Understand fisheries catch limits and closed fishing areas

How catch limits are set and how to get involved in setting them. This includes current catch limits and closed fishing areas.

What are catch limits?

It is your responsibility to know your catch limits. Check the annexe to your vessel licence for detailed information about what you can and cannot catch. Any breach of the terms set out is a criminal offence.

Catch limits are measured in tonnes (t) or kilograms (kg). They are the maximum live weight that may be caught and retained on board, landed or transhipped, unless otherwise stated. You calculate the live weight by multiplying landed weight by the suitable conversion factor.

Get involved in setting catch limits

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) wants to involve fishermen in managing the quota for 10-metres-and-under and non-sector vessels. Your comments and suggestions about setting catch limits can help to make sure that decisions are made taking into account the real situation at local level.

Please send relevant information to before the 15th of the month. MMO cannot respond to individual emails, but you may contact you for more information.

Email if you want MMO to visit a fishermen’s association or organisation to discuss quota issues.

Sector catch limits

Your producer organisation (PO) will tell you your catch limits. Your fishing vessel licence will list the stocks that you cannot keep on board or land. Check with your PO if you have any queries about catch limits.

Over 10 metre non-sector and 10 metres and under pool catch limits

Your catch limits are in your vessel licence annexe and can be varied through the year. Your fishing vessel licence annex will also list the stocks that you cannot keep on board or land.

Current catch limits are detailed for 10 metres and under and over 10 non-sector pools

Closed fishing areas

It is illegal to fish with restricted fishing gear in a closed fishing area for the specified period of time that it is closed. If you don’t comply with the closure, you may be investigated and this may lead to a fine.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO), acting on behalf of all four UK Fisheries Administrations (UKFAs), is seeking views on a proposal to close ICES area VIId king scallop (Pectens maximus) fishery between 1 August and 30 September 2022 to all vessels.

Fishing gears

Restricted gears are:

  • demersal trawls and seines
  • beam trawls
  • fixed nets – gill, entangling and trammel
  • long lines

Gears that are not restricted are:

  • scallop dredges
  • pots
  • pelagic gears
  • drift nets
  • purse seines
  • jiggers that target herring, mackerel and horse mackerel

Real time closures

A real time closure (RTC) helps to reduce:

  • disruption to spawning grounds
  • the number of juvenile fish caught
  • the amount of fish discarded

MMO manages a system of closures in English waters to help manage cod effort in the Eastern Channel (Area VIId) and the North Sea (Area IV). Marine Scotland manages closures in Scottish waters.

RTCs apply to all UK vessels 10 metres and over that use the restricted gears. Vessels under 10 metres are asked to comply voluntarily.

You may also be interested in reading more information on closed fishing areas in English waters

The EU runs a scheme in all EU waters that applies to all EU fishing vessels.

EU juvenile real time closures

In September 2009, the European Community and Norway agreed to implement a RTC scheme in the North Sea and Skagerrak for the protection of juvenile cod, haddock, whiting and saithe. The scheme is independent of our current real time closure scheme in place for cod. In August 2010, detailed rules for the implementation of real time closures were put into practice by Commission Regulation (EU) No 724/2010 (PDF, 754 KB, 5 pages).

All closures instigated by this scheme must be adhered to by all EU member state vessels.

Read the real time closures flowchart (PDF, 20.6 KB, 1 page) to see explanations of each of the four types of real time closure including:

  • trigger levels
  • sample sizes
  • duration of closure
  • size of closure.

The details of the scheme are as follows:

  1. Closures shall only be determined by live sampling at sea by an authorised inspector.
  2. Where it is estimated that 200 kg of any mixture of cod, haddock, whiting and saithe are present in the haul, a sample shall be taken.
  3. A representative sample (start, middle and end of haul) of at least 200 kg shall be weighed and measured.
  4. Fish below the following sizes shall be regarded as juveniles
  5. Juvenile closure trigger levels - if 10 per cent of the sample (by weight) are juveniles, then a closure trigger is activated. Or if the total quantity of cod in the sample exceeds 75 per cent, then the trigger level shall be 7.5 per cent juveniles (by weight).
  6. The closed area shall be 50 square nautical miles and closed to fishing for 21 days. The area will automatically reopen at midnight (UTC) when the period has expired.
  7. Under the EU juvenile real time closures scheme there is no limit to the number of closures at any one time within the North Sea.

Permitted gears within EU juvenile real time closures

  • Pelagic trawls
  • Purse seines
  • Drift nets
  • Jiggers targeting herring, mackerel, horse mackerel
  • Pots
  • Scallop dredges
  • Gill nets

There are no current juvenile closures.

Historical cod catch rates

MMO uses the cod catch rates (kilograms an hour) from the previous catch year and vessel monitoring system data to identify areas where the numbers of cod are the highest. MMO can close up to 9 areas each month.

An offshore (outside of 12 nautical miles from shore) area will be closed for the entire month, and inshore (within 12 nautical miles from the shore) area will be closed for 14 days.

Live samples taken at sea

If a sample is at or above a specific level (trigger level), an area may be closed. Offshore areas will be closed for 21 days and inshore areas for 14 days.

North Sea and Eastern Channel

When What the closure protects Trigger level
1 January to 30 April Spawning mature cod (longer than 50cm) 10 mature cod
1 May to 31 December Cod and to prevent discards 80 cod (all sizes)

North Sea and Skagerrak juveniles

A representative sample from the start, middle and end of a haul will be weighed and measured if the haul contains 200kg of any mixture of cod, haddock, whiting or saithe.

When What the closure protects Trigger level
Entire year Juvenile species of cod (less than 35cm), haddock (less than 30cm), whiting (less than 27cm) and saithe (less than 35cm) 10% of the sample, or 7.5% of the sample if more than 75% of the sample is cod

Fish below the following sizes shall be regarded as juveniles:

  • cod 35cm
  • haddock 30cm
  • whiting 27cm
  • saithe 35cm

Trigger levels will usually be assessed during an inspection at sea. However, if your catch is at or above trigger levels while fishing, you can contact the UK Fisheries Call Centre:

Tel: +44 (0)131 271 9700
Fax: +44 (0)131 244 6471

Seasonal closures

MMO also closes areas based on advice from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science to protect spawning cod. These are called seasonal closures.

Further information If you would like to receive notification of closures, email and let MMO know if you can receive electronic charts as attachments.

Contact information

Catch limits: Fisheries Management Team

0300 123 1032

Closed fishing areas: FMC Operations

0191 376 2647

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 23 July 2015 + show all updates
  1. Broken link fixed

  2. Catch limits updated following variation of 11 July 2014

  3. First published.