The Danish Minister of Fisheries will increase penalties against Dutch beam trawlers committing fisheries offences in national waters nsac advice climate change

The NSAC has issued its advice to DG MARE and the European Commission on Climate Change and North Sea Fish

The North Sea Advisory Council has issued its advice to DG MARE and the European Commission on Climate Change and North Sea Fisheries.

Climate change is profoundly affecting fish stocks and ecosystems in the North Sea, posing substantial challenges to the fisheries sector. In its advice, the North Sea Advisory Council (NSAC) says it acknowledges the complexity of addressing these challenges, considering the impact of climate change is not readily controllable, and it persists with cumulative effects.

The NSAC Climate Change Focus Group, initiated in 2022, has been exploring various aspects of climate change’s influence on North Sea fisheries, including its consequences on fish stock migration, the effects of fishing, industry efforts to align with conservation goals, and the political aspects of nature restoration.

In December 2022, NSAC organised a webinar to address these concerns against the backdrop of the EU Green Deal, the EU Climate Law, energy transition initiatives, COP27, and the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). These developments necessitate adaptations in fisheries management to address the challenges posed by climate change.


Effects of Climate Change on Fish Stock Migration

Climate change has a profound impact on the entire North Sea ecosystem, affecting both ecological and social aspects of the system. The ecological elements are influenced by climate change drivers, with consequences spanning various temporal and spatial scales. Social aspects, from governance and management to culture, economics, and technology, are also affected by climate change.

Climate change can influence fish stocks through changes in productivity, distribution, or both. These effects are occurring at different temporal and spatial scales, making it challenging for current management practices to adapt. Fish productivity can either increase or decrease due to climate change, and changes in stock distribution may lead to governance issues as stocks migrate between Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and management regions.


Observations on Fish Migration and Management

Fishing activities in the North Sea have a reciprocal relationship with climate change. Fishing can impact the climate through emissions and sediment resuspension, while climate affects fishing by changing fish distribution and growth, as well as altering runoff into marine waters and causing ocean acidification. However, the existing fisheries management does not fully account for climate impacts.

While the carbon emissions per kilo of landed seafood remain relatively low compared to other animal proteins, the fishing industry’s climate impact can be managed. Proper management and technical measures can mitigate concerns related to bottom trawling. Additionally, various bottom-trawl fisheries and species combinations have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which evaluates the environmental impacts of fishing methods and adherence to strict criteria for benthic community management.


Adaptation to Climate Change

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has posed challenges to commercial fisheries over the years through closures, a preference for small-scale fisheries, and technical regulations, potentially leading to increased fuel consumption. The resuspension of sediment and CO2 in the North Sea due to trawling remains a topic of scientific debate.

The NSAC emphasises the importance of evidence-based policy proposals, especially for industries vital for food security and susceptible to climate change. Instead of singling out bottom-trawling, policymakers should encourage industry restructuring toward more environmentally friendly, carbon-neutral fisheries.


Impact on Fish Species and Management

Climate change induces shifts in species distribution, including the northward movement of species like cod and halibut. While some fish species are moving out of areas of traditional fishing interest, others like bass, squid, mullet, and anchovy are moving in, albeit gradually. The climate’s impact on stock size is exemplified by changes in cod populations.

Incorporating climate change into fisheries management necessitates the involvement of various stakeholders, as it affects all aspects of the sector, from fisheries and governance structures to supply chains and markets. Climate mitigation and adaptation measures must account for ecological, social, economic, and governance components.


Role of Fisheries in Climate Change

Fisheries play a significant role in carbon management. Fish stocks contribute to ocean carbon flux and serve as carbon engineers. The ocean’s capacity to move energy and carbon throughout the system relies on fish. Proper fisheries management is considered a key element in good carbon management. This includes protecting fish status as carbon engineers, maintaining food webs, avoiding habitat disturbance, decreasing CO2 emissions, and increasing CO2 sequestration.


Resilience and Adaptation

The resilience of the EU Common Fisheries Policy in the face of climate change and fuel efficiency is a growing concern. The fishing industry needs to adapt to evolving marine ecosystems and fish stock populations affected by climate change. Measures such as decarbonisation can offer benefits, where fishing less may translate to earning more, and a transition to low-carbon technologies and gears can help reduce the environmental impact. There is a need for better collaboration between industry and science to address these issues effectively.


Conclusion and NSAC Advice

To address the complex and intertwined issues related to climate change and fisheries in the North Sea, the NSAC offers several recommendations:


Management and Governance:
  1. Urgently incorporate climate change into fisheries management.
  2. Tailor solutions and encourage science-stakeholder collaboration.
  3. Address stock distribution changes to prevent conflicts.
  4. Adapt fisheries management to reflect EU and international climate initiatives.
  5. Consider climate change project results carefully, involving stakeholders early.
  6. Promote carbon-neutral, low-impact fisheries.
  7. Anticipate and adapt to changes with flexible management.
  8. Ensure climate change remains a priority in policy.
  9. Assess climate risks across ecological, social, economic, and governance components.


Fisheries Science:
  1. Embrace new and flexible approaches for Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management.
  2. Consider the effects of offshore wind industries on ecosystems.
  3. Follow actionable strategies and approaches in the ICES WKCLIMAD report.
  4. Apply the precautionary approach when climate change introduces high risks.
  5. Recognise that some stocks will disappear due to climate change, necessitating new management models.
  6. Improve data collection to enhance understanding of climate effects.
  7. Assess MSY in the context of climate change.
  8. Work toward sustainable management across stocks.


Carbon Footprint and Mitigation:
  1. Highlight the lower carbon emissions per kilo of landed seafood.
  2. Implement measures to avoid overfishing and minimise bycatch.
  3. Support projects on life-cycle assessment models.
  4. Improve data collection for life-cycle assessments.
  5. Foster a transition to net-zero emissions in fishing.
  6. Address inertia in adopting low-carbon technologies.
  7. Encourage stakeholder engagement from the outset for a just transition to net-zero emissions.

As the global demand for seafood increases, the NSAC acknowledges the necessity of regulating actions to address and respond to the challenges posed by climate change, emphasising that fisheries management must adapt to this evolving landscape. The NSAC thanks the Commission and the North Sea Member States for their support and remains available for further exchanges on these recommendations.

The NSAC advises that, in the face of climate change, it is essential to combine science and stakeholder input for the formulation of effective fisheries management policies. This collaborative approach will ensure that fisheries in the North Sea can adapt to the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change, while balancing environmental, social, and economic concerns.

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