Britain’s fish populations are in a ‘deeply troubling state’

Half of Britain’s 10 largest fish populations are in a “deeply troubling state”, having been either overfished or depleted to a critically low size, according to a new report. The situation is being driven by the UK government setting catch limits at levels that exceed scientific advice, said Oceana, a Washington DC-based NGO.

The UK’s fishing industry relies heavily on 10 key stocks. Five are either being overfished, including mackerel, which accounted for the largest volume of landings in the UK in 2021, or have reached critically low populations, such as North Sea cod. Many cod species are in crisis, pushing the popular fish close to population collapse.

The report examined a wider total of 104 populations of fish, most of the UK’s commercial fish stocks. A third (34%) are being overfished and only 45% are being sustainably fished. The rest could not be assessed due to a lack of data, it found.

In addition to fishing pressure, the audit also assessed population size, finding that less than half (41%) were at a healthy size and a quarter were in critical condition. Again, the remainder could not be assessed due to a lack of data.

Three of the worst-managed populations – Celtic Sea cod, West of Scotland cod and Irish Sea whiting – are so low that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ices), a body providing advice on delivering sustainable yields, has advised a total ban on all catches.