North Sea nephrops fishery faces big challenges and needs new management strategies
The nephrops fleet in the North Sea faces big challenges due to the expansion of offshore wind farms (OWFs), newly implemented marine protected areas (MPAs) and Brexit.
A new study called “The uncertain future of the Norway lobster fisheries in the North Sea calls for new management strategies” published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science has examined conditions affecting the future of the fisheries for the German fleet.
The Norway lobster/Nephrops constitutes an important pillar of European fisheries generating a value of €107m, making it the 2nd most valuable landed shellfish species in the North Sea and Eastern Arctic region in 2018. Since the start of commercial exploitation of nephrops in the 1950s, the fishery grew substantially in the Celtic and North Sea, which are still the main nephrops catch areas. The main fishing nations are the United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, and the Netherlands (EUMOFA, 2019). Several other nations, including Germany, represent minor actors in the international nephrops fishery. The study claims that the German nephrops fishery presents an interesting case study, as it emerged relatively recently.
Nephrops is a commercially important species in the German fisheries. The report says that whether the fishery can be maintained or even expended depends on several aspects. Activities of the German nephrops fishery almost completely coincided spatially over time, underpinning the strong habitat requirements of nephrops. On the other hand, this highlights the vulnerability of the fishery, since, as it is the case for the target species itself, the fishery cannot move to alternative fishing grounds. In combination with the newly implemented OWFs and Natura 2000 sites, this will lead to substantial constraints of the German nephrops fishery in the next few decades.
Results from the study confirm earlier studies showing that nephrops stocks have been fished above scientific advice. Present OWFs and MPAs marginally overlap with nephrops fishing grounds, whereas German fishing grounds are covered up to 45% in future scenarios. Co-use strategies with OWFs could mitigate the loss of fishing opportunities. Decreased cod quotas due to Brexit and worse stock conditions, lowers Germany’s capability to swap nephrops quotas with the UK.
The conclusion of the report states:
“Our results point to an exhaustion of the North Sea nephrops fishing capacities, supporting the call for a precautionary and well-defined management for nephrops, including individual regulations for stocks. Further ecological and fisheries research is needed to develop accurate stock assessments and explore the consequences of climate change on North Sea nephrops. While the current and future spatial restrictions in most nephrops fishing grounds in the North Sea are marginal overall, those in the German Bight will face a loss of up to almost 45% due to OWF expansion and fisheries regulations related to Natura 2000 sites. Co-location of OWF and fisheries including a switch to passive and more selective fishing gears could mitigate the loss of fishing opportunities and sustain fishers’ livelihoods.
“Although the Brexit will not influence nephrops quota distribution in the North Sea, cutbacks of other species TACs might reduce the swapping capacities of countries to acquire nephrops quota from the UK. In the case of Germany, decreased cod quotas, will lower the ability to obtain nephrops quota.
“Furthermore, our findings indicate that German fishers switched to nephrops because of its high economic value and the declining availability of other former target species in the German Bight. Overall, in this study we analysed the various influences on international and German nephrops fisheries from different angles. Our study highlights the need for cumulative impact assessments to understand historic developments in fisheries and to judge on upcoming risks. Only with this knowledge target-oriented mitigation measures may be recommended.”
Read the full report here.