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Sunday, 3 July 2016

Fears for bass recovery result in zero catch advice for 2017

Latest advice shows sea bass population is dangerously low




The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) says the latest advice from ICES that no seabass should be caught in 2017 from the stock in UK’s waters reveals the desperate situation this restaurant and recreational angling favourite is in.

The advice confirms fears that the population - which is mainly shared with France and the Netherlands - has now slipped to dangerously low levels and is at risk of not recovering properly.
This news comes on the back of emergency measures imposed by the EU in 2015 and then further restrictions to the fishery from January this year including a complete ban in February and March to protect spawning aggregations of seabass (except a 1% bycatch allowance for trawl fisheries).
Whilst it’s clear these measures are achieving reductions in catches and helping to protect juveniles, they don’t go anywhere near enough to prevent further declines in the population which is now at a critically low level.

Samuel Stone, MCS Fisheries and Aquaculture Programme Co-ordinator, says the writing has been on the wall for the bass fishery for a number of years: “Despite that, the fishing industry has fought hard to play down the seriousness of the situation. In 2014, scientists recommended an 80% reduction in bass catches, and whilst large reductions have been made, the resulting reductions have been more like 50%, and even then there is huge uncertainty in the actual catch figures for bass as it’s known to be illegally caught and sold in the UK and there is a large recreational catch.”

At the end of 2015, the European Commission had proposed a complete moratorium for seabass for the first six months of 2016 which MCS was supportive of, but what was finally agreed by the Council of Ministers was significantly watered down and included many exemptions to allow for the ongoing fishing of bass by several fleets.

Scientists suggest that even if a zero catch was implemented next year – something that will be impossible to achieve - the population would likely still be near or below critical levels in 2018. MCS strongly supports the scientific advice for a zero catch next year, but says that in order to get anywhere near this, additional selectivity and avoidance measures and much better monitoring will be needed.

MCS already has a red rating for this seabass fishery in its Good Fish Guide | (www.goodfishguide.org), advising all consumers and businesses to avoid buying bass until the fishery has recovered to a healthier state.

“With this new advice, the red rating will be maintained for the foreseeable future and those wishing to buy bass should take extra care to find out where their fish is from. Most bass in the UK are actually farmed and represent a better choice at the moment. There are one or two other stocks from further afield, but not enough is known about these populations to know if they represent a sustainable choice” says Samuel Stone.