Seabass sinking into deep trouble as European states fail to agree on adequate rescue package – Iconic fish faces uncertain future, says Marine Conservation Society

UK Bass Record - John Locker Whitby

UK Bass Record – John Locker Whitby

The UK’s leading marine charity, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), says a fish that has become a restaurant favourite in recent years requires urgent help from European states if the fishery is to be saved from a complete crash. The charity says a temporary ban on all fishing for seabass should not be discounted.

Seabass is an iconic species which is popular with both restaurants and retailers, but one that has been subject to overfishing for many years.

Since 2008, recruitment of young fish into the main seabass stock in the Northeast Atlantic has been poor, and since 2010, the size of the population has been rapidly decreasing and is on track to plummet to levels from which it may struggle to recover.

The latest scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) indicates the situation for seabass is getting worse.

Samuel Stone, Fisheries Officer at the Marine Conservation Society, says that not enough is being done to reverse the fortunes of seabass: “Lack of agreement between EU member states over how to manage this valuable stock leaves the fish and its fishermen facing a very uncertain future.

Fishery management measures that sufficiently reduce catches are urgently needed to reverse the fortunes of this fish; if such measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, a complete moratorium on fishing for seabass may well be necessary in the foreseeable future”.

While much of the seabass sold in the UK comes from farmed sources, a significant amount is wild caught. Last year ICES, the scientific body which provides advice on seabass in the EU, recommended total catches of both recreational and commercial fisheries be decreased by a massive 80% to prevent further decline of the stock.

Due to continued disagreement between Member States on management of seabass, the European Commission had to apply emergency measures between January and April 2015, banning pelagic trawling during the spawning period. Subsequently, a three fish bag-limit for recreational fishermen and restrictions on catches for commercial fisheries, as well as an extension of the moratorium of commercial fishing for seabass around Ireland to include all vessels, have all been agreed by Member States.

These restrictions are predicted to reduce catches by only 60% for pelagic trawlers, 22% for demersal vessels and 6% for hook and line fisheries – a far cry from the 80% total reduction advised by ICES.

“New advice from ICES for bass fishery management in 2016 indicates that the stock is in an even worse state now than previously recorded. ICES are recommending catch totals of just a third of what was proposed last year for 2015, with only 541 tonnes recommended for 2016. Last year, the UK alone caught well over 1000 tonnes of seabass, with the French catch being even more than this at over 1300 tonnes. The stock is in rapid decline, and much more needs to be done – and urgently – to prevent this iconic and important fishery from collapsing.” says Samuel Stone.