About the fishery
The main fishing season for sandeel is between April and June with one and two year old sandeel dominating landings. Historically, the fishery started at a moderate level in the early 1950s and increased gradually to around 150 000 tons in the latter half of the1960s. In the 1970s, the fishery developed rapidly, and after 1980 annual landings have fluctuated around 800 000 tons. In 2003, landings dropped abruptly and have fluctuated between 170 000 and 360 000 tons. The collapse of the fishery was particularly severe in the Norwegian economical zone with a close to 95 per cent reduction in landings in 2005. Because of this the sandeel fishery in Norwegian waters has been very limited. There was a small trial fishery in 2006, quota limitations in 2007 and a closure in 2009.
The stock developement lead to a change in philosophy in Norway and new ways to manage the fishery was needed. In 2011 Norway introduced a new management regime for sandeel based on spatial management of the stock in order to prevent local depletion in the Norwegian Economic Zone. This implies that fishing grounds will be partially closed for the sandeel fishery one year and open the next year. The objective is to rebuild and maintain sustainable spawning stocks of sandeel on all sandeel grounds in Norwegian waters. The basis for this system will be the scientific monitoring of the sandeel grounds. The initial quota in the Norwegian Economic Zone is set to 20,000 tonnes in 2013. Based on a scientific survey the quota for the Norwegian Economic Zone will be reviewed in the beginning of May 2013.
Sandeels are important prey for a variety of predators, including fish, sea birds and mammals, and as such, constitute an important link between the pelagic community and organisms higher up the food chain.
Sandeels are small, eel-like fishes that bury in the bottom substrate. Although there are five species of sandeel in the North Sea, landings are totally dominated by one species, namely lesser sandeel (Ammodytes marinus). The patchiness of suitable habitat consisting of relatively coarse sand is a key constraint on the distribution of sandeels. Lesser sandeel emerge temporarily from the sandy bottom around New Year to spawn. Around March to April, one year and older sandeel emerge from the bottom to feed on pelagic zooplankton during daytime, but bury in sand during the night. In June to July, the majorities of older sandeel stop feeding and go into hibernation. However, young-of-the-year sandeel continue to feed until October before hibernating.