Last updated on 5 August 2019
Recommendations to Retailers & Supply Chain
- Press ICES to conduct further scientific research to fully define the stock structure to improve management.
- Press regional advisory bodies, national fisheries administrations and the European Commission to develop a multi-species, ecosystem-based management plan, with specific management objectives for the pelagic fisheries in the North Sea and associated areas.
- Ensure that managers set the TAC in line with scientific advice.
- Engage with the EU Pelagic Advisory Council (https://www.pelagic-ac.org/) directly or through one of the General Assembly members, to ensure sustainable exploitation.
- Engage as a stakeholder in all MSC certifications for this stock and support the MSC Client groups to ensure all conditions attached to the Certifications are fully addressed.
Last updated on 17 July 2019
The assessment proposed during the benchmark in February 2013 (ICES 2013b) introduced a new model (Stochastic Multi-species (SMS) model with quarterly time-steps). In the same year, ICES changed the assessment year from January–December to July–June, in order to facilitate more biologically coherent stock assessment (to better match the sprat life cycle) (ICES 2014a).
ICES' 2018 stock assessment, the first for the newly combined Skagerrak and Kattegat (Division 3.a) and North Sea (Subarea 4) units, maintained the same general method (age-based analytical assessment) and data inputs as used for assessment of the North Sea unit in the prior year (ICES 2018; ICES 2019). Quality and performance indicators for the new stock assessment showed similarities as well as some improvements over past stock assessments for the North Sea unit (ICES 2018). Modifications to the assessment model considerably reduced the strong retrospective bias in recruitment patterns observed in past assessments, which had caused overestimation of large incoming year classes (ICES 2019). Discards of sprat since 2016 are assumed to be negligible (ICES 2019).
The sprat stock in the North Sea is dominated by young fish; and stock size is driven primarily by the recruiting year class (ICES 2019). Unknown abundance and maturity rates for a high proportion of recruits regularly contribute to uncertainty in overall recruitment estimates and SSB predictions. For the advice published in 2019, trends for SSB, F and recruitment look very similar to trends published for the former North Sea unit in ICES’ 2018 advice (ICES 2018)(ICES 2019). Uncertainty in the forecast is accounted for by the Fcap.
This fishery is under the mandates of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which require management of the fishery’ ecosystem effects. In the North Sea, the key predators consuming sprats, including fish and seabirds, are included in the stock assessment (ICES 2019). These estimates are used as model inputs to derive stock assessment reference points and corresponding advice. Stock assessments historically have not attempted to measure impacts of changes in zooplankton communities and consequent changes in food densities for sprats (i.e. bottom up effects); and ICES has recommended that there may be value in exploring this dynamic in future assessments (ICES 2019).
Last updated on 17 July 2019
In cases where recruitment information is poor, as for North Sea sprat, ICES has found an additional measure - an upper constraint to the escapement strategy derived fishing mortality (termed "Fcap") - necessary to guard against very high exploitation. Based on evaluations made in late 2013, ICES determined this necessary to ensure precautionary exploitation of the North Sea sprat stock, and set an intitial Fcap at 1.2 (ICES 2014). The combination of the North Sea and Skagerrak and Kattegat areas into a single assessment unit in 2018 made it necessary to re-estimate Fcap again (ICES 2019). The resulting advised catch for 2019, based on the revised Fcap (0.69), is 138,726 tonnes (ICES 2019).
ICES’ advice applies for the assessment year (1 July – 30 June), and since 2017, European Union (EU) TACs for Subarea 4 (and Division 2a, not part of this assessment unit) have aligned with this timing. However, the EU’s TACs for the newly included Subarea 3a are based on a calendar year schedule.
ICES has advised that a management plan needs to be developed for this stock (ICES 2016)(ICES 2019). Additional recommendations include: a) bycatch of juvenile herring should continue to be monitored to ensure compliance with bycatch; b) considering the importance of sprat as a forage fish, multispecies considerations should be made. ICES has provided multispecies advice on fisheries for some ecosystem (ICES 2013; ICES 2017). ICES also cautions regarding increased effort distribution in peripheral areas of Division 3a along the Norway and Sweden coasts, where local populations (not covered in the assessment or advice) could be vulnerable to depletion (ICES 2019).
