Plaice

Pleuronectes platessa

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Beam trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Celtic Sea South, southwest of Ireland
Stock detail — 7h-k
Picture of Plaice

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

Default red rating: This stock has been in a poor state since 2002, and fishing mortality has been above sustainable levels since 1993. There is no recovery plan to return the stock to sustainable levels. Discards are significant, but not fully quantified, so total catch is unknown. Current management measures are not enough to recover the stock. Plaice are taken as a minor bycatch in a mixed fishery with sole. Restricting the landings by Total Allowable Catch is unlikely to reduce the catches, and effort restrictions and discard reduction would be more effective. The poor stock status and lack of recovery plan result in a Critical Fail for this rating.

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: Default red rating info

Stock Area

Celtic Sea South, southwest of Ireland

Stock information

This stock has been in a poor state since 2002, and fishing mortality has been consistently too high since 1993.

This is a data limited stock, so proxies are used for MSY BTrigger (1.74) and FMSY (0.35). Spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been well below Blim (1.25) since 2002, and in 2018 it was 0.31. Fishing mortality (F) is highly variable and has been above Flim (0.58) for the entire time-series. In 2018, F was 0.91. Recruitment has continuously declined since recording began in 1993. The apparent reduction in SSB since the early 2000s is mainly driven by a reduction in abundance of young fish in recent years and high fishing mortality. However, it is unclear whether this lack of young fish in the landings is due to increased discarding or poor recruitment.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, there should be zero catch in 2020 and 2021. This is because SSB is estimated to be well below Blim and is likely to remain so in 2020-2022.

Although the TAC is set for divisions 7h, j and k, the assessment is performed for 7 j-k only. This is driven by two main reasons: firstly, data were not historically available for 7h, and secondly, there are several hundred miles between the inshore 7j fishery and the 7h fishery. This distance would suggest that the 7h stock is likely to be part of the divisions 7e or 7f-g stocks (Western English Channel, Bristol Channel). A benchmark of the stock is necessary to assess this, but not scheduled until 2021.

Management

The EU multiannual plan (MAP) for stocks in the Western Waters and adjacent waters (EU, 2019) applies to bycatches of this stock. According to the MAP, bycatch species should be managed under the precautionary approach if scientific information is not available. The target is a less-than 5% probability of the stock falling below its lower limit (Blim) - which this stock is already well below and has been for years. Despite that, there is no recovery plan for this stock.

In 2017, catch advice was for up to 86 tonnes, and since 2018, advice has been for zero catch. However, TACs have been set at 128t in 2017 and 2018, and 109 tonnes in 2019. In 2019, this stock was given a bycatch quota, on the understanding that a bycatch reduction plan would be introduced as soon as possible. While the plans should have been finalised in April 2019, they are not yet (as of July 2019) in place. Landings have been below the TAC since 2015. Discards are significant, but not fully quantified, so total catch is unknown. There is a lack of young fish in the landings, but it is not clear whether this is owing to increased discarding or poor recruitment.

Plaice are taken as a minor bycatch in a mixed fishery. Restricting the landings by TAC is unlikely to reduce the catches, and effort restrictions and discard reduction would be more effective. The recently introduced square mesh panels will be unlikely to effect on catches of undersized plaice. An increase in mesh size could improve selection, but will also affect the catches of marketable fish.


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

2018 landings are not known, but are estimated at 97 tonnes. Of this, otter trawl accounted for 60%, and beam trawl, 29%. The assessed part of the fishery focusses mainly on division 7j, where Irish vessels operate close to shore on sandy grounds off the southwest of Ireland. Plaice landings are part of a mixed fishery, targeting sole, with plaice forming only a small component (<5%) of the overall landings per trip.

The minimum conservation reference size for plaice in EU waters is 27cm, whereas the size at which 50% of females mature or first spawn is around 30-34cm.

Trawling is associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species. The recently introduced square mesh panels will be unlikely to effect on catches of undersized plaice. An increase in mesh size could improve selection, but will also affect the catches of marketable fish. Trawling can also have impacts on the seabed.

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)
Halibut, Pacific
Megrim
Plaice
Sole, Dover sole, Common sole
Sole, Lemon
Turbot (Caught at sea)
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. Available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1554387217276&uri=CELEX:32019R0472 [Accessed on 12.07.2019].

ICES. 2019. Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:29. 1078 pp. doi: 10.17895/ices.pub.4982. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2019/WGCSE/01_WGCSE_2019.pdf [Accessed on 16.07.2019].

ICES, 2019. Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) in divisions 7.h-k (Celtic Sea South, southwest of Ireland). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, ple.27.7h-k, https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.4801. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/ple.27.7h-k.pdf [Accessed on 16.07.2019].