, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 107-115

Long-term changes in the pelagos, benthos and fisheries of the North Sea

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Abstract

Pronounced changes have occurred in the fisheries, plankton and benthos of the North Sea over the last five decades. Attribution of the relative contribution of anthropogenic versus natural hydrometeorological modulation to these changes is still unclear. As a background a summary history of our understanding of the state of health of the North Sea is outlined. We then focus on two contrasting periods in the North Sea, one between 1978–82 (cold) and the other post 1987 (warm) when pronounced alterations in many ecosystem characteristics occurred. The scale of the changes in the second of these periods is sufficiently large and wide ranging for it to have been termed a regime shift. A combination of local, regional and far field hydrometeorological forcing, and in particular variability in oceanic inflow, is believed to be responsible for the observed changes. Finally attention is drawn to the poor status of North Sea fish stocks where 7 stocks are documented as being fished outside safe biological limits. This situation is primarily believed to be a consequence of overfishing, but may have been exacerbated by environmental change.