Last updated on 17 July 2019
Surveys and the assessment conducted in November 2018 indicate the stock is in good condition (ICES 2019). The assessment model output shows SSB well above Bpa (MSY Bescapement) since 2013, and above Blim since 1991; current SSB is estimated to be more than double Blim. The recent trend of substantially higher SSBs has occurred during a period of slightly above average recruitments (ICES 2019). Recruitment as of 1 July 2018 was estimated to be above the 10-year average, but below the long-term average.
Fishing mortality (F) has been above long-term averages for the past 4 years (ICES 2019). The estimated F for 2018 is 1.4; more than double Fcap, as has consistently been the case in recent years. There is no management target for F, and in some years when Fcap has been exceeded, catches have exceeded the advised catch (which is based on Fcap). However, Fcap has also been exceeded in years when catches were within advised catch limits. The higher than expected F in 2018 was driven by low mean catch weight, which led to higher catch numbers. High realized F has also occurred in above-average years, when assessments have tended to overestimate recruitment (ICES 2018).
In the 2017-2018 fishing season, total catches in the North Sea and Skagerrak and Kattegat amounted to 129,729 tonnes, which represents a reduction of 50% with respect to the previous year (ICES 2018; ICES 2018). Catches increased in the 2018-2019 season, totalling 191,200 tonnes for the assessment unit, based on estimates available as of 26 May 2019 (ICES 2019).
Last updated on 17 July 2019
There have never been any explicit management objectives for this stock as it is currently defined, or for the North Sea and Skagerrak and Kattegat units separately (ICES 2019). The directed sprat fishery currently is regulated via a number of management measures, including catch quotas (or TACs), fishing seasons, and by-catch limits (e.g., juvenile herring). Lack of commitment by the EU management authority to a “medium term” management plan has been highlighted as a factor hindering the consistency of alignment of TACs with scientific advice (Rice et al. 2017). The issue of TAC effectiveness also has implications for dependent predator species, including some ETP species (see "ETP Species" section below).
Beginning in 2017, the EU established quotas effective for periods from 1 June through July 30 of the following year (Council Regulation (EC) 2017), which brought the timing into alignment with the advised catch period. The TACs and advice for the Kattegat and Skagerrak unit, meanwhile, are set by calendar year, and as such, the TAC for this management area no longer aligns with the advice year for the new assessment unit (ICES 2019).
In January of 2019, as in recent years, the European Union published a preliminary TAC of zero for Subarea 4 and Division 2a for 2019-2020 (European Commission 2019). However, based on past years, a new catch limit is likely to be published near the beginning of the season in July 2019. Separate TACs for non-union member states have been maintained at 1,000 tonnes for Faroe Island vessels in Subarea 4 and Division 6a (NEAFC 2018), and 10,000 tonnes for Norwegian vessels in Subarea 4 (NEAFC 2018). The total 2019-2020 TAC for Division 3a, meanwhile was set at 26,620 tonnes, the same as for 2018-2019 (European Commission 2019).
In addition to the overall 10,000 t quota negotiated for Norway’s pelagic trawlers and purse-seiners fishing in EU waters, Norwegian vessels fishing in the North Sea are also subject to a 550t maximum sprat quota per vessel (ICES 2019). As sprat in Subarea 4 is mainly fished together with juvenile herring, the exploitation of sprat is further limited by the herring bycatch restrictions imposed on the fisheries (bycatch ceiling for herring and the herring bycatch percentage limit in industrial fisheries). The 2019 herring bycatch quotas are 13,190 t for the North Sea and 6,659 t for Division 3.a. In the Norwegian North Sea sprat fishery, there is a maximum bycatch limit of 10% herring.
Norway has had a discard ban in force since 1983 (NMTIF 2015). For the EU, a landing obligation was put in place in 2013 as part of the recent Common Fisheries Policy reform. The rule 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). 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 has been effective since January 2015, across all EU waters (Article 15 of Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013; Regulation (EU) No 2015/104). A herring by-catch of up to 10% in biomass is allowed in Norwegian sprat catches (ICES 2018)
Last updated on 17 July 2019
To avoid misreporting, Norwegian vessels can only operate in the Norwegian zone after the EU-quota is fully taken and cannot fish between April and July in the EU and Norwegian zones (WKSPRAT 2018 2019). Historically, the sprat fishery has been limited by bycatch constraints for other species (e.g., herring), which have tended to preclude full uptake of quotas for sprat (ICES 2018). Landings in Subarea 4 from 2012-2018 represented between 44-85% of the TAC each year, with the exceptions of years 2014, 2016 and 2018, when catches exceeded TACs by margins of up to 9% (ICES 2018; ICES 2019). In Division 3a during the same period, catches represented between 4-72% of the TAC (ICES 2018).
