Changing fish distributions challenge the effective management of European fisheries

Alan Ronan Baudron* (Corresponding Author), Thomas Brunel, Marie-Anne Blanchet, Manuel Hidalgo, Guillem Chust, Elliot Brown, Kristin M. Kleisner, Colin Millar, Brian R MacKenzie, Nikolaos Nikolioudakis, Jose Fernandes, Paul G. Fernandes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)
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Changes in fish distribution are being observed across the globe. In Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy, the share of the catch of each fish stock is split among management areas using a fixed allocation key known as ‘Relative Stability’: in each management area, member states get the same proportion of the total catch each year. That proportion is largely based on catches made by those member states in the 1970s. Changes in distribution can, therefore, result in a mismatch between quota shares and regional abundances within management areas, with potential repercussions for the status of fish stocks and the fisheries that depend on them. Assessing distribution changes is crucial to ensure adequate management and sustainable exploitation of our fish resources. We analysed scientific survey data using a three-tiered analytical approach to provide, for the first time, an overview of changes in distribution for 19 northeast Atlantic fish species encompassing 73 commercial stocks over 30 years. All species have experienced changes in distribution, five of which did so across management areas. A cross-species analysis suggested that shifts in areas of suitable thermal habitat, and density-dependent use of these areas, are at least partly responsible for the observed changes. These findings challenge the current use of Relative Stability to allocate quotas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)494-505
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Early online date23 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

The authors wish to thank the participants of the ICES workshop “Report of the Working Group on Fish Distribution (WKFISHDISH)” ( This work was supported by the Horizon 2020 European research projects ClimeFish (grant No. 677039) and CERES (grant No. 678193). The authors also would like to acknowledge the following funding sources: the Danish Recreational Fishers Fund - Marine Fiskepleje; the Research Council of Norway (EcoNorSe, grant No. 243895); the Gipuzkoa Talent Fellowships programme - Gipuzkoa Provincial Council, Spain.


  • fish distribution
  • fisheries management
  • relative stability
  • northeast Atlantic
  • suitable habitat
  • warming seas
  • density-dependence
  • SEA


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