Bream, Black or porgy or seabream

Spondyliosoma cantharus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — English Channel
Stock detail — All areas except Sussex and Cornwall IFCA districts
Picture of Bream, Black or porgy or seabream

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The Black Seabream were was once rare in British waters, but their population off Plymouth has increased with rising sea temperatures over the past century. The English Channel expanded in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Black Seabream were heavily exploited.

Black Seabream are a data-limited species and the stock status is unknown. They are a vulnerable species because of a few reasons: firstly, they aggregate during their breeding season (making them easier to catch). Secondly, because they hatch as females and turn into males at sexual maturity - the fishery previously targeted larger fish (predominately males) which impacted reproduction and repopulation. Thirdly, they rely of very particular habitats (chalk beds with veneers or various sediments). To see just how passionately Black seabream males protect their young, see

Black Seabream are caught in both commercial and recreational fisheries. They are targeted small inshore boats using fixed nets when they congregate in inshore shallow inshore hard-ground areas (when they are feeding before breeding). Trawlers (primarily pair trawlers) exploit bream when bream aggregate in their breeding grounds. Bream are also exploited by netters and commercial and recreational anglers. After breeding, bream tend to go offshore, but the remaining breams are usually targeted by anglers.

The majority of the Black Seabream UK catch occurs in the English Channel (opposed to North Sea) and particularly in the Eastern side of the English Channel (area 7d). Outside the 6 nautical mile limit, a significant proportion of bream are harvested by French vessels stocks: around 87% of the total Black Seabream landings in 2000 were by French fishing vessels. There is a general lack of management to protect the species, though Sussex IFCA have implemented measures to protect the species, such as Marine Protected Areas.


A member of a group of fish known as Sparidae, the black bream is one of two species commonly found in northern European seas. Found off south-west Britain and east Ireland in the English Channel and the Irish Sea. Spawning occurs in April and May in a number of inshore waters, such as the English Channel. Since black bream aggregate to spawn in predictable times and locations, the species can be vulnerable to high pressure from anglers. They are called black bream because they turn a jet black colour when they are courting. Black seabream are unusual in that they are sequential hermaphrodites (undergoing a sex change during their lives), maturing as females at a length of 23cm, then as males at around 30cm. All fish over 40cm are males. The maximum reported age, length and weight are 15 years, 60cm and 1.2kg respectively. They are found over seagrass beds and rocky and sandy bottoms between about 5m to 300m. Black bream lay eggs in a nest that the male has excavated on sand with its tail. The larger the female, the more fecund or more eggs she lays, e.g. a female of 18.5cm will lay around 31,000 eggs compared to a female of 33.5cm which lays around to 554,000 eggs. Gregarious, sometimes in large schools but the males can also be very aggressive when they are protecting the nests. Omnivorous, feeding on seaweeds and small invertebrates, especially crustaceans. Likely predators on black bream eggs are clawed crustaceans. Adult black bream have few predators, however a few are likely to be taken by seabirds and marine mammals.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Stock Area

English Channel

Stock information

There have been no stock assessments for Black Seabream and their abundance is unknown. An abundance index - produced using catch rates from a beam trawl survey in the Eastern English Channel - has shown fluctuations in recent years, after a period of relative stability. However, recent local fishers from the Southern IFCA have raised concerns regarding the size, number of Black Seabream from competitions in recent years.

It is unknown if fishing mortality are at appropriate levels but there is no evidence to suggest that they are overfished. Catch rates UK fleets have ranged between 182 and 377 t since 2000, with no overall trend.

The FishBase vulnerability score for Black Seabream is 52 out of 100.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

There is currently very little management to protect Black Seabream in European waters. They are not managed under a Total Allowable Catch or minimum landing size. The EU mandates that any towed gear used to catch seabream must have a mesh size >80mm and sea bream must form a minimum of 70% of the catch. For static/fixed gear used to catch sea bream, the minimum mesh size is 120mm. These measure are designed to protect juvenile seabream.

Black Seabream are vulnerable to overexploitation because they are change sex from female to male during their lives, they aggregate spawning and have important habitat requirements. These attributes both make the species difficult to manage effectively: the males are often over exploited because females receive protection from recreational and commercial fisheries. Further protection, such as harvest windows are required to reduce pressure on males. Black Seabream is a highly valued recreational sport fish: recreational catch are estimated to represent around 25% of the total annual catch and management must cover commercial and recreational fisheries.

Little information is collected on Black Seabream: landings for sea breams are not identified to species level and data accuracy is questionable. However, research is conducted for other species that co-occur in Black Seabream catches. French beam trawl studies and tagging studies have collected data on black seabream abundance.

Data gaps include the stock size and structure, recruitment sources, spawning and nursery ground areas. Further research is needed to map Black Seabream nests, which will indicate the numbers of mating pairs and eligible spawning sites.

Surveillance and enforcement in Divisions 7 d and e includes VMS (for vessels over 12 m overall length), the UK under 10 m collect landings data voluntarily, patrols by vessels and aerial patrols, vessel and logbook inspections against sales documents. Fishing effort is limited by kW-days depending on gear, mesh size and area. The fishery is also regulated under a licensing scheme.

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Species of concern include the European sea bass and some skates and rays. Cod have catch limits and are managed in a long-term management plan but species such as sea bass and skates and rays lack management at a European level. There is limited information available for wrasse in the English Channel. There is a lack of management for the species, however, management is increasing in IFCA areas. More management is required for some of these co-occurring species. Discarding has not been quantified.

Black seabream are usually found over sandy, mixed and rough ground. Seabed contact with gill nets is limited to very light contact from the footrope and minimal contact from the small anchors at each end. As the gear is not towed over the seabed there should be very little abrasion. There has been reports of problems with ghost fishing in the past, this is where the nets are lost and continue fishing for some time after they are lost.


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
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish, White
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Spurdog, Spiny Dogfish, Dogfish, Rock Salmon or Flake
Sturgeon (Farmed)


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