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North Sea

Summary

The North Sea is semi-enclosed and shallow, except for the northernmost part. Its ecosystem is becoming increasingly fragile owing to the intensity of human activity, on and off-shore.

Since the 1970s, the North Sea has been Europe's main offshore-oil-extraction site. The EU’s three biggest ports – Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg – are situated on the North Sea coast. The region is also home to most of the world's maritime organisations and service providers. There is still an active fisheries industry. Though fishing itself is in decline, fish and seafood are still traded and processed in a great many places. Aquaculture is now established too, with various species farmed – mussels in the south and salmon in the north, for example.

The North Sea.

Population

The coastal area of the North Sea is one of the most heavily populated areas in Europe, some of the continent's largest agglomerations.

Other than the London metropolitan area (8 million inhabitants), we also find many cities that reach or exceed one million inhabitants such as Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and others that have several hundreds of thousands of inhabitants such as Antwerp, Edinburgh, Oslo, Bremen, The Hague, Bergen, Newcastle and Aberdeen.

Other than the London metropolitan area (8 million inhabitants), we also find many cities that reach or exceed one million inhabitants such as Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and others that have several hundreds of thousands of inhabitants such as Antwerp, Edinburgh, Oslo, Bremen, The Hague, Bergen, Newcastle and Aberdeen.

Exploitation of resources

Fishing is an important source of employment, in the catching (15 000 in 2002-2003), processing (35 000), and logistics sectors.

The main species caught are herring, whiting, coley, plaice, sprat, mackerel and cod. Catches were maintained in a range of 2.5 to 3 million tonnes from 1970 to 1995, but they have fallen substantially in the past few years to reach 1.4 million tonnes in 2007.

Aquaculture has experienced considerable development, focused on mussels and salmon. The North Sea is only the second fish farming area in the European Union (300 000 tonnes, 2007) but this ranking changes when we add Norwegian production (800 000 tonnes, 2007).

The exploitation of offshore hydrocarbons has developed considerably since the 1970s. Production, on the decline since the start of the century, stood at 225 million tonnes of oil and 240 billion m3 of gas in 2006. With the drop in British production, Norway is now the largest producer of gas. This activity has fostered the development of related industries and the installation of numerous submarine oil and gas pipelines.

The exploitation of renewable sources of marine energy, particularly offshore wind projects, has been developed in Denmark and the United Kingdom and more recently in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. The European Marine Energy Centre, in the Orkney Islands, has been testing prototypes for swell gauges and turbines for several years.

The main species caught are herring, whiting, coley, plaice, sprat, mackerel and cod. Catches were maintained in a range of 2.5 to 3 million tonnes from 1970 to 1995, but they have fallen substantially in the past few years to reach 1.4 million tonnes in 2007.

Aquaculture has experienced considerable development, focused on mussels and salmon. The North Sea is only the second fish farming area in the European Union (300 000 tonnes, 2007) but this ranking changes when we add Norwegian production (800 000 tonnes, 2007).

The exploitation of offshore hydrocarbons has developed considerably since the 1970s. Production, on the decline since the start of the century, stood at 225 million tonnes of oil and 240 billion m3 of gas in 2006. With the drop in British production, Norway is now the largest producer of gas. This activity has fostered the development of related industries and the installation of numerous submarine oil and gas pipelines.

The exploitation of renewable sources of marine energy, particularly offshore wind projects, has been developed in Denmark and the United Kingdom and more recently in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. The European Marine Energy Centre, in the Orkney Islands, has been testing prototypes for swell gauges and turbines for several years.

Transport of goods

Today the North Sea has the greatest concentration of large European ports, from Dunkirk to Hamburg via Rotterdam, which is the largest European commercial port. Traffic in these ports is essentially international, particularly for containers and energy products. Nevertheless, the North Sea does have a large amount of internal traffic; it is even the main European sea in this respect, with 673 million tonnes in 2006.

Table: The North Sea contains the largest European ports

General traffic (1)

Container traffic (2)

Very large port

Rotterdam (the Netherlands)

374

10.8

Major Ports

Antwerp (Belgium)

Hamburg (Germany)

165

118

7.8

9.9

Large ports

Amsterdam, (the Netherlands)

Bergen (Norway)

Bremen-Bremerhaven (Germany)

Immingham (United Kingdom)

Dunkirk (France)

London (United Kingdom)

Tees & Hartlepool (United Kingdom)

Between 50 and 100

0.4

4.9

0.8

Other large ports

Felixstowe (United Kingdom)

Zeebrugge (Belgium)

3.3

1.2

(1) Millions of tonnes, 2007 EUROSTAT data

(2) Millions of TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units), 2007 EUROSTAT data

Passenger transport

The North Sea is an important crossroads travelled by numerous ferry routes. The routes leaving the United Kingdom towards Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Norway transport about 2.6 million passengers (2007).