Prior to 2015 discarding in the sprat fishery in the North Sea, of both sprat and bycatch species, was known to take place but could not be quantified (ICES 2019). Since 2015, and the implementation of EU landing obligations, discards of sprat have been assumed to be negligible (ICES 2017; ICES 2018; ICES 2018; ICES 2019). Uncertainty regarding discarding relates primarily to the bycatch limits on herring. In the past, a haul could not be landed if bycatch percentage limits for herring were exceeded (ICES 2015). In such cases, slippage (discarding of an entire haul) was obligatory. Slippage has been prohibited since impementation of the landing obligation, but there is some concern now that there could be incentive to slip illegally (Rice et al. 2018), and in such cases bycatch of herring (and other species) would go undocumented. This concern was identified in a condition of the 2017 MSC certification of the Danish fishery, which focused on ensuring that incentives to slip are assessed and, to the degree necessary, minimized; progress on the condition was considered on target as of the first surveillence audit in 2018.
Last updated on 21 January 2019
A comprehensive list and map of threatened or declining species and habitats in the North-East Atlantic, including the North Sea region, is available from OSPAR. According to a MSC assessment (Rice et al. 2017), the most relevant ETP species potentially exposed to the fishery are: harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), grey seal (Halichoerus grypus), harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), minke whale (Balaneroptera acutorostrata), black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactlyla), roseate tern (Sterna dougalli), common skate (Dipturus batis), spotted ray (Raja montagui), thornback ray (Raja clavata) and starry ray (Amblyraja radiata).
The direct effects of the fishery are broadly understood to be negligible through information, though not verifiable, on direct impact available from code of conduct logbook reporting (Rice et al. 2017). Purse seines have the potential to catch mammals, although a report for ASCOBANS gave no indication of any cetacean bycatch in the North Sea (Northridge 2011). Direct interaction with birds is almost negligible as the catch is pumped directly from the trawl/seine into the haul. Besides, fishing occurs too far from the colonies of roseate tern to have direct impact on this species (Rice et al. 2017). The European Union Council Regulation 23/2010 requires that all catches of rays and skates must be reported separately (European Commission 2010). Although rays can be potentially caught by this fishery, there are no reports of bycatch of rays meaning that those catches are really small and escape registration or that they are being discarded which is very unlikely due to the absence of sorting devices in the vessels (Rice et al. 2017). All ETP populations are monitored through population estimates and for seabirds, through monitoring of breeding sucess.
Indirect effects may occur through competition between some of ETP species described above (e.g. porpoise, minke whales, seals…) and the fishery, but these are accounted for in the management (i.e. increasing the natural mortality) through escapement to ensure sufficient food for relevant ETP species (see Ecosystem section for further details).
All ETP species are covered by the requirements of the Habitats Directives that states that Member States shall establish a system to monitor the incidental capture and killing on animal species listed […] and take further research or conservation measures as required to ensure that incidental capture and killing does not have a significant negative impact on the species concerned [...]. Main management tools to reduce interaction with ETP species are the fishing gears themselves that are unlikely to catch ETP species, and harvest limits as determined from multi-species modeling (see Ecosystems section). A comprehensive management strategy has not been developed by the fishery for any of the ETP species.
Last updated on 21 January 2019
Bycatch is assessed in two ways: by self-reporting in electronic logbooks and by official sampling. Both procedures are fairly uncertain but generally report low catches of non-target species. There is, however, a significant discrepancy between logbooks and official landings data (Rice et al. 2017).
Most sprat catches are taken in an industrial fishery where catches are limited by herring bycatch quantities. Bycatch of herring are practically unavoidable except in years with high sprat abundance or low herring recruitment. Bycatch is especially considered to be a problem in area 4.c (ICES 2018). The total amount of herring caught as bycatch in the Danish sprat fishery has typically been less than 10% except in 2012 (11%) and 2008 (11%) (ICES 2018).
This fishery operates under the landing obligation where all fish have to be landed since 1st January 2015 (European Commission 2013). The only way to discard bycatch is by slipping the entire haul, as on-board sorting devices are not allowed. The only species where slipping could be considered an option is herring, because it acts as a choke species. In the sprat fishery, up to 9% of a catch of herring can be written off on the sprat quota, as a disincentive to slippage (ICES 2017). According to herring assessment, F<Fmsy and B>Bmsy and biomass is increasing. Levels of slipping are not quantified (Rice et al. 2017).
