Gurnard, Grey

Eutrigla gurnardus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea, Eastern English Channel and Skagerrak and Kattegat
Stock detail — 3a, 4, 7d
Picture of Gurnard, Grey

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: November 2019.

Gurnards are non-quota species and are often discarded due to low market demand. Grey gurnard is taken as bycatch in industrial trawl fisheries, e.g. sandeel fisheries. More research is needed to obtain a better understanding of the impact of fishing on the stock and provide information for its sustainable management. While fishing pressure is assessed to be at a sustainable level, biomass has recently sharply decreased, which is of concern. There is no specific management in place for this stock, including no catch limits, which is of concern for such a data limited species. No minimum landing size or seasonal closures are in place, so avoid eating immature fish (less than 24cm) and fresh (not previously frozen) fish caught during the spawning season (April-August).

Biology

Gurnards belong to a group of fish known collectively as Triglidae (sea robins). Grey gurnard occurs in the eastern Atlantic from Iceland, Norway, southern Baltic, and North Sea to southern Morocco, and Madeira Islands. It is also found in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. In the North Sea and in Skagerrak/Kattegat, grey gurnard is an abundant demersal species. They have a strong seasonal migration throughout the North Sea. It forms dense semi-pelagic aggregations in winter to the northwest of the Dogger Bank; in summer, grey gurnard are more widespread. The species is less abundant in the English Channel, the Celtic Sea, and in the Bay of Biscay. Although an offshore species, grey gurnard is occasionally found in shallow water. They spawn from April to August in deep water. The maximum life span rarely exceeds 6 years. They can attain a length of 45 cm, but are usually around 30 cm. Sexually mature at a length of about 18 cm and an age of 3 years (males) and about 24 cm and 4 years (females).Gurnards are able to grunt or growl by the use of muscles associated with the swim bladder, and this is believed to aid in keeping schools together.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Stock Area

North Sea, Eastern English Channel and Skagerrak and Kattegat

Stock information

This is a somewhat data-limited stock, with no reference points to indicate whether biomass is at a sustainable level. A sharp decline since 2017 indicates there could be concern for the biomass. Fishing pressure is currently below the proxy for maximum sustainable yield. Grey gurnard has a medium resilience to fishing pressure.

The biomass index of grey gurnard increased from 1998 to peak in 2000, and has since fluctuated at a high level. However, in 2018 it dropped below the recent long term average to the lowest level since 1996, indicating there could be concern for the stock. ICES’s North Sea Working Group indicates that the 2019 biomass was only slightly higher. In 2015 and 2016 fishing pressure was just above the proxy for FMSY, which is the based on the mean length of the catch (22cm). Higher mean lengths indicate lower fishing pressure. In 2017 and 2018 it was below FMSY proxy, at around 24cm. There is more confidence in the 2017 figure than for the two previous years, therefore it seems likely that fishing pressure is at sustainable levels.

ICES was not requested to provide advice on fishing opportunities for this stock in 2019 and 2020.

Before 2012, only official landings data were available for this stock. These are not reliable. For example, the Netherlands did not report grey gurnard before 2000, and many countries reported gurnards as a ‘gurnard mix’ only. Discard estimates are also only available from 2012 onwards. It appears that landings are increasing, and discards make up the vast majority of total catches (80% of 2017 catch was discarded, 13% landed as bycatch from industrial fisheries and 6% landed from demersal seines and trawlers).

No studies are known of the stock identity of grey gurnard. In a pragmatic approach for advisory purposes, and in order to facilitate addressing ecosystem considerations, the population is currently split among three ecoregions: North Sea including eastern English Channel, Celtic Seas, and South European Atlantic. Very few catches come from the latter two areas.

Management

Criterion score: 0.5 info

There is currently no management for any of the gurnard species in the EU, e.g. no minimum landing size, and no regulations on effort, gear, or closed seasons (e.g. for spawning). Species misidentification continues to be a major problem in estimating the landings of all gurnards, including grey gurnard. In 2019 and 2020 no catch advice was requested, but it would appear that fishing pressure in 2017 and 2018 has been below FMSY.

Grey gurnard in the North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat and Eastern English Channel is not a targeted stock, but is mainly caught as bycatch by the industrial fisheries, although when landed it is for human consumption. It is also caught in demersal fisheries for species such as cod and haddock. Reporting at a species level has improved since 2012, allowing estimations of landings, but some are still reported as ‘mixed gurnards’ (e.g. Germany and England). No Total Allowable Catch has been set for grey gurnard in this area, and ICES was not requested to provide advice on fishing opportunities for this stock in 2019 and 2020. ICES did provide advice in 2017 and 2018, suggesting maximum total catches (including discards) of 8,813 tonnes. Actual catch in 2017 was over 17,000 tonnes, 80% of which was discarded. This is the highest catch since the very high levels in the 1990s and coincides with a sharp decline in stock biomass in that year. In 2018, catch was 11,419 tonnes, of which 89% was discarded. However, in 2017 and 2018 fishing pressure was assessed to be below Maximum Sustainable Yield, suggesting that these high catches are not of concern. Discards only occur in the human consumption fisheries, owing to low market value. Data is limited - in 2017, discard information was provided for 15% of the total landings.

This is a very data limited species, with poor understanding of stock distribution and trends. The EU Landings Obligation doesn’t apply to this stock, as it is not subject to catch limits. There is no Minimum Conservation Reference Size set for this species.

During winter, grey gurnard occasionally form dense aggregations just above the sea bed (or even in midwater, especially during night time) which may result in extremely large catches. Within one survey, these large hauls can account for 70% or more of the total catch of all species.


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

Grey gurnard is mainly discarded in the bottom trawl fishery for roundfish and flatfish and taken as bycatch in the industrial fishery for sandeel and sprat. In 2017, 67% of landings were industrial bycatch, and 32% by demersal trawls and seines. Only 20% of the total catch was landed, however: the remainder was discarded. Most landings are by Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, and Norway. Most catches are from the North Sea, with a small amount from Skagerrak and Kattegat and a very small amount from the eastern English Channel.

Grey gurnard is an important predator of cod, and the increase in abundance of grey gurnard led to an increase in mortality of North Sea cod (age-0) and whiting (age-0 and age-1) in recent years. It is estimated that grey gurnard can cause up to 50% of the predation mortality on 0-group cod and whiting.

There is a potential for damage to seabed by trawling. Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species.

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.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Haddock
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)
Tilapia

References

ICES. 2018. Grey gurnard (Eutrigla gurnardus) in Subarea 4 and divisions 7.d and 3.a (North Sea, eastern English Channel, Skagerrak and Kattegat). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2018. ICES Advice 2018, gug.27.3a47d. https:// doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.4432. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2018/2018/gug.27.3a47d.pdf [Accessed on 25.11.2019].

ICES. 2019. Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak (WGNSSK). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:7. 1271 pp. http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.5402. Available at https://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2019/WGNSSK/01%20WGNSSK%20Report%202019.pdf [Accessed on 25.11.2019].