Fishing Stories

Sea bass stocks in ‘desperate state’ as ecologists call for fishing ban

Sea bass have crashed to such dangerously low numbers that scientists are calling for fishing to be halted for at least a year

A fishermen holds up a sea bass he has caught in Cadgwith cove near Heston, England

The latest scientific advice on the state of the sea bass population in UK and north European waters underlines the “desperate state” the sea bass population is in, conservationists have warned.

Heavy restrictions have already been placed in the past 18 months on the quantities that can be caught but scientists are now calling for a complete ban.

“There should be zero catch (commercial and recreational) in 2017,” the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) said in its latest official guidance.

However, there are doubts ministers would be willing to ban all bass fishing (pictured), and with the UK heading for the EU’s exit door, the likelihood of international deals on catch levels being reached to restore sea bass numbers quickly has been severely diminished.

Clare Brook, chief executive of the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “We are desperately worried about the sea bass population. We would urge ministers on both sides of the Channel to put aside the differences that may be felt after the referendum and act in the best interests of the fish.”

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said the ICES advice underlined “the desperate situation this restaurant and recreational angling favourite is in”. Samuel Stone, of the MCS, said: “The fishing industry has fought hard to play down the seriousness of the situation.

“In 2014, scientists recommended an 80 per cent reduction in bass catches, and whilst large reductions have been made, the resulting reductions have been more like 50 per cent. And even then there is huge uncertainty in the actual catch figures for bass as it’s known to be illegally caught and sold and there is a large recreational catch.”

Anglers said they have “no expectation” that EU ministers will put the ICES advice into action and said: “No scientifically advised moratorium has ever been introduced by the EU Council in the history of the CFP [Common Fisheries Policy].”

But Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) said a “knee-jerk reaction” would be wrong.
He described the ICES call for all landings to be halted in 2017 as “very extreme”. He added it was based on the premise that bass catches should be at maximum sustainable yield, a measure of sustainability, by the end of next year.

“The one thing that’s clear about bass is it’s going to take a number of years to rebuild the biomass,” he said. “What we need is a longer-term management plan.”
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