at around 29,000 tonnes, but rises in one year from below the limit level to above the MSY target level. Although the 2018 year class is estimated to be slightly smaller than last year's, it is still very large. Since 1997, fishing pressure on this stock has declined sharply to MSY target level, where it is now. Based on the MSY approach, ICES advises a total catch of maximum 15,330 tonnes of sole in the North Sea.

Plaice stock stable around 1 million tons

The stock of plaice in the North Sea and Skagerrak fluctuates just below 1 million tonnes and is well above the MSY target level. Due to a stronger year class in 2019, which has been revised downwards in 2021, the stock will increase further in the coming years. The strong increase in the stock is mainly linked to the sharp decrease in fishing pressure. Since 2008, fishing pressure has fluctuated around the MSY target level. ICES recommends a total catch of 142,508 tonnes of plaice for the North Sea and Skagerrak based on the MSY approach.

Bycatch species show varied picture

ICES also gave catch advice for a number of species that are not among the main target species of Dutch fisheries but are of value as commercial bycatch in flatfish fisheries (turbot, brill, cod, whiting, sea bass).

Turbot healthy and stable stock

The turbot stock has been above the MSY target level since 2013, and is now estimated to be over 8,800 tonnes. Fishing pressure has been around the MSY target level for ten years. ICES recommends a total catch of up to 3,609 tonnes of turbot in the North Sea based on the MSY approach. According to ICES, the estimation of the turbot stock could be further improved by a targeted annual research survey in the North Sea. The Dutch fishery sector has taken up this challenge together with Wageningen Marine Research, and started a survey focused on turbot and brill in 2018.

Healthy situation for brill

For the stock of brill, there is insufficient data to carry out a comprehensive stock assessment. Brill is therefore a data-limited stock. The index, which is calculated on the basis of the catch success of Dutch beam trawlers, indicates that the stock has been declining since 2015. However, the stock has been above the MSY level since 2000. Fishing pressure is below the MSY target level and therefore at a healthy level. For data-limited stocks, ICES always advises using the precautionary approach. This means that a maximum of 1,878 tonnes of brill can be caught in 2022 in the North Sea, Kattegat, Skagerrak and in the English Channel. Brill and turbot are managed under a joint TAC. However, ICES advises management at the species level to avoid overexploitation of either species.

Revised perception of cod

The perception of the cod stock in 2021 has been revised downwards by an improvement in the calculation method. This takes into account the migration of cod to the area north of Scotland. As a result of this change, ICES now estimates that the stock is well below the limit, with a sharp decline in size in recent years. This means that the stock has a reduced capacity to reproduce. It is estimated that there are around 38,000 tonnes of mature cod in the North Sea. Fishing pressure has decreased but is still higher than the MSY target level. Despite all the measures taken to reduce fishing pressure, the growth of the stock is hampered by low recruitment of young cod. This recruitment has been low since 1998. ICES advises a total catch of up to 14,276 tonnes of cod in the North Sea, Skagerrak and Eastern Channel based on the MSY approach.

Whiting increase and healthy stock

The whiting stock in the North Sea and Eastern Channel has been above the MSY target level for several years now. Fishing pressure has been below the MSY target level for almost twenty years. This MSY target level has been revised upwards in 2021 due to an improvement in the calculation methodology. The stock of adult whiting is estimated to be over 225,375 tonnes. ICES advises a total catch of 88,426 tonnes of whiting based on the MSY approach.

Sea bass just above limit

The sea bass stock in the southern and central North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, Bristol Channel and Celtic Sea has grown just above the limit level, and is estimated at 11,619 tonnes. Although fishing pressure has fallen sharply since 2013 and has been well below MSY for several years, this has resulted in only limited growth in the stock. Recruitment has been low since 2008, which is probably the reason for the lagging growth. ICES advises a total catch of 2,216 tonnes based on the MSY approach. For recreational fishery this translates into a catch of 583 tonnes.

Herring advice will follow in autumn

Because of additional analyses in the stock assessment of North Sea herring, the advice will follow in the autumn, together with other widespread pelagic species.

Advice by ICES

Researchers from Wageningen Marine Research presented ICES' fishery advice for the most important species for the Dutch sector to the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the fishing industry and civil society organisations on 30 June. Each year, ICES estimates the stocks and the level of fishing pressure and then advises the European Commission on how much should be fished in order to meet the targets of the Common Fisheries Policy. The aim of the European policy is to regulate fishing pressure so that the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is achieved. This is the fishing pressure that leads to the highest possible yield of a fish stock in the long term.

ICES has provided advice for more than twenty fish stocks in the North Sea. The European Commission makes catch agreements for a number of jointly managed stocks with Norway and, since Brexit, now also with the United Kingdom. Due to ongoing discussions, the quotas were not finalised until early June 2021.