Capture method — Beam trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — North Sea
Stock detail — 3a, 4
Updated: July 2020.
Flounder is mainly taken as a bycatch species in bottom trawl fisheries for North Sea plaice and sole. They are mostly discarded due to their low commercial value and poor market demand, with discard rates being around 40% of the total catch. Flounder is a data limited stock and reference points have not been defined, but the latest stock assessment indicates that overfishing is not occurring and that the biomass is stable. There is currently no total allowable catch (TAC) for this species and there is no minimum conservation reference size (MCRS). Beam trawlers interact with the seabed and can modify bottom topography and cause damage and removal of some biogenic features including vulnerable marine habitats and benthic communities. 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.
A widespread European fish found in both fresh and marine water. Flounder is a coastal species that divides its life cycle between brackish and freshwater habitats. It moves offshore into deeper water of higher salinity in winter where it spawns in the spring. Spawning takes place at depths of 20-50 m in the southern North Sea from February to May. Males become sexually mature when 2-3 years old (20-25 cm) and females when 3-4 years old (25-30 cm), but in the northern part of the range this may occur some 1-2 years later. After spawning they migrate to inshore and sometimes brackish waters. The shallow coastal zone, and in particular the Wadden Sea, are important nursery areas. Like plaice, they spend most of the day buried in the sand, but become very active at night and move into shallower water to feed. Flounder attains a length of 50-60 cm and can live up to 15 years. The species feeds on a wide variety of invertebrates and fish in some areas.
Criterion score: 0.25 info
Flounder in this area is taken mainly as a bycatch species in fisheries for plaice and sole. The stock is data limited and reference points have not been defined. The last stock assessment was undertaken in 2019 and indicated that overfishing was not occurring (below FMSY proxy) and the biomass was stable. The International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) have not been requested to produce catch advice for this stock so there is no scientific catch advice for 2020, or any future years, provided. However, it has been noted that so long as the species in the targeted fisheries for which flounder is a bycatch species are exploited sustainably, there should be a low risk of flounder becoming overexploited. The risk of having no total allowable catch (TAC) for flounder is also considered to be low. Flounder has medium resilience to fishing pressure.
Landings of flounder were 1582 tonnes in 2018 and 1668 tonnes in 2019. It is noted that the official landings may not reflect the total catches, because flounder is often discarded and discarding is influenced by the prices and availability of other, commercially more important species.
Criterion score: 0.5 info
Management of flounder in the North Sea is only partially effective. Flounder is a bycatch species in other flatfish fisheries for plaice and sole and is generally considered underutilised and is commonly discarded due to low market value and demand. As a bycatch species, management under the EU North Sea Multiannual Management Plan (NSMAP) for demersal stocks (2018) applies. The NSMAP aims to ensure that exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species above levels which can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and that the precautionary approach to fisheries management is applied. Bycatch stocks do not have specific targets under the NSMAP but are supposed to be managed in accordance with the best available scientific advice and the precautionary approach when no adequate scientific information is available. However, MCS has concerns that the NSMAP is not being adhered to for all bycatch stocks, especially where adequate scientific advice is available.
Flounder was previously managed under a combined total allowable catch (TAC) together with dab, but this was removed following ICES advise indicating the risk of having no catch limits for the dab and flounder stocks was considered to be low and not inconsistent with the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). As flounder is not subject to catch limits, it does not fall under the EU landing obligation and around 40% of the catch has been discarded in recent years and there is no official EU minimum conservation reference size (MCRS). However, flounder matures between 20-30cm and some regional authorities do have minimum landing sizes in force.
The stock is data limited (ICES category 3) and the stock assessment is a survey trends-based assessment and there are no reference points defined. Discard information is only available for the years 2002-2018 for the most important fisheries. However, no reliable data on discards are available for beam trawlers targeting brown shrimp which may have had a significant impact on the 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
Flounder is not commonly targeted commercially. It is taken as bycatch in fisheries for demersal and flat fish, mainly in beam trawl (77%) fisheries for plaice and sole with about 11% taken in otter trawl fisheries and 12% taken by other gear types. Beam trawls have the potential to take relatively high quantities of bycatch (> 50% of catch weight) including sharks, skates and rays and occasionally endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) species.
Beam trawls disturb seabed habitats and in the North Sea, beam trawlers have reduced the biomass and production of bottom-dwelling organisms. Sustained fishing within the core areas for this fishery are in relatively shallow areas of fine sand and sandy mud which are heavily fished. This has resulted in a shift from communities dominated by relatively sessile, emergent and high biomass species to communities dominated by infaunal, smaller bodied and faster growing organisms. The penetration depth of a beam trawl depends on sediment characteristics and varies between 1 cm and 8 cm. Trawls leave detectable marks on the seabed and the pressure exerted on the sea floor is strongly related to the towing speed, which is very high in flatfish fisheries as the gear itself is very heavy. The habitat risks are related to the types of seabed communities and other sources of seabed disturbance such as wave and tidal action. Within the North Sea, one of the more sensitive habitats that may be impacted by beam trawl is slow growing Sabellaria reef, frequently found in shallower areas of the southern North Sea. Further north, the large and very long-lived bivalve Arctica islandica (Ocean quahog), can also suffer damage in trawls. Some spatial management is in place but there remains a need to implement management measures in many designated marine protected areas (MPAs) to allow for the protection and recovery of these areas and sensitive designated features.
There are MPAs designated to protect seabed features from damaging activities in this region. The fishery overlaps with parts of these MPAs, but the proportion of the catch coming from these areas is expected to be relatively low in relation to the unit of assessment (i.e. less than 20% of the catch) and so these impacts have not been assessed within the scale of this rating. Given the important role that MPAs have in recovering the health and function of our seas, MCS encourages the supply chain to identify if their specific sources are being caught from within MPAs. If sources are suspected of coming from within designated and managed MPAs, MCS advises businesses to: establish if the fishing activity is operating legally inside a designated and managed MPA; and to request evidence from the fishery or managing authority to demonstrate that the activity is not damaging to protected features or a threat to the conservation objectives of the site[s].
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
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Hiddink, J., Jennings, S., Kaiser, M., Queiros, A., Duplisea, D. and Piet, Gerjan. 2006. Cumulative Impacts of Seabed Trawl Disturbance on Benthic Biomass, Production, and Species Richness in Different Habitats. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 63 (2006) 4. 63. 10.1139/f05-266.
ICES, 2019. Flounder (Platichthys flesus) in Subarea 4 and Division 3.a (North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat). Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/fle.27.3a4.pdf [Accessed on 07.07.2020].
ICES. 2020. Working Group on the Assessment of Demersal Stocks in the North Sea and Skagerrak (WGNSSK). ICES Scientific Reports. 2:61. 1140 pp. http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.6092.
Lakkeborg, S. 2005. Impacts of trawling and scallop dredging on benthic habitats and communities. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 472. Rome, FAO. 2005. 58p.
Tillin, H.M., Hiddink, J.G., Jennings, S. and Kaiser, M. J., 2006. Chronic bottom trawling alters the functional composition of benthic invertebrate communities on a sea-basin scale. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Vol. 318. 31-45.