Bass, seabass (Caught at sea)

Dicentrarchus labrax

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Handline
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Bay of Biscay (South), Atlantic Iberian waters
Stock detail — 8c, 9a
Picture of Bass, seabass (Caught at sea)

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2020

Sea bass in southern Bay of Biscay and Atlantic Iberian waters 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. There is no concern for the stock biomass but concern for fishing pressure, as catches have been significantly above advised limits. The combination of slow growth, late maturity, spawning aggregation and strong site fidelity, increase the vulnerability of sea bass to overexploitation and localized depletion. The EU multiannual plan for stocks in the Western Waters and adjacent waters applies to this stock, however, as a data-limited stock ICES precautionary approach is applied. Sea bass are not subject to EU TACs (Total Allowable Catch) or quotas, and are caught both commercially and recreationally, at similar levels. 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. Pelagic trawling in the Bay of Biscay is associated with concerning levels of dolphin bycatch and mortality, particularly of common dolphin. Harbour porpoises are being caught as bycatch off Iberia in set-nets to the extent that the local population of the species may become extinct.


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: 0.75 info

Stock Area

Bay of Biscay (South), Atlantic Iberian waters

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 but concern for fishing pressure.

The state of the stock and fishery relative to reference points is unknown and 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 structure is poorly understood and further studies (including tagging, genetics, or other types of markers) are needed. Data on length frequency and life-history parameters are missing. Time-series of relative abundance indices for both the adult and the pre-recruit components of the stock are also needed to aid in the development of the assessment, and to provide robust 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.

The commercial landings in the last two decades have been variable, ranging between 466 and 1,046 tonnes (1998-2018). In 2018, commercial landings were an estimated 716 tonnes. Historical sampling of the commercial catches is of variable quality, and data sampling should cover all fleets involved in this fishery. There is no concern for stock biomass (B) as there has been a relative stability in landings over time, the presence of very large individuals (up to 92cm) in length composition of commercial landings and because sea bass is not a targeted species in this area (in opposition to the other northern stock). Some effort data are available for Spanish fleet from 2013 and for Portuguese fleet from 2015, fishing for sea bass in Divisions 8c and 9a, showing a global decrease over time. Nonetheless, fishing pressure (F) has been above advised limits since 2014, which is of concern. Recruitment of sea bass is highly variable, and the fisheries have often in the past been dominated by individual very strong year classes or have been negatively affected by periods of very poor recruitment.

Recreational fisheries contribute to removals from this stock which is thought to be substantial, but catch cannot be quantified. There is anecdotal information that underreporting is occurring in small artisanal fleets, as recreational catches are unknown, ICES cannot quantify the corresponding total catch. It is estimated sea bass recreational catches are comparable to commercial catches. In 2016, data for the seabass capture estimation in recreational fisheries provided by AZTI correspond only to the landings in the Basque Country, and that despite being mostly in Division 8c (it could be part from 8b) reached 117 tonnes.

ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, commercial catches in each of the years 2020 and 2021 should be no more than 478 tonnes. All commercial catches are assumed to be landed. The precautionary buffer was applied in 2017 (for the 2018 advice) and has, therefore, not been applied again.

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.


Criterion score: 0.75 info

There are management measures in place, but they are not precautionary. The stock is poorly managed and requires considerable improvement or specific management measures implemented.

The EU multiannual plan for stocks in the Western Waters and adjacent waters applies to this stock. The MAP stipulates that when the FMSY ranges are not available, fishing opportunities should be based on the best available scientific advice. Consequently, as a data-limited stock, ICES precautionary approach is applied.

ICES cannot quantify total catches as recreational catches cannot be quantified. There is anecdotal information that underreporting is occurring in small artisanal fleets. This presents a number of challenges for management. Relatively little historical data are available on recreational fisheries although several European countries are now carrying out surveys to meet the requirements of the EU Data Collection Framework and for other purposes.

Sea bass are not subject to EU TACs (Total Allowable Catch) and quotas. Landings have been above advice, throughout the period advice has been provided (except in 2013, at 17% of advice). Between 2014 and 2018, on average landings have exceeded advice 152%, which ranged between 137% and 159%.

Under EU regulation, the Minimum Landings Size (MLS) of sea bass in the Northeast Atlantic, is 36 cm total length (EC regulation 850/98). However, in the Bay of Biscay the size at which 50% of females mature is just over 42 cm (ranging between 41.31 cm and 43.08 cm). Therefore, seabass are being caught before they have had chance to reproduce.

Discarding is assumed to be negligible. Portugal: Sea bass discards are recorded by the DCF on-board sampling program, no discards are observed. Spain: No sea bass discards were observed, 2003-2019.

In addition, a variety of national restrictions on commercial fishing for each metier also apply to sea bass. The measures affecting recreational fisheries in Portugal include gear restrictions, a minimum landing size equal to the commercial fishery MLS (36 cm), the total catch of fish and cephalopods by each fisher must be less than 10 kg per day, and prohibition on the sale of catch.

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: 0.25 info

Sea bass are caught by a variety of methods (i.e. gillnet, trammel net, longline or hand-line, trawl, and purse seine) in the southern Bay of Biscay and Atlantic Iberian waters.

Sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), are caught by commercial and recreational fishers. Seabass fisheries in this area are mainly artisanal, and recreational catch is thought to be as significant as commercial catch, but cannot be quantified. Most commercial sea bass catches are taken in targeted fisheries, although some are caught as bycatch in other fisheries. Spanish and Portuguese vessels represent almost all of the total annual commercial landings in the area. Landings from Portugal are only from the 9a area, while the Spanish landings are distributed equally between the two zones 8c and 9a (186 tonnes and 187 tonnes in 2019, respectively). Artisanal fisheries are mainly observed in this area. Inshore, small day boats operate with relatively little activity in late winter/early spring. Most landings come from the polyvalent mixed fishery (80-99%) using mostly gill nets, trammel nets and longline or hand-line. The landings by purse seiners and trawlers represent a small amount.

Fishing with hook and line (handline, tolling, lures, rod and reel) is one of the most sustainable and species selective fishing methods available, and has no impacts on the seabed. Line caught sea bass are landed by inshore boats, from the artisanal or recreational fishery. Bycatch of non-target species is deemed to be negligible. Nonetheless, recreational fishing for sea bass within the Bay of Biscay and Iberian waters is of significant volumes, comparable to commercial fishing within the area. Therefore, high levels of bait fish are presumed to be used, which could have implications for bait species populations.

Sea bass is a widely distributed species in northeast Atlantic shelf waters with a range from southern Norway, through the North Sea, the Irish Sea, the Bay of Biscay, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea to North-west Africa. The species is at the northern limits of its range around the British Isles and southern Scandinavia. Expansions of sea bass populations is thought to coincide with periods of ocean warming. Therefore, temporal changes may alter the distribution of sea bass stocks over time.


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.

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Sturgeon (Farmed)


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Peltier H., Authier M., Caurant F., Dabin W., Dars C., Demaret F., Meheust E., Ridoux V., Van Canneyt, O. and Spitz, J. (2019). Etat des connaissances sur les captures accidentelles de dauphins communs dans le golfe de Gascogne – Synthèse 2019. Rapport scientifique dans le cadre de la convention avec le MTES. Observatoire PELAGIS – UMS 3462, La Rochelle Université / CNRS, 23 pages. Available at [Accessed 18.09.2020]