New hope for dwindling numbers of sea bass

The commercial landing of sea bass has more than doubled since the early 1990s and sea bass numbers are falling dangerously low. But emergency action taken by the European Commission has made experts hopeful that the stocks will be saved.

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The commercial landing of sea bass has more than doubled since the early 1990s and sea bass numbers are falling dangerously low. But emergency action taken by the European Commission has made experts hopeful that the stocks will be saved.

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The popularity of this fish in restaurants and with anglers is beginning to take its toll on numbers, and a 60% reduction in stock biomass in the last five years means that unless urgent action is taken to help replenish the seas, the bass may reach a point from which it simply cannot recover.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) recommends an 80% reduction in the amount of sea bass landed by both commercial and recreational fishing. The EU have responded to these warnings and recommendations and on the 26th January this year enforced an emergency ban on the fishing of pelagic trawlers for sea bass. The ban was imposed straight away and lasted until the 30th April – so was effective during the sea bass spawning season.

A ‘three bass a bag’ policy was introduced in March and Covers most of the UK, North Western France and the Netherlands. This will mean each angler can only catch three bass a day and will stop people returning from trips with hoards of them. 

In June there were additional EU restrictions for commercial vessels, with limits on how many kilograms of sea bass are allowed by each vessel per month. Mid water, pelagic and demersal trawlers now have a monthly limit of 1,500kg.

Most recently, the minimum landing size allowed was amended. Before July this year the allowed size was 36cm, but this has now been brought up to 42cm, as this is the size of sexually mature adults.

Many fishermen are worried about the effects these new bans and restrictions may have on their businesses, whilst others maintain that they are necessary to ensure fishing can continue in the long term. 

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said the measures were “about saving sea bass and saving jobs in the commercial and recreationally fishing sector”.  

According to ICES, 1,155 tonnes is the maximum amount of sea bass that can be landed in 2015. But last year recreational landings alone were of 1,500 tonnes, and commercial boats brought in between 4,000 and 6,000 tonnes.

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The Marine Conservation Society recommend ways people can buy fish responsibly, recommending that businesses and consumers buy UK farmed sea bass, and stay away from net and trawler caught fish, as this method is the most harmful.