Study finds wild sea bass is in decline
Catches of wild sea bass should be cut by more than a third to reverse declines in populations, it has been urged.
A new assessment of sea bass, a popular dish for Westcountry restaurants and favourite quarry for sea anglers, has revealed the stock has declined by 32% since 2009.
Scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), who carried out the assessment, have recommended a 36% reduction in catches in the English Channel, Irish Sea and southern North Sea.
Reducing the catch by 36% would cut landings in the UK, Channel Islands, Belgium and the Netherlands to 2,707 tonnes across the European countries which fish the waters, down from 4,060 tonnes last year, conservationists said. But it could be hard to achieve the reductions as bass has been managed until now on a national level and by measures agreed across the EU, such as minimum landing sizes, rather than European quotas, they warned.
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The UK's Environment Department (Defra) has put forward technical measures to the EU to address the problem in the short term, including closing spawning grounds in the spring to allow fish to reproduce. In the longer term, it is hoped a strategic management plan could be developed at EU level for maintaining stocks of the fish.
This year's ICES assessment found that the total biomass of sea bass in 2011-2012 was down 32% on levels between 2008 and 2010. The findings were set out at a conservation conference in Weymouth organised by the UK charity Blue Marine Foundation.
Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said: "It is clear that the European bass levels are unacceptably low and action must be taken to reverse the decline. I am pushing for effective EU-wide conservation measures."