Bass, seabass (Caught at sea)

Dicentrarchus labrax

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — All
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — West of Scotland, West of Ireland, eastern part of southwest of Ireland
Stock detail — 6a, 7b, 7j
Picture of Bass, seabass (Caught at sea)

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020

Sea bass in West of Scotland, West of Ireland, and in the eastern part of southwest of Ireland is a data limited stock, and stock identity remains poorly understood. The state of the stock and fishery relative to reference points is unknown and information on abundance and catches is unavailable. However, there is currently no concern for stock biomass or fishing pressure. The combination of slow growth, late maturity, spawning aggregation and strong site fidelity, increase the vulnerability of sea bass to overexploitation and localized depletion. There is no management plan for sea bass in this area, and sea bass are not subject to EU TACs (Total Allowable Catch) or quotas. A moratorium on commercial fishing for sea bass has been in place for Irish vessels fishing in areas 6 and 7 since 1990. Sea bass are caught using a variety of fishing gears (e.g. gillnet, hook and line, trawl and seine), some of which, can have high levels of bycatch of non-target species, and habitat impacts upon the seabed, by abrasion and smothering in this ecoregion.

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

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Stock Area

West of Scotland, West of Ireland, eastern part of southwest of Ireland

Stock information

This is a data limited stock and does not have reference points, trends are used instead to determine the stocks state. European seabass has a medium resilience to fishing pressure. There is no concern for stock biomass or fishing pressure.

The state of the stock and fishery relative to reference points is unknown. A series of official commercial landings data is available but the quality of this is unknown. Information on abundance and exploitation is unavailable. For stocks without information on abundance or exploitation, ICES considers that a precautionary reduction of catches should be implemented.

Stock identity remains poorly understood and tagging studies are ongoing. Time-series of catches, releases, and size/age composition are needed from this component of the fishery in order to improve the assessment and advice. The combination of slow growth, late maturity, spawning aggregation and strong site fidelity, increase the vulnerability of sea bass to overexploitation and localized depletion.

ICES cannot quantify total catches. Official reported commercial landings are significantly less than recreational catches. A moratorium on landings of sea bass in commercial fisheries has been in place in Ireland since 1990. The industry reports high sporadic catches which are discarded due to the moratorium. There is no concern for fishing pressure (F), commercial landings have significantly declined in the last decade and have almost completely diminished, from a maximum of 9 tonnes (2010) to an estimated 0.04 tonnes (2019), most of which is reported from Division 7j.

Data on recreational sea bass landings by domestic shore bass anglers (an estimated 11,600 individuals) in Ireland, was estimated at 30 tonnes in 2010 and 44 tonnes in 2011 (this includes some landings from Divisions 7a and 7g). The 2010 estimate was considered to be more robust, and between 75% and 80% of bass caught were returned to the water. Therefore, an accurate time series of total catches cannot be calculated.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, commercial landings should be no more than 3 tonnes in each of the years 2021, 2022, and 2023. This is a reduction in advice (-25%) from 2018-2020, due to the application of the precautionary buffer and rounding. The precautionary buffer was last applied in 2013 (advice for 2014).

There are four assumed sea bass stocks: Northern (Divisions 4b-c, 7a, 7d-h); Southern Ireland and Western Scotland (Divisions 6a, 7b and 7j); Biscay (Divisions 8a-b); Portugal & Northern Spain (Divisions 8c, 9a). Stock identity has not been changed, but research on population structure are under progress. Sea bass in Divisions 6a and 7g around the southern and eastern coasts of Ireland is currently included in the sea bass assessment in Divisions 4b-c, 7a, and 7d–h, but may be more associated with the stock in divisions 6a, 7b, 7j. Further studies are needed to determine if the sea bass in Irish coastal waters are indeed functionally separate, or if they also mix with the other stock during spawning time and contribute to commercial catches on the offshore spawning grounds.

Management

Criterion score: 0.75 info

There is no management plan for sea bass in this area. The fishery is poorly managed and requires considerable improvement or specific management measures implemented.

ICES cannot quantify total catches. Therefore, it is not possible to provide commercial catch advice. Also, recreational catches cannot be quantified. This presents a number of challenges for management. Management of sea bass fisheries needs to take into account the distinctive characteristics and economic value of the different fisheries. Sea bass is of high social and economic value to sea angling in Ireland, which contributes substantially to local economies.

Sea bass are not subject to EU TACs (Total Allowable Catch) and quotas, a moratorium on commercial fishing for sea bass has been in place for Irish vessels fishing in areas 6 and 7 since 1990. Landings have been under advice, since catch advice was first provided by ICES in 2013, and on average landings have been 8% of advice (2013-2019). Landings have ranged between 0% and 25% of advice, between 2013 and 2019. As bass is, at present, a non-TAC species, there is potential for displacement of fishing effort by non-Irish fleets from other species with limiting quotas.

A Minimum Landing Size (MLS) of 40 cm applies to Irish fisheries. The official minimum landing size for non-Irish vessels is 42 cm (as of April 2015). However, sea bass can mature at much larger lengths of up to 46cm. Consequently, sea bass may be being caught before they have had chance to reproduce.

No information on discards is available. The industry reports high sporadic catches which are discarded due to the moratorium. Discarding of seabass on Irish observer trips since 1990 has been negligible.

In addition, a variety of national restrictions on commercial sea bass fishing are also in place for non-Irish commercial vessels, including licensing, individual landings limitations, larger MLS and seasonal/ area closures. Recreational fishing for sea bass in Ireland is restricted to a bag limit of two fish per 24 hours, a 40 cm minimum size limit, and a closed season from 15th May to 15th June annually.


