RASS Records

Plaice in the Eastern English Channel, Beam trawl

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Content Last Updated
31 May 2018

European plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) is a widely distributed bottom-dwelling flatfish that inhabits the temperate waters of the Northeast Atlantic from the White Sea to the Bay of Cadiz most frequently at depths ranging from 0 to 50 m. Adults are usually solitary, burrowing into sandy and muddy habitat, and migrating seasonally between feeding and spawning areas. In this stock most females reach maturity by age 4 and trawl surveys during the spawning period indicate a maximum age of around 10. Spawning occurs in central English Channel between December and March usually at depths ranging from 20 to 40 m. A large number of plaice originating from Sub-area 4 (North Sea) and Division 7e (Western English Channel) migrate into Division 7d to spawn during winter. Juveniles in the first two years of life mainly inhabit nursery grounds in estuaries and semi-enclosed coastal areas before migrating to deeper offshore waters and recruiting to the fishery. Plaice feed on worms, molluscs and small crustaceans mainly at night; and they are preyed on by other fish, marine mammals and sea birds.

Landings of plaice in Division 7d (Eastern English Channel) averaged around 4 200 tonnes per year between 1980 and 2014, and discarding of mostly undersized fish has ranged from 30 to 40% of total international catch weight over the last three years. Plaice are mainly caught offshore by Belgian beam trawlers targeting sole (Solea solea) and French otter trawlers targeting mixed demersal species. Most plaice caught (65%) during the first quarter of the year consist of spawning migrants originating from Sub-area 4 and Division 7e. France take the majority of the landings (50%), followed by Belgium (30) and the United Kingdom (20%). The status of the plaice stock in Division 7d has improved recently, with an increase in spawning stock biomass since 2008 and a decrease in fishing mortality since the mid-1990s.

The status of the plaice stock in Division 7d (Eastern English Channel) has been scored a low risk. This is because spawning stock biomass has continued to increase above the trigger level (MSY Btrigger; below this level management action would be required) since 2011 and fishing mortality has remained below the optimal target rate associated with Maximum Sustaianable Yield (FMSY) since 2009. Consequently, the stock is harvested sustainably at full reproductive capacity.

The management of plaice in Division 7d (Eastern English Channel) has been scored a moderate risk. Management decisions are informed by an annual stock assessment, catches of plaice have closely followed the agreed Total Allowable Catches (TAC) over the last 5 years, and a comprehensive regulatory framework has been put in place. Management controls are derived from an analytical stock assessment, known to be precautionary and within the range specified by scientific advice.

However, there is a mismatch the assessment areas which constitute ICES Divisions 7d and 7e and the TAC area which consists of ICES Division 7d and e combined (Eastern and Western Channel). Although this has introduced some uncertainty into the assessment and control of catches, the controls have been effective in maintaining spawning stock biomass and fishing mortality above and below the value giving Maximum Sustainable Yield, respectively. Stock trends are similar in the Western English Channel ICES Division 7e stock, however there are concerns that the combined TAC may not control catches in the Division 7e stock (see Plaice in 7e profiles).

The bycatch risk of this fishery has been scored a very high risk. This is because beam trawls have the potential to take relatively high quantities of bycatch (> 50% of catch weight) including demersal elasmobranchs and occasionally protected, endangered and threatened (PET) species (e.g. sharks and rays) in certain circumstances. Absolute levels of discards across all fleets have gradually decreased since 2002 (Catchpole et al., 2011) and the incoming EU landings obligation is intended to reduce discarding further.

The habitat risk of this fishery has been scored a high risk. This is because beam trawls interact with the seabed, potentially modifying bottom topography including damage and removal of some biogenic features and interacting with vulnerable marine habitats and benthic communities.  However, the risk due to damage to vulnerable marine habitats is likely to be reduced given that most of the footprint of the gear occurs on core fishing grounds.


Some spatial management is in place and is continually being developed, which will restrict the footprint of this gear on the seabed. However, there remains some uncertainty about the location of some sensitive seabed habitats so these remain at risk.

TypeCurrent Risk StatusOutlookReason
StockLowImprovingThe status of the stock is likely to improve in the future given that spawning stock biomass has increased since 2008 to reach a record high and fishing mortality has decreased since the mid-1990s to reach a record low. Catches are in-line with the MSY approach, current stock size is the highest on record and recent exploitation rates are the lowest on record.
ManagementModerateStableThe management of the stock is likely to remain stable in the future. The Common Fisheries Policy is going through reform and there is some uncertainty on how this will impact fisheries management in the English Channel. However, management is likely to remain stable.
BycatchVery highImprovingBycatch of important commercial and non-commercial species remains high, but absolute levels of discards across all fleets have been gradually decreasing since 2001 and the incoming EU landings obligation is intended to reduce discarding further.
HabitatHighImprovingBeam trawls disturb seabed habitats, but a range of technical and spatial management measures are under development and will likely reduce the habitat risk in the future.

Nutrition information from 100g raw product

Rich in:
Vitamin B12
Good Source Of:
Vitamin B6
76 (kcal)
1.2 (g)
0.2 (g)
0 (g)
0.37 (g)