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Overfishing in the North Sea

March 17, 2020
tags:#overfishing, #environment, #North-East Atlantic, #fish stock
located:Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden
by:Ama Lorenz
In recent years, there has been a threat of a few fish species going instinct as a result of overfishing. The most common species that has been mentioned to be under great threat is the Codfish.

Although it had been taken off the threat list a few years ago, scientists now say that people will have to balance between the amount of cod on their plates and one in the sea. This is the only way we can guarantee future generations sealife.

Historical Impact of Overfishing in The North Sea

It is not possible to determine the solution to overfishing without going down to the roots of the matter. Back in 2009, there was an 88% estimate of the level of overfishing in the North Sea by the European Commission. This was from a study undertaken to cover data from about 40 years back.

However, in as much as there was some light shed over the same, the overfishing issue dates back to centuries before any study was taken. This is because commercial fishing was in practice way before any nation became modernized.

The main concern is that most of the fish being taken away from the water are fish that are not big enough to make a meal. Data put together by the UK fisheries organisations claimed that undersized fish were in sustainable numbers in 2018. This, however, raised a lot of questions as the findings were considered to be unrealistic. This might have played a big role in the threatening decline in codfish in 2019.

With unrealistic and unreal data, fishermen were deceived. But in reality, the numbers were already declining, only that the people concerned with giving an early alert failed to do so.

Numbers of Overfishing

In line with the allowed levels of fishing, Sweden, Ireland and the UK registered the highest levels of excess fishing. These are at 22%, 22% and 24% respectively. The excess numbers have been as a result of the fishing lobby pressure which encourages the spillover what scientists have advised for countries to maintain. In as much as there is a limited technique called, the Total Allowed Catches, there is yet to be a specific party to blame over such spills.

When combining the EU and Norway, TAC in excess shoots to a 223% spill in 2019. The 2019 New Economics Foundation report allowed the UK around 312,000 more tonnes above the scientific advised amount. Sweden leads the excess levels in the 2019 report by 54% followed by the UK at 24.3%.

In the 2020 New Economics Foundation conference, there failed to be an agreement over which countries were allowed to go above the TACs. About nine out of the 17 countries that came together for the meeting backed up the scientific recommendations which are less than the 2018 numbers. In as much as there is still a reasonable number of countries willing to follow scientific advice, a lot has to be put in place to make the policymakers see the importance of sticking with the TACs.

Breaking it Down

Bringing back the codfish to at least sustainable levels has taken years of work and for a moment, the North Sea got a go-ahead to continue fishing. However, it seems like the effort has failed as the Marine Conservation Society has once again awarded a red light to this type of fish. The above statistics and policymakers' neglect for scientific advice has played a big role in the decline of fish levels in the North Sea.

According to the Fundacio analysis, since 2001, all the way to 2018, allowed levels of fishing for the EU countries have always exceeded the scientifically recommended limit by two thirds. It has been noted that there is a clear problem with the interpretation of scientific reports. This is evident where the Maximum Sustainable Yield is often misinterpreted by the government who have continuously ignored scientific recommendations and come up with socio-economic reasons to defend their judgement.

Fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic have, however, improved, thanks to strict policymakers who take into account the dangers of ignoring scientific advice. The TAC advice is said to strike a balance between the scientific recommendations and other economic factors. In as much as the strain can still be felt, it is not as adverse as when both TAC and science is ignored.

What to Fish

A clear conclusion about the codfish and other fish species under threat is yet to be released given that this year's New Economic Foundation conference did not lead to a conclusive solution. No reliable comment has been drawn from the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries yet or any way ahead from the body that handles maritime affairs of the European Commission.

As the countries of concern wait for a direction, as of now the most sustainable fish to consume include hake, plaice, and herring. The sea bass has also been removed from the threat list, meaning that it is no longer at risk of extinction as compared to other species such as cod. In order to maintain sustainable fisheries, fish to avoid include Wild Atlantic Salmon, Halibut and European eel. The whiting has less pressure at the North Sea though according to MSC, people still need to be careful.

Cod has been adversely affected by overfishing across the UK. This makes it the most unsustainable fish at the moment and so fishing it risks total extinction. The only way to save this species is by reducing its TAC by as much as 70% as advised by the ICES.


Tackling overfishing in the North Sea is an effort that will only be successful if all stakeholders, in and out of the fishing industry, agree in the way forward. If the government and scientists are still at loggerhead over what is the ideal fishing levels, then the fish at the North Sea will continue to be exposed to the risk of extinction. As of now, the only waited word is the clear guideline over the allowed limits by the EU and Norway.

Article written by:
WhatsApp Image 2022-10-25 at 20.38.38
Ama Lorenz
Co-founder, Editor-in-Chief, Author
Germany Denmark Norway Sweden
Embed from Getty Images
In recent years, there has been a threat of a few fish species going instinct as a result of overfishing.
Embed from Getty Images
The main concern is that most of the fish being taken away from the water are fish that are not big enough to make a meal.
Embed from Getty Images
With unrealistic and unreal data, fishermen were deceived.
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