Fisheries Impact

Objective of the challenge
This challenge focuses on collecting information on the impact of fisheries in the Arctic. Fisheries impact is interpreted as any disturbance of the seafloor of fishing vessels operating mobile bottom gear. There are several ways to estimate the level of seafloor disturbance depending on the information available.

It is assumed that there is a relationship between the capacity (number of vessels) or effort (usually kWdays) and fishing impact. The degree of impact will depend on the fishing technique that is used. The rationale is that vessels that use heavier gear (e.g. beam trawls) or larger gears (e.g. multiple combined pair trawls) will need more engine power to haul their nets through the water and over the sea floor, thus causing an increased impact on the seafloor. This method can work across very different métiers (i.e. a fishing activity which is characterised by one catching gear group and a group of target species, operating in a given area during a given season) and fisheries types as long as they are mobile (towed) gears. Gill nets, fykes and creeling cannot be measured in the same way but have only minimal impact on the seabed and are therefore excluded from this analysis.

This challenge focuses on compiling information on the actual impact of fisheries in the Arctic. The objective of this challenge is to collect and process fishing capacity and effort data. Furthermore, as the degree of impact will also depend on type of habitat that is disturbed, this challenge has also looked into compiling habitat information for the Arctic area.

Main results

Fishing capacity and fishing effort
Fishing capacity is considered to be a fairly crude proxy of fisheries impact (Piet et al., 2006) as there is no straightforward relationship between fishing capacity and the pressure exerted on the ecosystem, only if the vessels that make up the capacity engage in fishing do they contribute to pressure. Within this challenge the number of vessels per fishing métier has been used as indicator for fishing capacity.

Fishing effort is a better proxy for fishing impact and more often applied in data-limited situations. However, again the link between fishing effort and fisheries impact is certainly not directly correlated as the impact of one unit of fishing effort on the ecosystem may differ between métiers and/or the sensitivity of the area exposed to that specific fishing method. More sophisticated but also more accurate indicators for seafloor disturbance require high resolution data such as data that comes from Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). This data is held by the flag state of the vessel and is often subject to data protection regulations. As VMS data from specific vessels come under the data protection act it is not readily available for general use.

At present the available information that has been found on fishing impact for the Arctic area is scarce; only fragmented data has been found. Within this challenge we therefore did not succeed in generating an overall overview of fishing impact.

The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) provides effort information for the Arctic part of the Northeast Atlantic can be directly downloaded from the STECF website. See background information for further information.

Habitat information
Habitat information has been obtained from various sources. Different working groups within the Arctic Council provide some kind of information on important areas within the Arctic area. For example, the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council (CAFF) presents information on protected and important areas. Within CAFF 11 Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) have been identified in the Arctic. EBSAs are “special areas in the ocean that serve important purposes, in one way or another, to support the healthy functioning of oceans and the many services that it provides” (http://www.caff.is). Map can be downloaded here: http://www.caff.is/protected-and-important-areas/ebsas. Furthermore, the working group on Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme identified 97 areas of heightened ecological significance, including 40 areas used by fish (mostly spawning areas) within the Arctic Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs). These areas were identified on the basis of their importance to fish, birds and/or mammals (AMAP/CAFF/SDWG, 2013). Information can be found here: http://geo.abds.is/geonetwork/srv/eng/catalog.search#/metadata/1a87eadd-c170-4ebd-a3cb-81ae1a051b1d. There are also different European initiatives, e.g. EUNIS (information can be accessed through EMODnet seabed habitats:  http://www.emodnet-seabedhabitats.eu/default.aspx?page=1974&LAYERS=HabitatsNorway2015&zoom=2&Y=39.27348830986956&X=-5.112812498979618) and MAREANO project (http://www.mareano.no/kart/mareano.html),  that provide some kind of habitat information for specific Arctic parts of the Northeast Atlantic. Furthermore, Challenge 3 (Marine Protected Areas) may provide additional information on areas within the Arctic that deserve special conservation and/or are more vulnerable to fishing.

Arctic Council
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum for Arctic governments and people. The Council promotes interaction among the different Arctic parties on common Arctic issues. The work of the council is primarily carried out by six working groups, one of which is the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna Working Group (CAFF). In addition, Task Forces or Expert Groups may be established to carry out specific work.



Problems and Gaps

  • Only fragmented data has been found for fishing impact. Furthermore, the coding of the presented unit of effort data is not always clear making it not possible to use the data.
  • Due to privacy issues high-spatial resolution data on fishing impact is not readily available for general use.
  • Specific organisations that were addressed to identify accessible data did not reply.

Lessons learned

  • Information on fishing impact is scarce and mostly on low-spatial level resolution; it was not possible to generate an overall overview of fishing impact in the Arctic area.
  • Different sources provide information on important areas within the Arctic ocean. These areas are defined in different ways, each providing insight on areas that deserve special conservation.


AMAP/CAFF/SDWG, 2013. Identification of Arctic marine areas of heightened ecological and cultural significance: Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) IIc. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Oslo. 114 pp.

Piet, G.J., F.J. Quirijns, L. Robinson & S.P.R. Greenstreet, 2006. Potential pressure indicators for fishing, and their data requirements. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 64: 110-121.