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Bass, seabass

Dicentrarchus labrax

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Handline
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - Irish Sea, Celtic Sea, English Channel and southern North Sea
Stock detail - IVbc, VIIa, VIId-h
Accreditation -
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 not a good choice of sustainable fish to eat and should be only eaten very occasionally. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find more sustainable fish to eat.


Sustainability overview

The precise status of bass stocks is unknown and fishing effort and catch is not controlled. 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 reduce fishing pressure by 80%. Seabass caught by handlining methods in the southwest of England is the best choice, as this is a selective and low impact method of fishing and all fish can be identified by a tag in the gill, providing traceability back to the individual fisherman who caught it. Ask for fish which has been line-caught and tagged. For more information see www.linecaught.org.uk. Avoid eating seabass below the size at which it spawns, 42 cm and during its spawning season, January to April. Avoid pelagic trawled seabass, as the fishery impacts upon the pre-spawning stock and has significant cetacean bycatch.

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 has 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
Irish Sea, Celtic Sea, English Channel and southern North Sea

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Stock information
Possible stock areas were defined for seabass in 2001, based on local fisheries for the species and on seasonal migrations, but these need to be further evaluated. Commercial bass fisheries developed in the late 1970s and 1980s. 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. 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. Commercial landings in 2013 were estimated at 4,132t, with total annual removals for the recreational sector estimated at 1,500t. A reduction in fishing mortality is needed 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 is 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 is to reduce fishing pressure by 80%. 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. ICES also advises that a management plan is urgently needed to develop and implement measures to substantiallly 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 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.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 bass. The UK has 37 designated bass nursery areas with fishing restrictions in UK legislation to protect young bass.

Capture information

Fishing with hook and line (handlining, trolling lures, rod and reel) is one of the most sustainable and species selective fishing methods available. Line caught seabass are landed from mainly small inshore boats around many parts of England and Wales, particularly in the south west. Some fishermen have organised themselves to improve marketing of line caught fish and use carcass tags to show traceability. For more information see www.linecaught.org.uk. Following representation by recreational sport anglers, the UK Government proposed to increase the minimum landing size (MLS) for wild seabass to 40cm 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. Cornwall and South Wales, through local bylaws have a slightly larger MLS of 37.5 cm.

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.

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

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.

Bass, seabass 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 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

Japanese amberjack, Yellowtail or Seriola

Meagre

Pouting or Bib

Sturgeon 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 2014, Book 5 http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2014/2014/bss-47.pdf

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