The UK is due to leave the EU on 31st December 2020, and new UK Fisheries legislation is being developed during 2020. MCS will update ratings with new management information when new legislation comes into force.

In the European Union (EU), EU fishing vessels can fish up to 12 nautical miles of any Member State coast, and closer by agreement. There is overarching fisheries legislation for all Member States, but implementation varies between fisheries, Member States and sea basins.
The EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the primary overarching policy. Its key environmental objectives are to restore and maintain harvested species at healthy levels (above BMSY), and apply the precautionary and ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. To achieve the MSY objective, the MSY exploitation rate is supposed to be achieved by 2020, but this seems unlikely to happen.
The CFP also introduced a Landing Obligation (LO) which bans the discarding at sea of species which are subject to catch limits. Some exemptions apply to species with high post-capture survival, and where avoiding unwanted catches is very difficult. These exemptions are outlined in regional discard plans. Despite quota ‘uplift’ being granted to fleets under the LO, available evidence suggests there has been widespread non-compliance with the policy, and illegal and unreported discarding is likely occurring.
Multi-Annual Plans (MAPs) are a tool for implementing the CFP regionally, with one in place or being developed for each sea basin. They specify fishing mortality targets and ranges for the main targeted species, as well as lower biomass reference points. If populations drop below these points it should trigger a management response. The MAPs also empower Member States to jointly apply measures such as closures, gear or capacity limits, and bycatch limits. There is concern however that the MAPs do not provide adequate safeguards to maintain all stocks at healthy levels.
The EU Technical Measures regulation addresses how, where and when fishing can take place in order to limit unwanted catches and ecosystem impacts. There are common measures that apply to all EU sea basins, and regional measures that vary between sea basins. Measures include Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRS, previously Minimum Landing Sizes, MLS), gear specifications, mesh sizes, closed areas, and bycatch limits.
The Control Regulation, which is being revised in 2019, addresses application of and compliance with the above, e.g. keeping catches within limits, recording and sharing data, and satellite tracking of vessels over 12 metres (VMS).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

Sea bass are caught by a variety of methods (e.g. gillnet, hook and line, trawl and seine) off the coast of the West of Scotland, West of Ireland, and in the eastern part of southwest of Ireland.

Sea bass are caught by commercial and recreational fishers. Recreational fishing is significant when compared to commercial catches. The majority of commercial sea bass catches are taken in targeted fisheries, with additional landings of sea bass taken as a bycatch. French vessels take the majority of annual catch, although UK, Irish and Spanish vessels have participated in the past. 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. It is not known what proportion of sea bass in the waters of West of Scotland, West of Ireland, and in the eastern part of southwest of Ireland (Divisions 6a, 7b and 7j) are caught by the individual fishing methods known to be employed.

Pelagic fisheries (purse seiners and ‘mid-water’ trawls) are deemed to be some of the cleanest fisheries in terms of bycatch, disturbance of the seabed and discarding. However, demersal otter trawls use doors to hold nets open that penetrate the seabed, resulting in the abrasion of habitat features, and smothering in this ecoregion. Most otter trawling occurs within the same historical areas, where yields are high and it is safe to trawl. Bycatches of non-target species can make up a high proportion of catch weight in demersal otter trawls and can take bycatches of protected, endangered and threatened species in certain circumstances. Spurdog and the common skate complex are known to be caught as bycatch in the mixed demersal trawl fisheries and gillnet fisheries, within the Celtic Seas ecoregion.

In the Celtic Seas, longline fisheries pose the greatest threat to seabirds offshore, while inshore net fisheries may catch diving species. Longline fisheries in waters West of Scotland are likely to catch northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis). Fisheries with high risk of cetacean bycatch in the Celtic Sea are bottom set nets (bycatch of harbour porpoises, Phocoena phocoena) and pelagic trawls, particularly those for bass (bycatch of common dolphin, Delphinus delphis). Modelling indicates that it is likely that the bycatch of harbour porpoises in gillnets on the Celtic shelf has affected population abundance at least in some past periods. Bycatch in both fisheries may have reduced in recent years due to less fishing activity and the use of acoustic alarms attached to fishing gear as a mitigation technique.

Juvenile bass up to three years of age, occupy nursery areas in estuaries whilst adults undertake seasonal migrations from inshore habitats to offshore spawning sites. After spawning, sea bass tend to return to the same coastal sites each year.

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

References

ICES (2019). Celtic Seas Ecoregion – Ecosystem overview. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2019/2019/EcosystemOverview_CelticSeas_2019.pdf [Accessed 22.07.2020]

ICES (2020). Sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) in divisions 6.a, 7.b, and 7.j (West of Scotland, West of Ireland, eastern part of southwest of Ireland). In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2020. ICES Advice 2020, bss.27.6a7bj. https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.5773. Available at http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2020/2020/bss.27.6a7bj.pdf [Accessed 22.07.2020]

ICES (2020). Working Group for the Celtic Seas Ecoregion (WGCSE). Draft report. ICES Scientific Reports. 2:40. xx pp. http://doi.org/10.17895/ices.pub.5978. Available at http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/Fisheries%20Resources%20Steering%20Group/2020/WGCSE/wgcse_2020.pdf [Accessed 22.07.2020]

Rainer, F. and Luna, S. (2020). European seabass, Dicentrarchus labrax. Available at https://www.fishbase.se/summary/Dicentrarchus-labrax.html [Accessed 22.07.2020]