Anthropogenic impact: Catches of shellfish

Photo: Institute of marine research, Norway

Fisheries and other harvesting 2016
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Norwegian and Russian vessels harvest northern shrimp in the Barents Sea over the stock’s entire area of distribution. Vessels from other nations are restricted to fish only in the Svalbard zone and the loophole. No overall TAC has been set for northern shrimp, and the fishery is regulated through effort control, licensing, and a partial TAC in the Russian zone only. The regulated minimum mesh size is 35 mm.

Northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis)

Bycatch is constrained by mandatory sorting grids, and by temporary closures in areas with high bycatch of juvenile cod, haddock, Greenland halibut, redfish, or shrimp (<15 mm carapax length or <6 cm total length). Catches have varied between 19 000 and 128 000 tonnes/year since 1977. Since the mid-1990s, a major restructuring of the fleet toward fewer and larger vessels has taken place. Since 1995, average engine size of a shrimp vessel in ICES Subareas 1 and 2 increased from 1000 HP (horse power) to more than 6000 HP in the early 2010s, and the number of fishing vessels has declined markedly. Overall catch decreased from approximately 83 000 tonnes since 2000, reflecting reduced economic profitability in the fishery. After a low of about 20 000 tonnes in 2013, catches have again started to increase and is expected to reach about 36 000 tonnes in 2016. The 2016 stock assessment indicated that the stock has been exploited in a sustainable manner, and has remained well above precautionary reference limits throughout the history of the fishery. Accordingly, ICES advised per the MSY-approach a 2017 TAC of 70 000 metric tonnes (ICES 2016a).

The geographical distribution of the stock in 2009–2015 was more easterly compared to that of the previous years (Figure Therefore, catch levels from some of the more traditional western fishing grounds have declined. Recent reports indicate lower catch rates than would be expected given the overall good stock condition. This may be related to operation costs for a relatively small fleet to move from more traditional fishing grounds, and to find new grounds with commercially viable shrimp concentrations.

Figure Shrimp density by year from inverse distance weighted interpolation (e.g. Fisher et al., 1987) between trawl stations (black dots) for the Joint Russian-Norwegian Ecosystem survey (Europe Albers Equal Area Conic projection). No map for 2016 available.Figure Shrimp density by year from inverse distance weighted interpolation (e.g. Fisher et al., 1987) between trawl stations (black dots) for the Joint Russian-Norwegian Ecosystem survey (Europe Albers Equal Area Conic projection). No map for 2016 available.

Red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus)

In the area east of 26°E and south of 71°30’N, and in Russian waters of the Barents Sea, the commercial crab fishery is managed to achieve long-term sustainability by setting annual quotas for this area. Outside this area (west of 26°E), the red king crab fishery is regarded as undesirable; a free non-legislated fishery is permitted, and release of viable crabs back into the sea is prohibited. In the Norwegian waters of the Barents Sea, the harvest rate of this species in the quota-regulated area is high; this is intended to keep the standing stock as low as possible to limit further spread of the crab. Male crabs above a minimum legal size of 130 mm, and females above 120 mm carapace length are taken in the quota-regulated fishery, and there are no seasonal catch restrictions.

Hence, Norwegian management of this fishery contradicts management regimes applied in both the Bering Sea (Alaska) and in the Russian part of the Barents Sea.
The current management of red king crab was evaluated in 2015. In 2016, 616 vessels participated in the regulated Norwegian king crab fishery while approximately 80 vessels participated in the free fishery. The Norwegian quota for 2017 are set to 2000 tonnes of male crabs and 150 tonnes of females. This corresponds to an extremely high exploitation rate in Norwegian waters. The Russian quota for 2016 was 8000 tonnes red king crab.

Snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio)

The fishery for snow crab started at a low scale in 2012. That year, 2500 tonnes was landed and since then the fishery intensity has increased and the number of boats from different countries participating has increased as well. Available data on landings reveals a steady increase in effort and catch. In 2016, 10 000 tonnes of snow crab was landed in Norway, and most of the crabs were fished in the Loophole. Also, the number of vessels participating in the fishery has increased from one vessel in 2012 to 33 boats in 2016.

Russian and Norwegian authorities have now defined the snow crab as a sedentary species which means that there are no obligations for the two nations to cooperate on the management framework. The management regime for the snow crab in the Barents Sea is under development and is expected to be finished during 2017.