Gurnard, Red

Aspitrigla cuculus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Demersal otter trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Northeast Atlantic (except Cornwall)
Stock detail — 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Picture of Gurnard, Red

Sustainability rating three info

Sustainability overview

Updated: November 2019.

Gurnards are non-quota species and are often discarded due to low market demand. Currently taken as bycatch in trawl fisheries, red gurnard is a fast growing fish which matures early at a large size. There is no detailed stock assessment for the species due to lack of data, and total catches are unknown. More research is needed to obtain a better understanding of the impact of fishing on the stock and provide information for its sustainable management especially if the species is to become commercially targeted. However, it appears that currently the stock is in a stable state and fishing pressure is not a cause for concern. There is no specific management in place, 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 25cm) and fresh (not previously frozen) fish caught during the spawning season (summer).


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: 0.25 info

This is a very data-limited stock, with no reference points for biomass or fishing pressure. Landings and abundance in recent years appear to be broadly stable, so there doesn’t appear to be concern for biomass or fishing pressure. Red gurnard has medium resilience to fishing pressure.

There is limited information to evaluate stock trends. Landings information is of limited use as several countries have reported landings of mixed gurnards”. Reporting at a species level has improved since 2006, and landings have been between 3,311 tonnes and 5,049 tonnes. Data on abundance come from a number of surveys in the stock area, each focussing on a specific area of red gurnard distribution. In the North Sea, there appears to be an increase in abundance. In the Eastern Channel, it is fluctuating widely, with a weak decline. In the Celtic Sea and Bay of Biscay there has been a small increase.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, landings should be no more than 2,894 tonnes in each of the years 2020 and 2021. Discarding is not fully quantified, so total catches could not be advised. For stocks with no indication of the fishing mortality in relation to proxies, and with no marked positive trends shown in stock indicators, ICES considers that a precautionary reduction of catches should be implemented every three years. The precautionary buffer was last applied in 2015; it is therefore applied again this year.

In 2018, the landing advice was given for the entire distribution of red gurnard in the northeast Atlantic. This year’s advice is for the stock only (i.e. subareas 3-8). Stock structure is not fully understood, and further investigations are needed to progress on stocks boundaries such as morphometric studies, tagging and genetic population studies.”


Criterion score: 0.75 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 red gurnard, and scientific sampling is the main source of information to estimate total landings. Reporting at a species level has improved since 2006, allowing estimations of landings, but some are still reported as ‘mixed gurnards’. Discarding is estimated to be high in some fisheries catching this stock. Reported discard rates range from 14% to 94% of the catches of specific fleets. There is no Total Allowable Catch set for the stock. Landings were below the scientific advice in 2016 and 2017, and above it in 2018, but there is no advice or data on total catch (including discards). 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, but size at first maturity is 25cm, around 3 years old.

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

Red gurnard is mainly caught as bycatch by demersal trawlers in mixed fisheries, mostly in the English Channel (ICES areas 7e and 7d), as well as areas 7h, 7f, and the central and southern North Sea (4c and 4b). Most landings are by France, with some by Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK.

There are no technical measures for any gurnard species.

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


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
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Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
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Sturgeon (Farmed)


Froese R. and Pauly D. (Editors), 2019. Chelidonichthys cuculus, Red gurnard. Available at: [Accessed on 25.11.2019].

ICES. 2019. Red gurnard (Chelidonichthys cuculus) in subareas 3-8 (Northeast Atlantic). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2019. ICES Advice 2019, gur.27.3-8. Available at [Accessed on 20.11.2019].

ICES. 2019. Working Group on Widely Distributed Stocks (WGWIDE). ICES Scientific Reports. 1:36. 948 pp. Available at [Accessed on 20.11.2019].