sustainability challenges fisheries improvements

Sustainability challenges persist in fisheries even when exploitation is at the level of maximum sustainable yield, reports Ifremer

France has made progress in achieving sustainable fisheries, with the share of fish volumes from sustainably exploited populations increasing from 18% in 2000 to 56% in 2022, according to the French national marine research organisation, Ifremer.

However, this improvement falls short of the objectives set by the Common Fisheries Policy, aiming for 100% of fished populations at Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) level, and the Strategic Framework Directive for the marine environment, targeting all stocks in good condition.

The recent increase in populations in good condition is attributed to the improved status of saithe from the North West Sea of Scotland, constituting 3% of landings. While some populations, like North Sea sole, have shown improvement, others, such as sea bass in the Bay of Biscay and sole in the Western Channel, have deteriorated. However, these variations involve small volumes, limiting their impact on the national situation.

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Clara Ulrich, Coordinator of fisheries expertise at Ifremer, highlighted a crucial factor for sustainability – the ability of fish populations to renew themselves. Despite exploitation at the level of maximum sustainable yield, many populations remain fragile, dependent on successful reproduction. Ulrich emphasised that only a small fraction of eggs in the natural environment survives to become adult fish.

Ulrich stated: “One of the essential factors of sustainability is the ability of fish populations to renew themselves. For this, it is not only necessary that adults participate in reproduction in sufficient proportion, but also that the young survive to an age where they can reproduce themselves. However, in the natural environment, it is estimated that only one egg in 100,000 will survive to become an adult fish.”

Concerns persist for populations in poor condition, sensitive to anthropogenic and environmental factors affecting their renewal. The example of Atlantic hake, which faced collapse until the 1990s, underscores the need for increased vigilance and effective management.

Species with short life cycles, like sardines, exhibit rapid population variations. The Pelgas 2023 campaign in the Bay of Biscay revealed a consistent biomass of sardines compared to 2022, but 80% of individuals observed were aged 1 to 2 years, indicating fragility. A decline in reproductive success could lead to a rapid drop or collapse in population biomass.

The key factor in the state of fish populations is recruitment, measuring the survival of young individuals to catchable size. Population renewal requires these young individuals to reach adulthood without being captured, ensuring reproduction. While long-life expectancy species benefit from exploitation at MSY, challenges persist, requiring continued efforts to achieve sustainable fisheries in France.

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