International Council for the Exploration of the Sea
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Greater North Sea ecoregion – fisheries overview

posted on 2022-12-07, 13:13 authored by ICESICES

Around 6600 fishing vessels are active in the Greater North Sea. Total landings peaked in the 1970s at 4 million tonnes and have since declined to about 2 million tonnes. Total fishing effort has declined substantially since 2003. Pelagic fish landings are greater than demersal fish landings. Herring and mackerel, caught using pelagic trawls and seines, account for the largest portion of the pelagic landings, while sandeel and haddock, caught using otter trawls/seines, account for the largest fraction of the demersal landings. Catches are taken from more than 100 stocks. Discards are highest in the demersal and benthic fisheries. The spatial distribution of fishing gear varies across the Greater North Sea. Static gear is used most frequently in the English Channel, the eastern part of the Southern Bight, the Danish banks, and in the waters east of Shetland. Bottom trawls are used throughout the North Sea, with lower use in the shallower southern North Sea, where beam trawls are most commonly used. Pelagic gears are used throughout the North Sea.

In terms of weight of catch, fish stocks harvested from the North Sea are being fished at levels consistent with achieving good environmental status (GES) under the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive; however, the reproductive capacity of the stocks has not generally reached this level. Almost all the fisheries in the North Sea catch more than one species; controlling fishing on one species therefore affects other species as well. ICES has developed a number of scenarios for fishing opportunities that take account of these technical interactions. Each of these scenarios results in different outcomes for the fish stocks. Managers may need to take these scenarios into account when deciding upon fishing opportunities. Furthermore, biological interactions occur between species (e.g. predation), and fishing on one stock may affect the population dynamics of another. Scenarios that take account of these various interactions can be used to evaluate the possible consequences of policy decisions. The greatest physical disturbances of the seabed caused by fishing activity in the North Sea is caused by mobile bottom-contacting gear in the eastern English Channel, in nearshore areas in the southeastern North Sea and in the central Skagerrak. Incidental bycatches of protected, endangered, and threatened species occur in several North Sea fisheries, and the bycatch of common dolphin in the western English Channel may be unsustainable in terms of population.

Supporting data used in the Greater North Sea fisheries overview is accessible at 



ICES Advice: Fisheries overviews

Recommended citation

ICES. 2022. Greater North Sea ecoregion – fisheries overview In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2022. ICES Advice 2022, section 9.2.