Assessment of progress towards the achievement of Good Environmental Status for commercial fish and shellfish.

The extent to which Good Environmental Status has been achieved

The UK has achieved its aim of Good Environmental Status for some commercially exploited fish. In 2015, 53% of marine fish (quota) stocks were fished below maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Most national shellfish stocks have either not yet achieved Good Environmental Status or their status is uncertain.

The percentage of quota stocks fished below MSY and the proportion of marine fish spawning stock biomasses capable of producing MSY have increased significantly since 1990.

How progress has been assessed

Step 1: We agreed on characteristics of Good Environmental Status for commercially exploited fish and shellfish

In the Marine Strategy Part One (HM Government, 2012), the UK set out the following high-level, qualitative description of Good Environmental Status for commercially exploited fish and shellfish:

“The level of stock mortality generated by fishing activity (F) is equal to or lower than FMSY - the level capable of producing maximum sustainable yield (MSY). The spawning stock biomass is within safe biological limits and, all stocks are sustainably fished.”

Step 2: We set targets to assess the extent that the Good Environmental Status was achieved

The following targets were adopted in the Marine Strategy Part One (HM Government, 2012):

  1. Fishing Mortality: The exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species at least at levels which can produce maximum sustainable yield. This exploitation rate shall be achieved by 2015 where possible, and no later than 2020 for all stocks. The exploitation rate of each stock is either at or below FMSY, or within the range of plausible fishing mortalities consistent with FMSY. Where data does not allow FMSY, or FMSY proxies, to be calculated exploitation of each stock will be based on the precautionary approach with limits defined by agreed proxies for sustainable exploitation.
  2. Reproductive Capacity of the Stock: The reproductive capacity of the stock shall be maintained at, or above levels that will support the long-term exploitation of stocks at fishing maximum sustainable yield, as indicated by spawning stock biomass of all stocks being above the precautionary reference point for spawning stock biomass (known as ‘Bpa’).

Step 3: We set up indicators to assess progress against the targets

To assess progress against these targets, we set up two indicators, which use data and information collected though the UK implementation of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (European Commission, 2013).The data are processed through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) stock assessments, which provide estimates of Spawning Stock Biomass (known as ‘SSB’) and fishing mortality (known as ‘F’) along with reference levels consistent with maximum sustainable yield (known as ‘MSY’).

Step 4: We assessed the results of the monitoring programmes

Monitoring program results were assessed to show whether the improved management measures are working.

Progress since 2012

In 2015, an extensive programme of measures designed to address the impacts of commercial fishing is set out in the UK Marine Strategy Part Three (HM Government, 2015):

Outstanding issues

Stock assessments are limited by current data collection. Without expanding the monitoring of some stocks, particularly shellfish, their assessment status may remain “unknown”. Full analytical assessments (including reference points) were not available at the time of reporting for many shellfish stocks, and these were considered unknown in the analyses. Nevertheless, stock assessments are conducted for scallop stocks around Scotland and are being developed for other areas.

Achievement of targets

Progress towards the targets proposed in 2012 (HM Government, 2012) has been demonstrated for marine fish (quota) stocks:

  • Marine fish (quota) stocks demonstrated recovery of reproductive capacity and reductions in fishing pressure in all areas over the period.
  • The proportion of stocks fished at or below FMSY (the level capable of producing maximum sustainable yield) increased as follows: in the Greater North Sea from 17% in 1990 to 50% in 2015, in the Celtic Sea from 6% in 1990 to 52% in 2015 and for the six widely distributed stocks that straddle marine regions from 33% in 1990 to 67% in 2015.
  • The proportion of stocks with spawning stock biomass at or above the reference level increased as follows: in the Greater North Sea from 33% in 1990 to 61% in 2016, in the Celtic Sea from 21% in 1990 to 52% in 2016 and for the six widely distributed stocks that straddle marine regions from 50% in 1990 to 67% in 2016.

National shellfish stocks were largely of unknown status.

Indicators used to assess targets

Photographic credits: Reproductive capacity © Andy Lawler.

A total of 57 marine quota-fish stocks (including Nephrops stock units) and 59 national shellfish stocks of UK interest in the North East Atlantic Ocean were included in the assessment of indicators. Indicators for quota-fish stocks are based on the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea stock assessment outputs for internationally managed stocks. Indicators for national shellfish stocks are based on stock assessment outputs from national laboratories (Marine Scotland Science and the Centre for the Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science). A summary of indicator assessments is given in Table 1.

Table 1. Summary of indicator assessments. The year of assessment is given in brackets for the target evaluations. FMSY is defined as: “fishing mortality consistent with achieving maximum sustainable yield”; Btrigger is defined as: “a biomass reference point that triggers a cautious response within the ICES MSY framework” (definitions from ICES).

Indicator

Quota Fish

National Shellfish

% Target Met

Trend

% Target Met

Trend

Commercial fishing pressure for stocks of UK interest

53% (2015)

long term positive trend toward a greater proportion of quota-fish stocks fished at or below FMSY

2% (2015)

trend towards decreasing the number of stocks with unknown status

Reproductive capacity of commercially exploited stocks of UK interest

56% (2016)

long term positive trend toward a greater proportion of quota-fish stocks with spawning stock biomass at or above MSY Btrigger

unknown

unknown

Moving forward

Indicator targets will be made consistent with multi-annual plans that are adopted for commercial fish stocks. We will seek to improve stock assessments for national stocks, where resources allow, in particular for key commercial shellfish stocks in English waters such as scallops, crabs and lobsters and their MSY reference levels.  As the science develops we will work with other countries to establish the feasibility of setting threshold values to show whether the age and size distribution of individuals in the populations of commercially-exploited species is indicative of a healthy population.

References

Acknowledgements

European Commission (1998) Council Regulation (EC) No 850/98 of 30 March 1998 for the conservation of fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juveniles of marine organisms’ (viewed on 23 November 2018)

European Commission (2004) ‘Commission Regulation (EC) No 1954/2004 of 11 November 2004 concerning tenders notified in response to the invitation to tender for the import of sorghum issued in Regulation (EC) No 238/2004 (viewed on 23 November 2018)

European Commission (2013) ‘Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), amending Council Regulations (EC) No 1954/20003 and (EC) No 1224/2009 and repealing Council Regulations (EC) No 2371/2002 (viewed on 22 November 2018)

HM Government (1967) ‘Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967’ (viewed on 23 November 2018)

HM Government (1984) ‘Inshore Fishing (Scotland) Act 1984’ (viewed on 23 November 2018)

HM Government (2000) ‘Undersized Edible Crabs Order 2000’ (viewed on 23 November 2018)

HM Government (2012) ‘Marine Strategy Part One: UK Initial Assessment and Good Environmental Status’ (viewed on 5 July 2018)

HM Government (2012) ‘Shetland Islands Regulated Fishery (Scotland) Order 2012’ (viewed on 23 November 2018)

HM Government (2015) ‘Marine Strategy Part Three: UK Programme of Measures’ December 2015 (viewed on 5 July 2018)

HM Government (2018) ‘Statutory Guidance. Landing obligation general requirements 2018 (viewed on 23 November 2018)