Capture method — Beam trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — English Channel (West)
Stock detail — 7e
Updated: July 2020.
The plaice stock in the Western 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. There are a number of Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species found in the Celtic Seas, including the Western Channel, that could be impacted by bottom trawling and gillnetting, including sharks and cetaceans. Beam trawling, especially using chain-mat gear, is more damaging to the seabed than otter trawling as it is a heavy gear that is designed for trawling over rough grounds.
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.
Criterion score: 0.25 info
The plaice stock in the Western English Channel is in a good state. Fishing mortality (F) declined substantially after 2007, but has increased again since 2015 and in 2019 it was 0.58 – above the proxy for FMSY (0.48), but below the value for Flim (1.78) and Fpa (1.27). The spawning-stock biomass (SSB) has increased substantially since 2008, and in 2019 was 1.63, well above the proxy for MSY Btrigger (0.67). However, it has been decreasing since 2016 and is projected to be 1.49 in 2020. Recruitment has been in continuous decline since 2015 and is below the long-term geometric mean since 2017.
ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches of the Western Channel plaice stock in 2021 should be no more than 2177 tonnes. This is a decrease on last year’s advice by 20% due to a decline in the stock index, however, as the precautionary buffer has been applied in 2019 for the 2020 advice, it has not been applied again this year.
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.e) does not correspond with the management unit (Divisions 7.d and 7.e), and this hampers the effective management of plaice in the Western English Channel. This stock (7.e) is the smaller of the two plaice stocks that make up the larger total allowable catch (TAC) area (7.d-e). The official landings from this stock amounted to 15% of the TAC in 2019. 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.
In this area, there is a mixed fishery for sole and plaice and the two stocks are dominant commercially caught species. The catch advice for plaice was a reduction by 25% for 2020 compared to 2019 and another 20% for 2021 compared to 2020 (preliminary). However, for sole, the catch advice increased by 16% (2020 vs. 2019) and 30% (preliminary, 2021 vs. 2020). Therefore, there are contrasting changes recommended for sole and plaice by ICES which could lead to higher catches including discards of plaice which should be closely monitored and might cause a negative trend for plaice stock.
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).
Criterion score: 0.75 info
In 2019, 74% of the landings were taken by beam trawls, 19% by otter trawls, 3.4% by gillnets and 3.3% by other gear types.
Plaice is mainly caught as bycatch in the sole fishery, which uses 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. The approximate size at which 50% of females mature or first spawn is around 30-34cm. The discard rate was estimated to be 17.5% in 2019. The landing obligation is being phased in between 2019 and 2021 for plaice in the western Channel, with a discard plan to allow some discarding to take place. Plaice can be discarded from trammel nets and otter trawls owing to high rates of survival when caught by these gears.
There are a number of endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species found in the Celtic Seas, including the Western Channel, including basking sharks, commons skates and spurdog. These can be vulnerable to demersal trawling. Other potentially impacted species and habitats in the Southwest UK include the pink sea fan Eunicella verrucosa, which is listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN. Reduced feeding success and growth rates of benthivorous fish are potential secondary effects of trawling impacts, which has been observed for European plaice in gravel substrates in the Celtic Sea. Trawling in the Celtic Sea has also been associated with declining length-weight ratios for lemon sole, megrim and cod, implying that reduced prey availability imposed by trawling may lead to reduced carrying capacity, and these effects may compromise recovery of threatened stocks and ecosystems.
Beam trawling, especially using chain-mat gear, is damaging to the seabed and known to have a significant impact on the benthic communities, although less so on soft substrates. Compared to North Sea beam trawlers, English Channel beam trawlers tend to be smaller (usually under 24m) and their gear configuration reduces fuel consumption and impact on the seabed. Look for vessels which are involved in the “Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme” for assurance of scientific co-operation, better environmental practices and experimentation with Benthic Release Panels to reduce impact to bottom dwelling species. Benthic drop-out panels release about 75% of benthic invertebrates from the catches.
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)
Sole, Dover sole, Common sole
ReferencesEU. 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. http://data.europa.eu/eli/reg/2019/472/oj. [Accessed on 14.07.2020].
ICES. 2017. Report of the Workshop to consider FMSY ranges for stocks in ICES categories 1 and 2 in Western Waters (WKMSYREF4), 13–16 October 2015, Brest, France. ICES CM 2015/ACOM:58. 187 pp. https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.5348. [Accessed on 14.07.2020].
ICES. 2020. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). Draft report. ICES Scientific Reports. 2:40. Xx pp. http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.5978. Publication of the full report is expected end of 2020. [Accessed on 14.07.2020].
ICES. 2020. Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) in Division 7.e (west English Channel). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, ple.27.7e. https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5874. [Accessed on 14.07.2020].
Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP). FishSource profile: European plaice Eastern English Channel. Available at https://www.fishsource.org/stock_page/ [Accessed on 14.07.2020].