Last updated on 21 January 2019
Detailed maps of North Sea habitats are available (Schlüter and Jerosch 2009) (EMODnet), including maps of threatened habitats by OSPAR (OSPAR 2018).
The fishery is conducted with mid-water trawls and purse seines. These gears do not normally touch the bottom except when the fishery is conducted in shallow waters. Therefore, some bottom impact cannot be ruled out completely, and it can damage fragile habitats such as corals or sponges (Donaldson et al. 2010). However, the specific impact of the fishing gears in shallow waters has not been evaluated in this fishery.
Marine protected areas are the main management tool in place to protect bottom habitats. The OSPAR Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) Network (OSPAR 2018) is expanding (from 159 MPAs in 2010 to 448 in 2016) and now covers 5.9% of the OSPAR maritime area (14.7% of the Greater North Sea Area) (OSPAR 2017). Most MPAs are established within waters under national jurisdiction (200 nautical miles) in the North Sea and Eastern Channel, however few but large marine protected areas have been created in the high seas in the last years (OSPAR 2018).
In 1998 and area off the western coast of Denmark was closed (from October to March) to the sprat fishery to protect spawning of herring caught as bycatch of the sprat fishery (Article 21(1)(c) of Regulation (EC) No 850/98) (European Commission 1998). ICES evaluated the effectiveness of the sprat box in 2017 (ICES 2017). The evaluation concluded that fishing inside the sprat box would be expected to reduce unwanted catches of herring (by weight) and that other management measures are sufficient to control herring bycatch. The sprat box was removed in 2017 (European Commission 2017).
Last updated on 21 January 2019
Several ecosystem models have been developed for the North Sea to support management of North Sea fish stocks and other dependent species such as the Stochastic Multispecies Model (SMS; (Lewy and Vinther 2004)) or the North Sea Ecopath Model (Mackinson and Daskalov 2007), which is a more comprehensive model in terms of species than the SMS model, and once set, the model can be used with EcoSim to simulate management alternatives (Brown and Mackinson 2011). The Ecopath model is parametrized with estimates of biomass, production and consumption rates and diet compositions compiled from surveys and literature.
The structure and function of the North Sea ecosystem has been target of research for the last century (Daan et al. 1990) (Callaway et al. 2002). The fish community in the North Sea forms a complex food web where lower trophic levels such as sprat rely on copepods for food, and these forage species provide food for higher trophic levels such as adult predatory fish, mammals and birds (Rice et al. 2017). Sprat is mostly preyed by whiting, turbot, megrim and whales. However, sprat cannot be considered a keystone species as no single predator relies fully on it. Instead, the forage fish community as a whole (e.g. sprat, sandeel, Norway put, juvenile herring) can be considered a key trophic level. The ecosystem impact of the fishery is assessed on a triannual basis through model calculations, and many specific interactions have been investigated in detail (Rice et al. 2017). There is some evidence of recovery of cod in the North Sea (ICES 2015) meaning that forage fisheries (such as sprat fishery) are not hindering recovery of species at higher trophic levels (Rice et al. 2017). However, the influence of the sprat fishery on other fish species and sea birds are at present unknown (ICES 2018).
Indirect effect occurs through competition for fish between ETPs and the fishery. Indirect effects are accounted for in the management through escapement to ensure sufficient food for relevant ETPs. In practice this is done by increasing the natural mortality in the assessment to account for the needs of higher trophic level species (see below).
Management of ecosystem effects of the fishery is mandated by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The CFP recognizes the need for multispecies management as well as the need to increasingly account for ecosystem aspects in developing management plans. This is being expressed though the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (European Commission 2008). A “partial strategy” (as classified by MSC) of implementing ecosystem effects of fishing on other components of the food web is the use of multi-species models (updated triannually) to derive natural mortalities (M2s; (ICES 2017)). These M2s forms an explicit link between higher trophic level species (larger fish, birds and marine mammals) including ETP species, to lower trophic level species. The M2s are used in the stock assessment of sprat, and they therefore directly influence the setting of TACs (ICES 2017). There is no specific plan for the entire North Sea ecosystem with a clearly formulated objective but the integration of multi-species modeling in the advice of fish stocks in the North Sea, including the assessment of indirect effects on ETPs, is highly likely to restrain the impact of fishing on forage fish to avoid disruption of the ecosystem structure (Rice et al. 2017).