Good Fish Guide
Bass, seabass (Caught at sea)
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
Fish type - White round fish
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. The spawning stock biomass is now at it's lowest observed level and scientists advice that there should be zero catch (commercial and recreational) in 2017. Avoid eating wild-caught seabass from this area.
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.
Central and South North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, Bristol Channel, Celtic Sea
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, according to official data 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 30 kilos per transaction and there is no provision for collecting data for the cumulative tonnage being sold in this way.
The combined fishing pressure from 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 advised is being removed from the stock. Commercial landings in 2015 are now estimated as 2040 t. Recreational catch is known to be substantial but cannot be fully quantified and therefore the total catch is unknown but at least 885 t (77%) more than advised.
Scientific advice for catches in 2016 was to further reduce (by 47%) total landings (commercial and recreational) to no more than 541 tonnes.
Spawning-stock biomass (SSB) in 2016 is now below Blim (the lowest observed spawning-stock biomass level). ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, there should be zero catch (commercial and recreational) in 2017.
Until recently there were few management objectives or any TAC (Total Allowable Catch) agreed for the stock. 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 as part of a number of emergency measures introduced for the recovery of the stock the MLS was increased to 42cms. Further measures were adopted in 2016 to reduce fishing mortality; a fishing closure for all vessels, except for hooks and lines and set gillnets from 1 January to 30 June 2016. During this time a 1% bycatch of bass taken in trawl and seine netters is allowed; a fishing closure for hooks, lines and set gillnets for February and March and a 1.3 tonne monthly catch limit for these vessels outside the closed period; a 1 tonne monthly catch limit for 1 July to 31 December for all other vessels; a fishing closure in waters around Ireland for the whole of 2016. 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;
For recreational anglers a catch and release fishery for the first half of the year and a 1 fish bag limit for the second half of the year.
The European Anglers Alliance (EAA) estimate that in the UK, Ireland, France 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.
These measures are unlikely however to achieve the reduction of fishing mortality recommended by scientists to protect the stock.
The UK also has 37 designated bass nursery areas with fishing restrictions in UK legislation to protect young bass.
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.
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.
ICES Advice 2016, Book 5 http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2016/2016/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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