Sustainable Fishing: European Commission acts to protect Sea Bass stock

The European Commission has announced this week that action will be taken to avert the collapse of declining sea bass stock in European waters, with immediate effect. These emergency measures will place a ban on trawlers targeting the fish stock during the spawning season, which runs until the end of April and thus will come into force immediately, lasting until 30 April 2015. The ban will apply to the Channel, Celtic Sea, Irish Sea and southern North Sea.

During the sea bass spawning season, huge numbers of individuals congregate in one area to reproduce, and thus are extremely vulnerable to pelagic trawl fishing. Pelagic trawl fishing (or Midwater trawling) refers to fishing vessels dragging vast nets through the water column, capturing any and all species in their way. Commercial trawling is heavily regulated in some nations and it remains the target of many protests by environmental organisations due to concerns relating to the lack of species selectivity and the physical damage which the trawl inflicts on the seabed. Pelagic trawling is a major source of mortality in sea bass, accounting for more than 25% in reduction of stock.

Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries explains the need for such a ban:

“The impact of this stock collapsing would be catastrophic for the livelihoods of so many fishermen and coastal communities. This is about saving seabass and saving jobs in the commercial and recreational fishing sector. I am proud of our quick reaction to what is an immediate danger to the stock”.

In addition to this temporary ban, further action is needed to address the impact of all other commercial and recreational fishing activities. The UK, Ireland, France, and the Netherlands are responsible for the highest recreational fishing catches, with recreational fishing accounting for 25% of all sea bass catches. The European Commission has stated it will help Council and Member States put in place a package of measures to manage commercial and recreational sea bass fisheries more effectively. Such measures would include enforcing a limit of three fish per day, per recreational angler and the use of nets with a minimum size of 42 cm to ensure individuals are not caught before reaching the age of reproduction, as well as limiting catches in alternative commercial fishing methods.

The European sea bass, Dicentrarchus labrax is one of the most valuable species in commercial fishing.The combination of slow growth, late maturity, spawning aggregation, and strong site fidelity of the species increases their vulnerability to overexploitation and localized depletion. Recent research has reinforced previous concerns of unsustainable fishing, urgently advising a substantial reduction in trawling of the species.  International scientific bodies have called for an 80% reduction in catches if we are to have any hope of turning the situation around. In this report prepared by The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES),  it is stated that sea bass biomass has been declining since 2005, with total biomass in 2011–2012 (when the study was published) being 32% lower than the total biomass in the three previous years (2008–2010).  The official minimum landing size of sea bass is 36 cm, however spawn size of the species is 42cm, meaning sexually immature individuals can be caught that have not reproduced yet, thus potentially further decreasing stock size.  A variety of national restrictions on commercial and/or recreational sea bass fishing are also in place, including licensing, individual landings limitations, larger minimum landing size (MLS), seasonal/area closures, and weekly limits on individual vessel landings. Further implementation of such regulations needs to be established around Europe to continue to protect the European Sea bass stock from total collapse.

To do your part in protecting this valuable species of fish, avoid eating sea bass below the size at which it spawns, 42 cm and during its spawning season, January to April. Avoid pelagic trawled seabass, as the fishery impacts upon the pre-spawning stock and has significant cetacean bycatch. Ask for fish which has been caught using sustainable methods e.g line caught (www.linecaught.org.uk).

Below is an infograph detailing the current situation regarding sea bass fishing in european waters: Courtesy of the European Commission.

Infograph detailing the current situation regarding sea bass fishing - European Commission.

Sources:

European Commission – Protecting sea bass: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/mare/itemlongdetail.cfm?item_id=20186&subweb=343&lang=en

ICES Advisory report:   http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2013/2013/bss-47.pdf

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