Fish and Shellfish Stocks: 2015 Edition

Information on the state of fish and shellfish stocks of commercial importance to the Scottish fleet, inclduing Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for each stock.

Saithe Stocks - North Sea and West of Scotland (IIIa, IV and VI)

Saithe ( Pollachius virens) is mainly taken by demersal trawl as part of a directed fishery along the Northern Shelf edge and Norwegian Trench. Saithe are also taken as part of the mixed demersal fishery.

They are, by weight, the third most landed roundfish species caught by Scottish fishermen.

2015 position: UK share 8,271 tonnes

Last Year: 9,303 tonnes

Landed into Scotland in 2013: 10,468 tonnes

Value for 2013: £8.718 million


Adult saithe can be caught in almost any sea area but occur mainly around the 200m depth contour. In late summer and autumn young saithe are found in large numbers within Scottish and Norwegian coastal waters, usually on grounds which are unsuitable for commercial fishing. The adult stock can occur in dense shoals which move around the water column and are often caught hundreds of metres above the seabed.

Saithe reach maturity between the ages of four and six years. A medium sized adult female can produce about 2.5 million eggs during a spawning season. Spawning takes place between January and April near to the edge of the continental shelf to the north and west of the Outer Hebrides. Initially the young fish live near to the surface but by mid-summer they can be found close inshore, in bays and harbours. In their second year they live along the shoreline before eventually moving to deeper water. This offshore migration usually occurs in springtime. Saithe grow quickly, averaging around 15cm per year for the first three years and 10cm for the next three, reaching 100cm by the time they are eleven years old.

Saithe are active predators, feeding on the bottom and in mid-water. By weight, fish prey dominate their diet at all times of the year. Herring, Norway pout and sandeel are the main fish species eaten.

Spawning Grounds and 2013 Distribution of Landings by Scottish Vessels (tonnes)

ICES Advice on Management

Information Source:

Quoted text in italics.

Saithe Stocks - North Sea and West of Scotland

MSY and precautionary approach reference points



Management Plan


200,000 t



MSY Approach

MSY Btrigger

200,000 t



Precautionary Approach









State of stock and advice

  • Fishing mortality, F, has generally increased since 2004. F in 2013 was estimated to be 0.301 which is just below Fpa and at around the same value for F MSY.
  • The status of the stock has deteriorated in the last few years. The spawning stock is estimated to have been above Bpa from 2001-2008 but has since declined to just below Bpa.
  • Fishing mortality and biomass are both below their precautionary limits. However fishing mortality is slightly above the level which is consistent with achieving maximum sustainable yield ( F2012> F MSY).
  • This year's advice is in accordance with the EU-Norway management plan, with the 15% TAC constraint imposed, resulting in an advised TAC of 80, 097 tonnes in 2015 for the whole assessment area.

There has been a southern shift in geographical distribution in at least for the German fleet. This is probably due to EU fleets coming under the effort regime of the EU cod management plan, and may shift the distribution of catches toward younger aged fish.

The EU-Norway management plan was reconsidered in February 2013, but no modification was implemented. It was previously evaluated by ICES in 2012 and considered to be consistent with the precautionary approach in the short term (< 4 years).

The current assessment estimates SSB in 2014 to be 13% higher than estimated in 2013, The basis for the advice is the same as last year: the management plan.

In contrast to single-species advice there is no single recommendation for mixed fisheries ( ICES, 2013b), but rather a range of plausible scenarios, assuming fishing patterns and catchability in 2013 and 2014 are unchanged from those in 2012. Major differences between the outcomes of the various scenarios indicate potential undershoot or overshoot of the advised landings corresponding to the single-species advice. As a result, fleet dynamics may change, but cannot be determined.

Assuming fishing patterns and catchability in 2014 and 2015 are unchanged from those in 2013, cod and Nephrops in FU 6 are the limiting species (73% and 27%, respectively) for the fleets in the North Sea demersal fisheries in 2015.

Following the 'cod' scenario (full implementation of the cod management plan), and also the effort management scenario, the saithe management plan catch options could not be fully utilized.

Management outcomes for 2015

In December 2014 at the Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels, the EU Total Allowable Catch for North Sea and west of Scotland saithe was set at 37,732 tonnes, with the UK quota for 2015 at 8,271 tonnes.

This quota decision was reached in accordance with ICES advice and the saithe long term management plan and represents a reduction in fishing opportunity in 2015.


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