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Bass, seabass (Caught at sea)

Dicentrarchus labrax

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Gill or fixed net
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - Central and South North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, Bristol Channel, Celtic Sea
Stock detail - IVb and c, VIIa, and VIId-h
Certification -
Fish type - White round fish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is the least sustainable fish to eat and should be avoided. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find sustainable fish to eat.


Sustainability overview

The combination of slow growth, late maturity, spawning aggregation, and strong summer site fidelity increase the vulnerability of seabass to over-exploitation and localised depletion. Scientific advice is to further reduce fishing pressure to prevent the stock declining.

Biology

Bass or seabass belongs to a family of spiny-finned fish called Moronidae, which are closely related to groupers. Bass breed from March to mid-June, mostly in April, in British coastal and offshore waters, from January to March in the Bay of Biscay and from February to May in the English Channel and eastern Celtic Sea. It is a long-lived and slow growing species - up to 30 years of age - and can achieve a length of up to 1m with a weight of 12kg. Male bass mature at 31-35cm (aged 3-6 years) and females mature at 40-45cm (aged 5-8 years). Once mature, bass may migrate within UK coastal waters and occasionally further offshore. Increases in sea water temperature in recent decades have likely led to a more northerly distribution of seabass as it is now found further north into the North Sea. Climate warming may also have lengthened the time adult seabass spend in the summer feeding areas. After spawning, seabass tend to return to the same coastal sites each year.

Stock information

Stock area
Central and South North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, Bristol Channel, Celtic Sea

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Stock information
Bass is important to inshore artisanal fishers, offshore fisheries, and recreational anglers, and has a high socio-economic value. Historically, commercial seabass landings were minimal and the species was mainly the quarry of recreational anglers, but since the 1970s the commercial catch has escalated and by mid 1990s was believed to equal the recreational take. Although it cannot be fully quantified, the recreational catch currently represents about 27% of the total catch. Accurate assessment of commercial catches is also difficult because legislation allows vessels to sell directly to the public up to 25 kilos per transaction and there is no provision for collecting data for the cumulative tonnage being sold in this way. Fishing pressure from both commercial and recreational fishing is too high and above the recommended level. Commercial landings in 2013 were estimated at 4,132t, with total annual removals for the recreational sector estimated at 1,500t. Recruitment has been declining since the mid-2000s, and has been poor since 2008. This situation, combined with increasing fishing pressure is causing the stock to decline rapidly. Scientific advice is to reduce fishing pressure by 80% to prevent the spawning stock biomass (SSB) declining to such an extent that the stock's ability to rebuild itself becomes impaired. ICES advice for catches in 2015 was that total landings, from both commercial and recreational sectors, should be no more than 1,155t. This implies almost five times the amount of fish currently advised is being removed from the stock. Scientific advice for catches in 2016 is to further reduce (by 47%) total landings (commercial and recreational) to no more than 541 tonnes. ICES further recommends the implementation of 'input' controls, preferably through technical measures (minimum landing sizes, mesh sizes, seasonal closures etc.) to protect juvenile fish, in conjunction with limiting entry to the offshore fishery in particular and the implementation of a management plan to substantially reduce fishing mortality.

Management

Currently there are no specific management objectives or TAC (Total Allowable Catch) for this species. Following representation by recreational sport anglers, the UK Government proposed to increase the minimum landing size (MLS) for wild seabass to 40 cm, but opposition from commercial fishermen thwarted the attempt and it was left at the EU MLS of 36cm, which fails to provide protection for immature seabass as the size at which females first spawn is 42cm. In 2015 the MLS was increased to 42cms. In Ireland, a moratorium on commercial fishing for bass has been in effect since 1990 and the species is restrictively managed for its valuable recreational sector and angling tourism industry. Recreational fisheries in Ireland are subject to bag limits of 2 fish/24 hrs, a 40 cm minimum size limit, and a closed season from 15th May to 15th June annually. The European Anglers Alliance (EAA) estimate that in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands there are at least 1 million recreational sea anglers who target seabass regularly and who increasingly adopt sustainable catch and release tactics when targeting the species. The UK has 37 designated bass nursery areas with fishing restrictions in UK legislation to protect young bass.

Capture information

The majority of seabass landings are taken in targeted fisheries with additional landings of seabass taken as a bycatch. Inshore, small day boats operate using a variety of methods (e.g. gillnet, hook and line, trawl and seine) with relatively little activity in late winter/early spring. Offshore, pre-spawning and spawning aggregations of seabass are targeted by large pelagic trawlers, including pair trawlers, in the English Channel and Bay of Biscay during December to April. Seabass are also the most important species for the recreational angling sector in UK, France and Ireland. Surveys indicate total annual removals by France, England, Netherlands and Belgium of the order of 1,500t in the last few years. Trawling and gillnetting for seabass often results in unintended bycatch of marine mammals, especially harbour porpoise and common and bottlenose dolphin. In response to recommendations made in the UK Small Cetacean Bycatch Response Strategy (March 2003) European Council Regulation (EC) No. 812/2004 makes the use of acoustic devices or pingers mandatory for vessels of 12 m or more using bottom set gill nets and entangling nets in specific areas. See Fishing Methods for details. National legislation in the UK prohibits the retention of seabass captured from boats from 37 designated nursery areas. However, fisheries targeting other species with a significant seabass bycatch continue. Those taken with hook and line can be returned with high survival rates but those entangled in nets must be discarded. There is also a ban on gill nets with mesh size between 65 & 89 mm. The minimum landing size (MLS) for wild seabass was increased to 42 cm in 2015.

Read more about capture methods

Alternatives

Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below . Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Bream, Gilthead (Farmed) Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Cod, Atlantic Cod Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Coley, Saithe Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Haddock Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Hake, Cape

Hake, European Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Japanese amberjack, Yellowtail or Seriola

Meagre

Pollock, Alaska, Walleye Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Pouting or Bib

Sturgeon (Farmed) Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.

Tilapia

Whiting Depending on how and where it's caught this species ranges from sustainable to unsustainable. Click the name to display only the sustainable options.


References
ICES Advice 2015, Book 5 http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2015/2015/Bss-47.pdf; ICES Advice 2014, Book 5 http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2014/2014/bss-47.pdf; The Net Effect. A WDCS Report for Greenpeace. Ross and Isaac (2004); The Price of Fish: A review of cetacean bycatch in fisheries in the north-east Atantic. L Nunny (2011).

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