Last updated on 13 September 2018
Recommendations to Retailers & Supply Chain
- Ensure that the total allowable catch (TAC) for the entire northeast Atlantic blue whiting stock is set in accordance with scientific advice and that fishing mortality is reduced to no more than the fishing mortality reference point.
- Conduct research to fully define the stock structure and develop stock specific assessments, reference points and harvest strategies.
- Encourage the adoption of ecosystem-based fisheries management, namely consider the importance of blue whiting as forage species when setting reference points and catch limits.
- Collect comprehensive information on bycatch (species, quantities, areas, seasonality).
Last updated on 22 May 2019
In 2012, ICES implemented a new assessment model (Age-based analytical assessment, SAM), and an inter-benchmark protocol was conducted in the spring of 2016. The most recent assessment, which uses a new version of the SAM model (Berg and Nielsen 2016), is based on a preliminary estimate of catch-at-age data from commercial catches in the year in which the assessment is carried out and one international blue whiting spawning stock survey (IBWSS) 2004–2018 (excluding 2010) (ICES 2018). The IBWSS survey is the only survey that covers almost the entire distributional area of the spawning stock. The catch and survey data were considered of good quality regarding the northern component of the stock. Several other surveys provided data to the working group but are not used in the assessment (ICES 2018). There is lack of information on the southern component of the stock (ICES 2014). Discards are only included in the assessment since 2014 but are considered to be small in the blue whiting directed fishery (ICES 2016), and not permitted for these fisheries since 2015 under the new EU landing obligation (European Commission 2013).
In terms of uncertainty in the estimates, based on the confidence intervals from the assessment model SAM, there is moderate to high uncertainty around the fishing mortality (F) and spawning stock biomass (SSB) absolute estimates, and also the recruiting year classes. A retrospective analysis of the assessment results shows a consistent picture of SSB and F estimates for the assessments since 2016. The main sources of uncertainty remain age reading, stock identity, and survey indices. In terms of stock identity, the population structure of blue whiting in the NE Atlantic appears to be more complex than the current single-stock structure used for management purposes (ICES 2017). There is scientific evidence to support the hypothesis of two components (Pointin and Payne 2014). ICES recommended additional research to clarify the blue whiting stock structure (ICES 2017). Changes of the spawning distribution of blue whiting have been clearly linked to interannual variations in the marine environment (e.g. salinity) (Miesner and Payne 2018).
Last updated on 22 May 2019
Up to 2016, ICES advice for this stock was on the basis of the previously agreed management plan (in place between 2008 and 2015). In October 2016, a new long-term management strategy (LTMS) was formally adopted and considered as precautionary by ICES.
The latest ICES advice based on this new strategy is that 2019 catches of NE Atlantic blue whiting should not exceed 1,143,619 tonnes, a 33% decrease relative to the estimated catch in 2018 (1,713 thousand tonnes). If all the 2019 quota is used, Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) is expected to continue decreasing in 2020, to 3.75 million tonnes; i.e., a 13% decrease in SSB under this scenario compared to 2019, but still well above the biomass target reference point (ICES 2018). In terms of recruitment, the low estimates in 2017 and 2018 will likely to result in a decrease in stock size, and a consequent reduction in fishing opportunities in upcoming years, when the 2016 and the 2017-year class is fully selected (ICES 2018).
Last updated on 22 May 2019
The NE Atlantic blue whiting stock is considered to remain at full reproductive capacity. Spawning stock biomass (SSB) was estimated at 5.4 million tonnes in 2018. It is projected to decrease about 20% in 2019, to 4.3 million tonnes, but still well above MSY Btrigger (=Bpa = 2.25 million tonnes). Fishing mortality (F) has been decreasing since 2015 but remains above the target F (FMSY=0.32); the latest F (2018) was estimated at F=0.45 (40% above FMSY). The 2017 and 2018 recruitment (age 1) were estimated to be low compared to previous years, but with high uncertainty in the estimates (see stock assessment section for details). Catches have been increasing from a historical low in 2011 and are currently above the long term average and the advised level (ICES 2018).
Last updated on 22 May 2019
A precautionary long-term management strategy (LTMS) is currently in place for this stock and the anticipated measures are being followed by managers. In light of the latest stock condition, the LMTS anticipated a TAC of 1,143,619 tonnes for 2019 (ICES 2018), which was formally adopted by all contracting parties (NEAFC 2019).