Shipbuilding and maritime services

The region has numerous shipbuilding yards, mainly in Germany, the European leader, and in the Netherlands.

Thanks to its dynamic history, the North Sea is one of the most important maritime services areas in the world. The decision-making centres are mainly located in London, Hamburg, Oslo and Rotterdam. In 2005-2006, the maritime services employed over 27 400 persons in the United Kingdom, 13 700 in Germany and 9 500 in the Netherlands.

Thanks to its dynamic history, the North Sea is one of the most important maritime services areas in the world. The decision-making centres are mainly located in London, Hamburg, Oslo and Rotterdam. In 2005-2006, the maritime services employed over 27 400 persons in the United Kingdom, 13 700 in Germany and 9 500 in the Netherlands.

Environment

A heavily used marine space, the North Sea faces numerous environmental problems. The main issue is the eutrophication of coastal waters, caused by nutrients carried by the many rivers that flow into it.

But there are also other problems, linked to chemical pollutants, the illegal emptying of oil tankers’ fuel tanks, and overfishing. Climate change has an impact on coastal erosion and requires investment in infrastructure on the southern edge of the sea, where altitudes are very low. There are several marine protected areas on the British coastline (The Wash, Moray Firth) and along the Dutch, German and Danish coast (Wadden Sea).

But there are also other problems, linked to chemical pollutants, the illegal emptying of oil tankers’ fuel tanks, and overfishing. Climate change has an impact on coastal erosion and requires investment in infrastructure on the southern edge of the sea, where altitudes are very low. There are several marine protected areas on the British coastline (The Wash, Moray Firth) and along the Dutch, German and Danish coast (Wadden Sea).

Research

The region has several multidisciplinary research centres (Kiel, Bremen) and research centres specialised in fisheries and marine biology (Aberdeen, Lowestoft), in coastal zones (The Hague, Ostend), maritime transport and shipbuilding (Hamburg, Göteborg), offshore oil (Aberdeen, Stavanger, Esbjerg), etc.

Given the configuration of coasts and islands, the exclusive economic zones do not reach 200 nautical miles and their limits had to be established by bilateral agreements. Consequently there are no international waters in the North Sea, as each zone is under the responsibility of the coastal States.

Given the configuration of coasts and islands, the exclusive economic zones do not reach 200 nautical miles and their limits had to be established by bilateral agreements. Consequently there are no international waters in the North Sea, as each zone is under the responsibility of the coastal States.

Governance

Due to its intense economic exploitation, the North Sea is one of the first maritime regions where maritime spatial planning has been applied, with a zoning not only of the coastal waters but also of the exclusive economic zones, for example by Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

The European Union manages the fisheries of its coastal Member States on the North Sea in the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy, consulting the North SeaRegional Advisory Council. This management is carried out in close collaboration with the neighbouring countries in the region: Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. These four parties coordinate their fishing activities, in order to jointly manage the shared stocks (for example certain stocks of herring) and to exchange quotas amongst themselves.

The North Sea is the area of competence for three agreements aimed at safeguarding the marine environment:

  • The Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas.
  • The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlanticor OSPAR Convention.
  • The Agreement for Cooperation in Dealing with Pollution of the North Sea by Oil and other Harmful substances or Bonn Agreement.

The conference of environment ministers of the North Sea coastal states (NSC) is an informal periodic meeting of the environment ministers of these States. It emerged in the early 1980s in order to mobilise States as well as worldwide and regional instruments on conservation issues.

The European Union manages the fisheries of its coastal Member States on the North Sea in the framework of the Common Fisheries Policy, consulting the North SeaRegional Advisory Council. This management is carried out in close collaboration with the neighbouring countries in the region: Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. These four parties coordinate their fishing activities, in order to jointly manage the shared stocks (for example certain stocks of herring) and to exchange quotas amongst themselves.

The North Sea is the area of competence for three agreements aimed at safeguarding the marine environment:

  • The Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas.
  • The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlanticor OSPAR Convention.
  • The Agreement for Cooperation in Dealing with Pollution of the North Sea by Oil and other Harmful substances or Bonn Agreement.

The conference of environment ministers of the North Sea coastal states (NSC) is an informal periodic meeting of the environment ministers of these States. It emerged in the early 1980s in order to mobilise States as well as worldwide and regional instruments on conservation issues.

Physical data

Very open to the north, the North Sea extends over 570 000 km². From north to south it measures one thousand kilometres, or almost twice its width which reaches a maximum of 580 km.

This sea is fairly shallow, with a depth that does not exceed 100 m except at its northern opening on to the Sea of Norway, where it reaches 725 m. The North Sea is salty (31-35 °/°°) and quite cold (3-18°C). It receives the waters of the major European river basins including the Elbe, the Rhine, the Meuse, the Scheldt and the Thames.

