Drastic measures required to protect seabass stocks, MCS says

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Seabass has been subject to overfishing for quite a few years owing to its popularity with restaurants and retails and if drastic measures such as temporary ban on fishing of seabass aren’t implemented chances are that the species may never recover from its declined levels.

According to Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the fish needs help from European states if the fishery is to be saved from a complete crash. According to the society since 2008, recruitment of young fish into the main seabass stock in the Northeast Atlantic has been poor, and since 2010, the size of the population has been rapidly decreasing and is on track to plummet to levels from which it may struggle to recover.

Citing data from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), MCS has revealed that the situation for seabass is getting worse and despite the dwindling stock levels, enough is not being done to reverse their fortunes.

Samuel Stone, MCS Fisheries Officer, says that the lack of agreement between EU member states over how to manage seabass levels is to blame and this will leave the fish and its fishermen in a rather uncertain future.

“Fishery management measures that sufficiently reduce catches are urgently needed to reverse the fortunes of this fish; if such measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, a complete moratorium on fishing for seabass may well be necessary in the foreseeable future”, said Stone.

While much of the seabass sold in the UK comes from farmed sources, a significant amount is wild caught. Last year ICES, the scientific body which provides advice on seabass in the EU, recommended total catches of both recreational and commercial fisheries be decreased by a massive 80 per cent to prevent further decline of the stock.

The disagreement between EU member states forced EU to apply emergency measures between January and April 2015, banning pelagic trawling during the spawning period. Subsequently, a three fish bag-limit for recreational fishermen and restrictions on catches for commercial fisheries, as well as an extension of the moratorium of commercial fishing for seabass around Ireland to include all vessels, have all been agreed by Member States.

However, these restrictions aren’t enough to help recovery of seabass as they are predicted to reduce catches by only 60 per cent for pelagic trawlers, 22 per cent for demersal vessels and 6 per cent for hook and line fisheries – a far cry from the 80 per cent total reduction advised by ICES.

ICES has put out a new advice wherein it has indicated that the stock is in an even worse state now than previously recorded. For the year 2016, it has recommended catch totals of 541 tonnes – a third of what was proposed last year for 2015.

Looking at the numbers caught last year – UK (over 1000 tonnes), France (over 1300 tonnes) – seabass stocks are heading towards a rapid decline, and much more needs to be done – and urgently – to prevent this iconic and important fishery from collapsing, says MCS.