The harvest control rule (HCR) anticipated in the new management strategy (NEAFC 2016) includes a target F (= FMSY = 0.32) with 20% TAC change limits at biomass levels above management reference point (SSBMGT = MSY Btrigger = 2.25 million tonnes). At levels below the SSBMGT, the HCR anticipates a gradual drop from FMSY to F=0.05 with a TAC variation limit of 25% comparing to the TAC of the preceding year (NEAFC 2016).
In terms of other management measures, an EU landing obligation was put in place as part of the recent Common Fisheries Policy reform. The landing obligation applies to all fisheries (i.e., EU fleet or fisheries operating in EU waters) subject to catch limits or minimum landing sizes (in the case of the Mediterranean), and is to be implemented gradually on a fishery-by-fishery basis from 2015 to 2019. In the case of the small pelagic or fisheries for industrial purposes (e.g., fisheries for mackerel, herring, horse mackerel, blue whiting, boarfish, anchovy, sandeel, sardine and sprat), the landing obligation is effective since January 2015, across all EU waters (European Commission 2013)(European Commission 2015). Recent guidance for vessels fishing with pelagic gears in the North Sea and North Western Waters (ICES areas Vb, VI and VII), exempt obligation (De minimis exemption) for blue whiting landing when the vessel is an industrial pelagic trawler or if blue whiting is being processed on board vessel for a surimi base (Marine Management Organization (MMO) 2018). There is no minimum landing size in place for blue whiting (ICES 2014).
Last updated on 22 May 2019
TACs for blue whiting were only set between 1994-1996 and since 2006 onwards. In recent years catches have been slightly above the set TACs but this situation has been more relevant in the last two years. Between 2015 and 2018, and after a period of high compliance with set quotas, no agreement was reached in the catch shares (the parties have set unilateral quotas), and the total catch of blue whiting exceeded the combined unilateral quotas. Catches for 2017 (1,555 thousand tonnes) were above the combined TAC of 1,342 thousand tonnes. For 2018, there are still not final catch estimates, but the preliminary catch value (of 1,713 thousand tonnes) is 23% above the agreed TAC (ICES 2018).
In terms of catch composition, in recent years the main directed fisheries for blue whiting were targeting spawning and post-spawning fish. In 2016, most of the catches (90%) were taken in the first two quarters of the year and the bulk of the catch is caught with large pelagic trawlers west of the British Isles and south and east of the Faroes. Seventeen countries reported blue whiting landings in 2017. Discards of blue whiting are thought to be small (0.13% of the total catch in 2017), as most blue whiting is captured in the directed fisheries for fishmeal and fish oil. Most of the discards are from blue whiting captured as by-catch in fisheries targeting other species (ICES 2018)(ICES 2018). The recently implemented EU landing obligation is in place for blue whiting fisheries since 2015 (European Commission 2013).
A number of fisheries that target NE Atlantic blue whiting are already certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Please consult the "Certifications" section below to learn more about these particular fisheries.
Last updated on 7 August 2017
The broadness of blue whiting’s distribution implies a habitat overlap with many species of Northeast (NE) Atlantic seabirds and marine mammals. Several studies have reported the interaction of dolphins with midwater/pelagic trawl fisheries in the NE Atlantic, particularly the Atlantic White-sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus, IUCN: “Least Concern”) and common dolphin (Delphinus delphis, IUCN: “Least Concern”) (Couperus 1997, ICES 2010, Morizur et al. 1999).
Data on effects of this particular fishery on PET species is sparse, but no critically endangered species appear to be significantly impacted (des Clers et al. 2016). An European Commission study group (SGFEN 2002) considered blue whiting pelagic trawling a fishery where monitoring for cetacean bycatch is a priority. In 2009, an ICES working group Working Group on Bycatch of Protected Species was formed, aiming at collating, storing and summarizing data provided by EU states on bycatch of protected species. The annual reports provide some information on the bycatch of protected species per métier. Of the available information, Fernandez-Contreras et al. (2010) reported bycatch of common dolphin in NW Spain pair trawler pelagic fishery. The same authors estimated a total of 394 (95% CI 230–632) bycaught individuals between 2001 and 2002 in this fishery; three main factors were identified as influential in the dolphin bycatch: depth, season and time of the day (ICES 2016). For other regions and blue whiting fisheries, the available data is still very limited however, and does not allow accurate estimates on the true magnitude of cetacean bycatch (ICES 2015).
Marine mammals and seabirds in EU waters are currently protected by a set of directives, conventions (e.g. Bern Convention and the Habitats Directive) and multilateral agreements between countries (ICES 2010).
