Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Integrating bio-physical and economic aspects of climate change: effects on North Sea flatfish and shrimp fisheries

Climate change impacts fisheries in many ways, through changes in the bio-physical environment and developments in local marine spatial planning as well as the global economic environment. Here we have integrated several sources of disturbance which affect fisheries: 1) The bio-physical disturbance, through changes in sea-temperature will affect the distribution of fish stocks. 2) The human response to climate change in terms of energy production and environmental protection will modify the space utilisation of marine areas and decrease the space available for fishing. And 3) global economic changes will affect energy and food prices, thus directly impacting the economic performance of fisheries.

We used FISHRENT to simulate how climate change will likely impact the Dutch, German and UK fishing fleets targeting flatfish and shrimp in the North Sea. Fish displacement, area closures and price change scenarios are applied separately and in combination in order to investigate effects on the fisheries.


Ecological changes and development of other activities leading to area closures both cause a limited decrease of profit for the fishing fleets.

The displacement of sole and plaice to Northern area only has a very limited impact on the profitability of the flatfish fisheries in the time frame analysed. The recovery of both stocks to high levels of biomass within the simulation period ensured that there is still enough fish in the current fishing grounds.

Area closures impact fishing behaviour by reducing the available fishing grounds . The extensive closures simulated in the scenarios negatively affect the economic performance of the fleets especially in B1 scenario. The shrimp fishery is particularly impacted by the closures in the German Bight. Shrimp fleets are forced to extent their fishing effort to other coastal areas (increasing the fishing density in these areas) or to reduce their effort. Because flatfish are spread around the North Sea, flatfish fishers are more flexible in their effort allocation and can move to open areas more easily. Closures are implemented as a limitation of access to part of the biomass so closures will only have an impact on effort distribution if available biomass in the remaining open area is limiting meaning that the economic impact of closures is underestimated (see also stress level analysis approach). Moreover, the increase of fishing density and vessel crowding in the open areas is not taken into account while crowding would incur higher costs because of technical interaction between the vessels. In addition, the increase in fishing intensity in open areas could also damage the habitat in those areas and decrease their productivity.


The main drivers of future profitability of flatfish and shrimp fisheries in the North Sea are the evolution of fish and fuel prices and how they evolve compared to the other. The increase in fuel prices can partially be compensated if fish prices increase.

The increase of fuel and fish prices have a much higher impact on the economic performance of the fleets than the fish displacement and the closures. The impact of price changes differs between scenario A2 and scenario B1. In scenario A2 the impact of the fish price increase surpasses the impact of the fuel price increase leading to higher profitability compared to a situation with no price increase (status quo). The shrimping fleets benefit particularly from the increased fish prices. The flatfish fleets, especially the big beam trawl fleets are negatively affected by the fuel price increase but the effect is still partly offset by the fish price increase. In scenario B1 the fish prices do not increase that strongly. Thus the increase of fuel prices, although lower, is no longer compensated by the increase in fish prices and thus the overall impact of the price changes is negative on the net present value of the profit. The fleets that have a high consumption of fuel are strongly impacted. They reduce their fishing activity and displace part of their effort to southern areas, closer to their harbours. The adaptation to increasing fuel price is already observed in the Dutch flatfish fishery where the large beam trawlers are reducing their activity and being replaced by vessels using more fuel-efficient gears.


The national enterprise scenario leads to better outcome for the fleets than global community. The combined effects of changes in fish distribution, area closures and price increase is more than the sum of its parts.

The overall net present value of the profit is higher in scenario A2 compared to scenario B1 The more extensive closures in B1 reduces the profits by about twice as much as in scenario A2. The overall positive economic results of scenario A2 lead to a larger fishing fleet than in scenario B1. The nationalistic approach in scenario A2 protects the national fishing industry to a certain degree. In the global community scenario B1 the fish prices are too low to effectively protect the national fishing fleets.

In both scenarios fishing fleets have to adapt their spatial allocation due to fish moving north, steaming costs increasing through fuel price and a decreased set of spatial options because of closures. In scenario A2 the flatfish segments move their effort mostly to the middle of the North Sea. This seems to be a compromise between following the species displacement further north and stop fishing in the very north of the North Sea mainly because of the high fuel price. In scenario B1 the extensive closures lead to far more effort being displaced, fishers both stay more in the south and fish less. In both scenarios, the remaining open the coastal areas and the middle of the north sea effort increases.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • Habitats and Birds Directive
  • Integrated European Maritime Policy (IMP)
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive

Lead Author:

Katell G. Hamon and Heleen Bartelings
Wageningen University (WU)
Date of research: June 2014

Related articles:

Changes on stocks and management in saithe fishery 

Connectivity: plaice spawning and nursery areas 

Modelling hotspots of change in the North Sea 

Response of plaice and sole to climate change 

Cod, recruitment, temperature and zooplankton

Fish stock location and international agreements

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.