Fish and cephalopods

© Mike Hatfield. Unknown

Europe’s regional seas contain an enormous diversity of marine fish and cephalopod species with over 1.200 species in the North-east Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The highest diversity of fish species are found on the coast of Portugal, the archipelagos in Macaronesia and the western Mediterranean Sea, which are also the areas with the highest number of threatened species.

Overexploitation of commercial fish and shellfish stocks continues across Europe's seas. The fishing mortality rates (i.e. fishing pressure) and reproductive capacities (i.e. spawning stock biomass, or SSB) of all commercially exploited stocks across all EU marine regions need to be at levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020 as part of fulfilling the MSFD's 'good environmental status' (GES) objective for descriptor 3 on 'commercially exploited fish and shellfish'.  

However, 44.8 % of the assessed stocks do not meet those two GES criteria, although there are significant differences between regions. It should also be noted that, due to lack of data, it is only possible to assess 10.5 % of the exploited stocks against both of the criteria, and 39.3 % against at least one of them.

General outcomes of the regional assessments 

While 7% of the total European marine fish species are either threatened or declining there is evidence of improvement in proportion of large demersal fish in the Greater North Sea suggesting recovery by 2022 if current trends continue. More sensitive demersal species have shown a recovery in the Celtic Seas and typical lengths are increasing, suggesting higher proportion of mature individuals since 2010 in the Greater North Sea and Celtic Seas.

However, fish populations in the Black and Mediterranean Seas are under continuing pressure evident by declines in both recruitment levels and spawning stock biomass.

In the Mediterranean and the Black sea around 85% of the analysed stocks have been overfished. The situation is of greater concern for demersal fish, that experience higher mortality rates. For example, hake, a charismatic and economically important species in the Mediterranean, shows the highest fishing mortality with a rate that is on average 5 times higher than the target and reaches up to 12 times higher for some stocks. On the other hand, small pelagic fish show moderate fishing mortality rates close to the target or even below the target for some specific species.

In the Baltic Sea when considering abundance of key coastal species good status is more often reached in the northern and eastern parts of the Baltic Sea where perch is the key species, while in the western and southern areas, where flounder and cod is the key species, the status is more often not good.

Outcomes from the MSFD assessments

In 2018, Member States had to update the Good Environmental Status (GES) assessments performed under Marine Strategy Framework Directive Article 8. The present dashboard displays the overall status reported by countries for the features, where the results show which is the percentage of assessments where GES has been achieved, not achieved or is unknown or not assessed.