Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Celtic Sea, Bristol Channel
Stock detail — 7f, 7g
Updated: July 2020.
This stock appears to be in a good state, and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. There is a high amount of discarding taking place, as too many undersize individuals are caught as part of the fishery for sole. Better gear selectivity is needed. However, total allowable catches (TACs) now include an allowance for discarding, and TACs and total catches have been below the scientific advice. In 2019, landings exceeded discards for the first time since 2005. Beam trawling, which mostly operates on muddy seabeds, can have a high impact on benthic habitats. Demersal otter trawling is also an impactful method, but less so, concentrating on slightly less sensitive habitats.
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 info
The stock appears to be in a good state, and fishing pressure is within sustainable limits. This is data limited stock and proxies are used for biomass and fishing mortality.
Spawning-stock biomass (SSB) is estimated to have been increasing between 2005 and 2017 and began to decline in 2018 and 2019, however, it is still well above MSY Btrigger. It is suggested that the recent decline may be due to ongoing environmental changes. Recruitment to the fishery was relatively strong in 2019 so it is thought that further stock decline is unlikely. Fishing mortality (F) has been steadily declining from 2001 onwards and has been below the FMSY proxy (which is calculated as 1, and is the ratio of F to FMSY) since 2010. In 2020 it is estimated to be 0.23.
ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, catches in 2021 should be no more than 1911 tonnes. The application of the precautionary buffer was considered this year. However, as the fishing pressure is below and the stock size above possible reference points, no additional precautionary buffer was applied. The mean discard rate in 2015– 2019 was 55% of the total catch.
Criterion score: 0.5 info
Bristol Channel and Celtic Seas plaice is not covered by the EU’s Western Waters Multi Annual management Plan (MAP), which only covers plaice in the English Channel, so there is no management plan in place for this stock. It is difficult to predict fishing fleet behaviour, as plaice is a commercial species of a low value taken mostly as a bycatch to the sole fishery and to a lesser extent, to Nephrops.
Discards are very high - in 2018 the estimated landings were 422 tonnes, and estimated discards were 508 tonnes. In 2019, for the first time, landings exceeded discards. However, since 2014 Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and the actual catches (including discards) have been in line with advice. In 2019, TACs were increased to apply to both landings and discards.
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: 0.5 info
Catch in 2019 was 639 tonnes. Of this, 460 tonnes was wanted catch, with otter trawl accounting for 37% and beam trawl accounting for 60%.
Plaice is primarily a bycatch of the sole fishery, with discards of plaice owing to a mismatch in the selectivity properties of the gear (minimum mesh size 80mm) and the plaice minimum landing size (27cm, although the approximate size at which 50% of females mature or first spawn is 30-34cm). In addition, the relatively low market value of plaice may contribute to the high and variable discard rates. It is estimated that the survival rate of discarded plaice is around 40%. Changes in effort in the sole fishery will impact fishing mortality on plaice.
Demersal otter trawling is not a well-targeted fishing activity, and this fishery catches a wide variety of mixed demersal finfish, such as sole, lemon sole, plaice, monkfish, John dory and skates and rays. Smaller, demersal sharks are occasionally taken as bycatch in otter trawl fisheries such as Starry smooth-hound and spurdog. In addition, common skate can be taken as bycatch in offshore otter trawl fisheries. These elasmobranchs must be returned to the sea where they have a chance of survival. In this fishery, using 100 mm instead of 80 mm cod ends, both as conventional diamond and as a square configuration, can substantially reduce discards (around 70%) and improve survival of discarded fish without loss of commercial catch.
A number of areas are closed to fishing at certain times of the year, e.g. the Trevose box, an area of sea around 11,400 square miles extending from Trevose head in Cornwall to the Gower peninsular in South Wales from January - March. This is the spawning period for a number of demersal stocks, so while it is primarily intended to reduce catches of spawning cod, other stocks are likely to benefit. However, beam trawlers have been allowed to fish there since 2005.
Otter trawling can have significant habitat impacts, although it is mainly used on fishing grounds that are already subject to disturbance, e.g. shelf waters subject to tidal action, and therefore stays away from more sensitive areas. There are a number of MPAs in UK and EU waters, some of which are designated to protect benthic features. If those MPAs were found to be subjected to bottom trawling, MCS would consider it a default red rating unless there is evidence (e.g. environmental impact assessment) indicating the activity does not damage the integrity of the site.
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. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1554387217276&uri=CELEX:32019R0472 [Accessed on 16.07.2020].
ICES. 2020. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). Draft report. ICES Scientific Reports. 2:40. xx pp. Available at http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.5978. Publication of the full report is expected end of 2020. [Accessed on 16.07.2020.
ICES. 2020. Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) in divisions 7.f and 7.g (Bristol Channel, Celtic Sea). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, ple.27.7fg. Available at https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5872. [Accessed on 16.07.2020].
Seafish, 2018. RASS Profile: Plaice in the Celtic Sea, Beam trawl. Available at https://www.seafish.org/risk-assessment-for-sourcing-seafood/profile/plaice-in-the-celtic-sea-beam-trawl [Accessed on 16.07.2020].