The North Sea harbours an intensive fishery which removes between 30 and 40% of the biomass of exploited fish species each year. In addition fishing causes mortality of non-target species of benthos, fish, seabirds and mammals. Heavy towed gears disturb the uppermost layer of the seabed and cause mortality of benthos, while gillnets accidentally entangle seabirds and marine mammals. Unwanted catch is usually returned to the sea where it is eaten by scavenging species, such as seabirds. Since the North Sea ecosystem is highly complex and exhibits a high natural variability, it has proved difficult to isolate the longer term consequences of these impacts. Until more is known about the environmental impact of fisheries management, action (or no action) will have to be agreed upon in the light of considerable scientific uncertainty.