Plaice

Pleuronectes platessa

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

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

The plaice stock in the Eastern English Channel is in a good state, and fishing pressure is at sustainable limits. A single catch limit covers both eastern and western English Channel plaice, and while total catches of eastern Channel plaice seem to be in line with advice, catches of western Channel plaice seem to exceed advice, indicating that the current management measures are allowing overfishing. 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 lower size limit for plaice. Unwanted catches are high - out of 6,826 tonnes caught in 2018, 2,846t (42%) was unwanted catch. In 2017 this figure was 52%.

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

Stock Area

English Channel: East

Stock information

The plaice stock in the Eastern English Channel is in a good state, and fishing pressure is at sustainable limits.

The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) increased rapidly from below Blim in 2010, following a period of high recruitment between 2009 and 2015, and in 2018 was 41,845t, still well above the MSY Btrigger (25,826t). This is despite a decline from 54,787t in 2016. SSB in 2019 is expected to be similar, at 41,483t. Fishing mortality (F) has declined since the early 2000s, falling to below FMSY in 2010 and recently increasing to 0.23 in 2018, still slightly below FMSY (0.25). Recruitment is currently around the average of the last 10 years.

ICES advises that when the EU multiannual plan (MAP) for the Western Waters is applied, catches in 2020 that correspond to the F ranges are between 6,545 tonnes and 12,029 tonnes. According to the MAP, catches higher than those corresponding to FMSY (9,073 tonnes) can only be taken under conditions specified in the MAP, whilst the entire range is considered precautionary when applying the ICES advice rule. This advice is a 15.9% increase on the previous year, owing to higher expected SSB.

There is some uncertainty in the assessment owing to immigration of the stock from the western Channel and the North Sea during the spawning period. Assuming the same proportion of the western Channel and the North Sea plaice stocks is taken in the eastern Channel as during 2003-2018, total catches in the eastern Channel of plaice of all stocks in 2020 should be between 7,710 tonnes and 14,170 tonnes.

Management

Criterion score: 0.5 info

This stock is covered by the EU’s Western Waters Multi Annual management Plan (MAP). A single TAC covers both eastern and western English Channel plaice, so scientific advice is that management should ensure that fishing opportunities are in line with the stock status for each stock, to ensure that both are exploited sustainably. Total catches of eastern Channel plaice stock seem to be in line with advice. However, catches of western Channel plaice stock seem to exceed advice, indicating that the combined TAC is allowing overfishing.


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: 0.75 info

In 2018, 41% of the catch was by beam trawl, 39% by otter trawl and 5.4% by trammel nets.

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 6,826 tonnes caught in 2018, 2,846t (42%) was unwanted catch. In 2017 this figure was 52%.

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 (Caught at sea)
Turbot (Farmed)

References

EU, 2018. Regulation 2018/973 establishing a multiannual plan for demersal stocks in the North Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32018R0973&from=EN [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

ICES, 2018. Report of the Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak (WGNSSK), 24 April - 3 May 2018, Oostende, Belgium. ICES CM 2018/ACOM: 22pp. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/acom/2018/WGNSSK/01-WGNSSK%20Report%202018.pdf [Accessed on 02.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) in Division 7.d (eastern English Channel). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, ple.27.7d, doi: 10.17895/ices.advice.4871. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/ple.27.7d.pdf [Accessed on 12.07.2019].

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP). FishSource profile: European plaice Eastern English Channel. Available at https://www.fishsource.org/stock_page/1749 [Accessed [12.07.2019].