The state of fishing for the Mediterranean and Black Sea

cormorands fishing

Although the main commercial fish species in the Mediterranean and Black Sea are still over-fished, pressure has reduced over the past years, raising hopes – for the first time – for the recovery of fish stocks, according to new FAO-GFCM report launched today.

The percentage of overexploited fish stocks decreased by 10 percent – from 88 percent in 2014 to 78 percent in 2016. More efforts are needed, however, to ensure long-term fish stock sustainability, warns The State of Mediterranean and Black Sea Fisheries.

This means more support for the small-scale fishing sector, which employs most fishers and causes least environmental damage; reducing bycatch and discards; and introducing more drastic measures such as significantly reducing fishing or establishing fisheries restricted areas  (areas where fishing activities are regulated).

The latter is particularly needed to safeguard the most heavily fished species, such as  European hake, which is fished nearly six times beyond its sustainable level.

“Fisheries provide the region with an important socio-economic balance and are essential to ending hunger and poverty,” said Abdellah Srour, GFCM Executive Secretary.

“Sustainability may be expensive in the short term, but there is nothing more expensive than running out of fish,” said Miguel Bernal, FAO Fishery Officer and one of the report’s coordinators.

Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries are under threat in the long run because of the effects of increased pollution from human activities, habitat degradation, the introduction of non-indigenous species, overfishing and the impacts of climate-driven changes.

Most over-fished fish species

The European hake remains the species subject to the highest fishing pressure in the whole Mediterranean, followed by turbot in the Black Sea and horse mackerel in the Mediterranean.

Stocks fished within biologically sustainable limits mostly include small pelagic species (sardine or anchovy), and some stocks of red mullet and deep-water rose shrimp.

Catch levels – latest trends

Overall, fish catch levels have been stable for the last few years, but are significantly down from the record years of the 1980s – 1.2 million tonnes in 2016 versus 2 million tonnes in 1982.

The 1.2 million of tonnes comprise of 830 000 tonnes of fish caught in the Mediterranean and 390 000 tonnes of fish from the Black Sea. The bulk of catches consists of small pelagics (sardines, anchovies accounting for a third of all catches) although the catch is composed of a high number of species compared to other areas of the world.

Across, the region, the ranking of capture fisheries production in 2014-2016 continues to be dominated by Turkey (321 800 tonnes and 26 percent of total landings compared to 31 percent in 2013), followed by Italy (185 300 tonnes and 16 percent, similar to the 2013 percentage). Algeria (96 300 tonnes and 8 percent) and Greece (65 700 tonnes and 5 percent) also maintain the same (2013) percentages in landing contribution. Both Tunisia (185 300 tonnes) and Croatia (74 400 tonnes) show an increase compared to 2013 (from 7 to 9 percent for Tunisia and from 3 to 6 percent for Croatia). Total landings for Spain (78 200 tonnes) decreased from 8.5 percent to 7 percent of the total).

Among subregions, the Black Sea continues to provide the largest contribution to capture fisheries production, with a 32 percent of the total, followed by the western Mediterranean (22 percent of total), the Adriatic Sea (16 percent), and the central and eastern Mediterranean (15 percent each).

Discards and incidental catches of vulnerable species still of concern – 275 000 tonnes of fish discarded every year

Some 230 000 tonnes of Mediterranean fish is discarded every year – about 18 percent of total catches. In the Black Sea, discards are estimated at around 45 000 tonnes or around 10-15 percent of total catches.

Some sectors generate more discards than others – trawling, for example, accounts for over 40 percent in some areas, whilst small-scale fisheries tend to be below 10 percent.

According to the report, incidental catches of vulnerable species are relatively rare events but are important because the species caught are of conservation concern. Among the vulnerable species most affected by incidental catches, are sea turtles (which appear in 8 out 10 of reports on incidental catches) followed by sharks, rays, and skates (appearing in 2 out of 10 reports on incidental catches each). Seabirds and marine mammals represent the lowest number of incidental catches, and are only occasionally included on incidental catches reports.

The report was launched on the occasion of the first GFCM Forum on Fisheries Science (Fish Forum 2018) organized at the FAO headquarters from 10th to 14th December 2018, as a recognition of the instrumental role of science in improving knowledge towards sustainable fisheries management.

Other key facts and figures from The State of Mediterranean and Black Sea Fisheries

  • Marine capture fisheries in the Mediterranean and Black Sea produce an estimated annual revenue of $2.8 billion and directly employ just under a quarter of a million people.
  • Unlike other major fishing areas, Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries lack large mono-specific stocks, and exploit instead a variety of benthic and pelagic stocks of fish, as well as molluscs and crustaceans.
  • The officially reported fishing fleet operating in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea in 2017 comprises around 86 500 vessels, 6 200 units less than in 2014.
  • Small-scale vessels make up by far the biggest proportion of the region’s fleet (83 percent in the Mediterranean and 91 percent in the Black Sea)
  • Small-scale fishing vessels generate most employment (59 percent) in the sector, but generate only 26 percent of total revenue. Workers on small-scale vessels only earn about 50% of what workers on trawlers/purse seiners earn.
  • The Mediterranean and Black Sea are one of the most carefully monitored regions in the world – the main commercial species, about 50 percent of the total catches, are scientifically assessed.
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