Last updated on 8 August 2017
Overall, most of the blue whiting is caught in directed fisheries for reduction purposes, and both bycatch and discards are thought to be small; discards were estimated to constitute only 0.4% of the total catch in 2015 (ICES 2016). With the EU landing obligation, in force since 2015 for fisheries for industrial purposes, bycatch and discards are expected to remain at low levels. Discarding is also prohibited in the NEAFC Convention Area, and in Norwegian and Faroese waters. Several bycatch mitigation measures such as the use of sorting grids and real time closures in areas with high abundance of juveniles are in place in some countries to minimize non-target catches (Anna Kiseleva et al. 2016, IFFO 2016).
In terms of available information for specific fleets, the Norwegian fishery reports little bycatch during the spawning season, although catches of juveniles, as well as saithe and redfish, increase when this fishery has continued later in the season (NMTIF 2010). Bycatch of saithe, silver smelt and cod has been reported at below 1% in the Icelandic blue whiting fishery in 2004 (ICES 2005, Pálsson 2005). An average saithe bycatch rate of 3.5% was reported by Faroese monitoring of the blue whiting fleet (ICES 2005). Dutch fleets also report almost no bycatch of other species (ICES 2008).
Blue whiting is also taken as bycatch in the non-directed fisheries. Mixed industrial fisheries taking blue whiting may also target Norway pout (ICES 2005). Spanish and Portuguese bottom trawling catch blue whiting among a number of other pelagic species (e.g., horse mackerel, mackerel, hake, anglerfish, megrims and Nephrops) in a mixed fishery. Other fleets, such as in the Netherlands, catch blue whiting in pelagic fisheries also targeting herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and argentines (ICES 2016). Data on bycatch and discards is however incomplete for the overall fishery, due to limited observer coverage (des Clers et al. 2016, ICES 2005).
Last updated on 8 August 2017
Blue whiting is mainly caught in a directed fishery by pelagic (midwater) trawl. Direct effects on habitat and seafloor are typically minimal for pelagic gears (ICES 2006), although occasional contact is known to occur and, in these cases, can cause damage to fragile ecosystems (e.g., corals), particularly when targeting bentho-pelagic schooling species (Donaldson et al. 2006). For this particular fishery, however, available evidence suggests impacts on the bottom habitats are likely very low (des Clers et al. 2016, Kiseleva, John Nichols et al. 2016). Several areas NE Atlantic waters where the fishery takes place are closed to trawling in order to protect vulnerable marine environments such as coldwater corals and sponges (ICES 2016, Kiseleva, John Nichols et al. 2016).
Blue whiting is widely distributed in the North East Atlantic, with a large migratory capacity. Its wide distribution and position in the food chain means it plays an important role in the pelagic ecosystems (ICES 2009, NMTIF 2010) and changes in its abundance will therefore have wide-ranging effects, both up and down the food chain of the marine ecosystem (ICES 2008). Studies undertaken in the Barents Sea indicate that the importance of blue whiting as prey for predatory fish was highest in the areas of greatest abundance, but overall, blue whiting were seemingly unimportant as prey of piscivorous (Dolgov et al. 2010). The trophic role of blue whiting is poorly defined. However, mackerel, herring and blue whiting might be strong competitors in certain areas (Trenkel et al. 2014).
A trend towards decreasing weight-at-age has been observed since the early 1990s, with ecosystem effects suspected to be playing a role, through density dependent competition or lower plankton availability, or other factors such as temperature and salinity alterations (ICES 2009). The North Atlantic subpolar gyre (SPG) may influence recruitment success through food availability and/or predation levels, however, these mechanisms are not yet fully understood (Payne et al. 2012). According to Trenkel et al. (2014), mackerel and blue whiting in the NE Atlantic might use broadly the same area for spawning, though at different times of the year.
Last updated on 08 Aug 2017
Iceland enforces a temporary area closure if 30% or more of blue whiting are smaller than 25 cm (ICES 2008). The Faroe Islands enforce a total fishing ban on the Faroe bank during the spawning of cod (i Jakupsstovu et al. 2007) and the fishery may also be subject to other closed areas or boxes which exist to protect juveniles (Kelleher 2005).
A 2003 agreement between OSPAR, the EU and HELCOM, the commission responsible for the protection of the Baltic Sea, aimed to establish a network of Marine Protected Areas in the NE Atlantic (OSPAR 2003). Although the selection of 106 potential MPAs has been reported by the contracting countries so far, OSPAR noted that a substantial progress is still needed in order to meet the target of a well managed and ecologically coherent network of MPAs by 2010 (OSPAR 2011).
The extension of the Natura 2000 network established under the Birds Directive 79/409/EEC and the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC to marine areas is also underway and the regulation of certain fishing activities may be enforced, with areas evaluated on an individual basis (Anon 2007).