This sea is fairly shallow, with a depth that does not exceed 100 m except at its northern opening on to the Sea of Norway, where it reaches 725 m. The North Sea is salty (31-35 °/°°) and quite cold (3-18°C). It receives the waters of the major European river basins including the Elbe, the Rhine, the Meuse, the Scheldt and the Thames.

History

The North Sea has always been an important crossroads for meetings, trade and confrontation for its coastal peoples.

Its waters were crossed by the tribes which populated the British Isles: the Celts (1 000 BC), the Angles, the Jutes and the Saxons (5th century) and the Vikings (9th and 10th centuries). In the Middle Ages, the ports of Bruges and London were the convergence points of the trade routes of the south and north of Europe, pulling the North Sea into the sphere of influence of the Hanseatic League in the 13th century. It was on its shores that commercial fishing was born in the 15th century, in the Netherlands with the trade of herring in barrels. In the 17th century, it was the birthplace of the British and Dutch India Companies.

The North Sea has been the theatre of confrontations between the great European powers: the battle of Sluys between France and England (1340), the battle of Gravelines between the invincible Spanish Armada and England (1588) and numerous battles between England and the United Provinces during the Anglo-Dutch Wars (17th century). Relatively spared by the wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, it became an important trade and transport route for the Industrial Revolution. During the First World War, the North Sea was the site for the naval conflicts between the United Kingdom and Germany (naval battle of Jutland, 1916).

Its waters were crossed by the tribes which populated the British Isles: the Celts (1 000 BC), the Angles, the Jutes and the Saxons (5th century) and the Vikings (9th and 10th centuries). In the Middle Ages, the ports of Bruges and London were the convergence points of the trade routes of the south and north of Europe, pulling the North Sea into the sphere of influence of the Hanseatic League in the 13th century. It was on its shores that commercial fishing was born in the 15th century, in the Netherlands with the trade of herring in barrels. In the 17th century, it was the birthplace of the British and Dutch India Companies.

The North Sea has been the theatre of confrontations between the great European powers: the battle of Sluys between France and England (1340), the battle of Gravelines between the invincible Spanish Armada and England (1588) and numerous battles between England and the United Provinces during the Anglo-Dutch Wars (17th century). Relatively spared by the wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, it became an important trade and transport route for the Industrial Revolution. During the First World War, the North Sea was the site for the naval conflicts between the United Kingdom and Germany (naval battle of Jutland, 1916).

Bibliography

An exhaustive analysis of employment trends in all sectors related to sea or using sea resources – Summary report for the European Commission, DG MARE & ECOTEC, 2006.

Etude des performances économiques et de la compétitivité de l’aquaculture européenne, DG MARE et Ernst&Young, 2008.

E. OZSOY et A. MIKAELIN, Sensitivity to change: Black Sea, Baltic Sea and North Sea, NATO Advanced Sciences Institutes Series, Kluwer Academic Publisher, Dordrecht-Boston-London, 1997.

G. AMERINI, Short Sea Shipping of goods 2000-2006 in Statistics in focus– Transport, Eurostat, 2/2008.

D. ORTOLLAND & J.-P. PIRAT (dir.), Atlas Géopolitique des espaces maritimes: frontière, énergie, pêche et environnement, Ed. Technip, Paris, 2008.

P. SALZ, E. BUISMAN, J. SMIT & B. DE VOT, Employment in the fishing sector: current situation, DG MARE, 2004.

J. L. SUAREZ DE VIVERO, Atlas de la Europa maritima: juridicciones, usos y gestion, Edicones del Serbal, Barcelona, 2007.

J.-R. VANNEY, Introduction à la géographie de l’Océan, Institut Océanographique, Editions Océanis, Paris, 1991.

An exhaustive analysis of employment trends in all sectors related to sea or using sea resources – Summary report for the European Commission, DG MARE & ECOTEC, 2006.

Etude des performances économiques et de la compétitivité de l’aquaculture européenne, DG MARE et Ernst&Young, 2008.

E. OZSOY et A. MIKAELIN, Sensitivity to change: Black Sea, Baltic Sea and North Sea, NATO Advanced Sciences Institutes Series, Kluwer Academic Publisher, Dordrecht-Boston-London, 1997.

G. AMERINI, Short Sea Shipping of goods 2000-2006 in Statistics in focus– Transport, Eurostat, 2/2008.

D. ORTOLLAND & J.-P. PIRAT (dir.), Atlas Géopolitique des espaces maritimes: frontière, énergie, pêche et environnement, Ed. Technip, Paris, 2008.

P. SALZ, E. BUISMAN, J. SMIT & B. DE VOT, Employment in the fishing sector: current situation, DG MARE, 2004.

J. L. SUAREZ DE VIVERO, Atlas de la Europa maritima: juridicciones, usos y gestion, Edicones del Serbal, Barcelona, 2007.

J.-R. VANNEY, Introduction à la géographie de l’Océan, Institut Océanographique, Editions Océanis, Paris, 1991.

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