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Blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou)

30.09.2010 // ICES classifies the blue whiting stock to have full reproduction capacity. The stock is being managed on a sustainable level and after the precautionary approach principle. For 2010 the Norwegian quota was set to 135 297 tonnes.

Management and technical regulations of the fishery

On 16 December 2005, after six years of negotiations, the coastal states EU, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland and Norway reached consensus on the management and allocation of the vital blue whiting stocks through an Agreed record of conclusions of fisheries consultations, limiting the catches of blue whiting for the coastal states to no more than 2 million tons for 2006. A related NEAFC regulation for 2006 was also adopted. Initiatives by the industry organizations in Norway and several other countries made a significant contribution to the solution on blue whiting.

In November 2008, the coastal states agreed to implement a long-term management plan from 2011 onwards, with a significant reduction (35 per cent) in fishing mortality for both 2009 and 2010. The TAC agreed for 2010 is 540 000 tons, a reduction of the TAC in 2009 (590 000 million tons).

ICES’ management advice for blue whiting is given in the form of exploitation boundaries in relation to precautionary limits (i.e. recommended catch limits across all states). However, due to the lack of an international agreement for many years on how to divide this total quota among the respective states, no agreed catch limit was established before 2006. This led to catches (and TACs) well above the ICES advice; and the blue whiting fishery is thus still not considered sustainable. ICES have evaluated the long-term management plan that is to be implemented in 2011. The plan has been concluded to be in accordance with the precautionary approach (in the long-term).

The surge of catches was preceded by increased recruitment of young blue whiting to the fishable stock. This increase has saved the stock from collapse. The most recent survey and assessment results indicate that the blue whiting stock is still relatively large in comparison to the historic stock abundance.

However, the catches of blue whiting are still exceeding ICES advice and thus the stock is decreasing. Furthermore, after a decade of strong recruitment, the latest year classes (the 2005-2007 year classes) recruiting to the stock are estimated to be very weak.

From 1st of January 2010 it is legally required in Norwegian waters to apply sorting grids in blue whiting fisheries.


Blue whiting is a small pelagic fish that lives most of its life at 200 to 600 meters depth. It is widely distributed in the North-East Atlantic and is therefore an important link in the marine food chain, feeding on plankton crustaceans and small fish and being itself prey to a wide range of predatory fish, squid and marine mammals.

Spawning takes place in late winter and early spring along the shelf edge west of the British Isles and west of the Rockall Bank. Ocean currents transport eggs and larvae to the Norwegian Sea which is the main nursery and feeding area for the northern stock component.

About the fishery

The most important fishing areas for blue whiting are the spawning grounds west of the British Isles – where the fishery takes place before, during and after the spawning in February-April.

The Norwegian blue whiting fishery consists of combined trawlers/purse seiners operating large mid-water trawls. The spawning fishery is a clean fishery with hardly any by-catch. However, in recent years, the directed fishery has continued in the southern Norwegian Sea during late spring and summer. In this fishery, more young fish has been caught, as well as unwanted saithe and redfish. Industrial trawlers operating all year around along the south-west coast of Norway also target blue whiting, as well as Norway pout, but a large number of other species are caught, sometimes making up a significant proportion of the catches.

Previously, almost all blue whiting landed in Norway has been processed into fish meal and oil, and used as animal feed. However, the new agreement allows for proper management and the basis for a quota that will allow individual vessels to plan their operation and increase the value of their catches.

Now that the agreement for management of blue whiting is in place, the price of blue whiting has seen a significant rise, and the industry also increasingly explores the possibility of using catch for human consumption.

Blue whiting is currently one of the largest fishery industries in the North-East Atlantic, and all blue whiting in this area is treated as one stock. As a fishery resource, blue whiting is still young – the stock was only “discovered” in the late 1960s, and the fishery developed in the 1970s. During most of the 1980s and 1990s, the catches were rather stable. However, the catches increased rapidly in the late 1990s, and a new catch record was set almost every year - with catches over 2 million tons in 2003-2005. However, in combination with the recent poor recruitment to the stock, catches are currently decreased significantly.


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