Plaice

Pleuronectes platessa

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — English Channel (East)
Stock detail — 7d
Picture of Plaice

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020.

The plaice stock in the Eastern English Channel is in a good state, and fishing pressure is just above sustainable levels (FMSY). A single catch limit is in place for both Eastern and Western English Channel plaice. Plaice is caught in a mixed fishery targeting sole, with 80mm mesh size. This leads to a large number of plaice being discarded because this mesh size is not matched to the lower size limit for plaice. Demersal trawling has been found to affect the ecosystem functioning, both in terms of diversity, size structure and biomass of the benthic communities, as well as the physical habitat structure. In the Eastern Channel, scars related to bottom trawling are difficult to identify due to predominant sandy sediments.

Biology

Plaice is a bottom-dwelling flatfish. It spawns in the early months of the year (January to March) and sometimes makes long spawning migrations. North Sea plaice reach between 35 and 45 cm in their 6th year. It is a long-lived species, becoming sexually mature at 3-7 years (females) 2-6 (males) and living 30 years or more. Maximum reported age 50 years.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0 info

Plaice stock in the Eastern English Channel is in a good state, and fishing pressure is at sustainable levels.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) increased rapidly from below Blim in 2010, following a period of high recruitment between 2009 and 2015, and in 2020 was 38,830 tonnes, still well above MSY Btrigger (25,826 tonnes). This is despite a decline from 54,534 tonnes in 2016 and SSB now appears to be increasing again. SSB in 2021 is expected to be similar, at 38,191 tonnes.

Fishing mortality (F) declined from the early 2000s, falling to below FMSY (0.25) in 2010. In recent years, it has started increasing again and in 2020, F is just above FMSY (0.3). Recruitment for 2020 is around average of the last 10 years, however, recruitment in 2019 was the highest in the time series.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for the Western Waters is applied, catches in 2021 that correspond to the F ranges are between 6066 tonnes and 11,130 tonnes. According to the MAP, catches higher than those corresponding to FMSY (8402 tonnes) can only be taken under conditions specified in the MAP, whilst the entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule.

Management

Criterion score: 0.5 info

This stock is covered by the EU’s Western Waters Multi Annual management Plan (MAP). The stock unit (Division 7.d) does not correspond with the management unit (Divisions 7.d and 7.e), and this hampers the effective management of plaice in the Eastern English Channel. This stock (7.d) is the larger of the two plaice stocks that make up the larger total allowable catch (TAC) area (7.d-e). The combined catches of plaice in 7.d-e accounted for 50% of the TAC in 2019. The TAC for this management area has not always followed scientific advice for divisions 7.d and 7.e, in 2016 it was doubled compared to 2015 but it has been reduced in recent years.




The UK is due to leave the EU on 31st December 2020, and new UK Fisheries legislation is being developed during 2020. MCS will update ratings with new management information when new legislation comes into force.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

In 2018, 41% of the catch was by beam trawl, 39% by otter trawl and 5.4% by trammel nets. Catch percentages are not known for 2019.

Plaice is caught in a mixed fishery targeting sole, with 80 mm mesh size. This leads to a large number of plaice being discarded because this mesh size is not matched to the minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) of 27cm. Fixed nets, such as trammel nets, must have a minimum mesh size of 90mm.

This stock is under the EU landing obligation from 1 January 2019. Unwanted catches are high - out of 9047 tonnes caught in 2019, 6210 (69%) was unwanted catch. In 2018 this figure was 55%.

The impacts of demersal trawling on the benthic habitats have been extensively studied in European waters, particularly in the North Sea. Demersal trawling has been found to affect the ecosystem functioning, both in terms of diversity, size structure and biomass of the benthic communities, as well as the physical habitat structure. In the Eastern Channel, scars related to bottom trawling are difficult to identify due to predominant sandy sediments.

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Dab
Halibut, Atlantic (Farmed)
Megrim
Plaice
Sole, Dover sole, Common sole
Turbot (Farmed)

References

EU. 2019. Regulation (EU) 2019/472 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 March 2019 establishing a multiannual plan for stocks fished in the Western Waters and adjacent waters, and for fisheries exploiting those stocks, amending Regulations (EU) 2016/1139 and (EU) 2018/973, and repealing Council Regulations (EC) No 811/2004, (EC) No 2166/2005, (EC) No 388/2006, (EC) No 509/2007 and (EC) No 1300/2008. Official Journal of the European Union, L 83: 1–17. Available at http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg/2019/472/oj. [Accessed on 15.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. ICES Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak (WGNSSK).ICES Scientific Reports. 2:61. Available at http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.6092. [Accessed on 15.07.2020].

ICES. 2020. Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) in Division 7.d (eastern English Channel). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, ple.27.7d. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5873. [Accessed on 15.07.2020].

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP). FishSource profile: European plaice Eastern English Channel. Available at https://www.fishsource.org/stock_page/1749 [Accessed on 15.07.2020].