BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 19 September '16

Scientists advise: do not catch a single seabass in UK waters

ICES, the scientific body that recommends fishing catch levels, say UK populations of seabass are so worryingly low that fishing should completely stop.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has called the situation ‘desperate’ and worries that the stock of this restaurant and recreational angling favourite ‘has now slipped to dangerously low levels and is at risk of not recovering properly’.

Played down by industry

The ICES advice 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).

While it’s clear these measures are achieving reductions in catches and helping to protect juveniles, MCS warns they don’t go anywhere near far enough to prevent further declines in the population which is now at a critically low level.

‘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.’

SAMUEL STONE
MCS Fisheries and Aquaculture programme co-ordinator

At the end of 2015, the European Commission proposed a complete moratorium for seabass for the first six months of 2016. However, the final agreement accepted by the Council of Ministers was significantly watered down and included many exemptions to allow for the ongoing fishing of bass by several fleets.

Take care when shopping

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 already has a red rating in the MCS Good Fish Guide, meaning all consumers and businesses are advised 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.’

SAMUEL STONE
MCS Fisheries and Aquaculture programme co-ordinator

Click here for the MCS guide to sustainable seafood.