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The Marine Institute, Fisheries Science Services

2009 Scientific Advice on Sea Bass

(Draft Version 1)

This document summarises new scientific knowledge on sea bass from

the waters around the UK and Ireland. It specifically addresses the
issue of stock assessment units and the inshore - offshore movements
of sea bass in the Celtic Sea area. The biological characteristics of the
species that make them vulnerable to overexploitation are discussed.
Data on the status of the stock in Irish coastal waters are poor but
angling records indicate that the stock may be depleted. Sea Bass in
UK inshore and UK-French offshore fisheries are considered exploited
sustainably. The current legislation for Irish waters that restricts sea
anglers to 2 specimens per 24 hours should continue. Furthermore, all
fishing vessels operating within the 12 mile limit of Sub Area VII should
not be allowed to catch sea bass until stock status is further
investigated. Irish vessels should be allowed to fish sea bass stocks
in other areas of Sub Area VII, where the stocks are sustainably
exploited. ICES should be asked to review data on sea bass and
propose management measures for the sustainable exploitation of the

Sea bass are not managed by the EU under the Common Fisheries
Policy. Furthermore, they do not fit into the standard ICES framework
for assessment and advice for a variety of reasons. In the UK, the
fisheries are mostly inshore, operated from commercial/semi
commercial small boats that are not obliged to provide trip or area
based information. A substantial recreational fishery contributes
significantly to sea bass mortality. Survey information is limited to
estuarine recruit surveys in UK and Ireland. In Ireland the fishery is
angler dominated. In the UK, there is an ongoing debate as to
whether sea bass should be managed as a sport fishery as oppose to
a commercial fishery. In Ireland, there are restrictions on anglers and
Irish vessels are not allowed to land sea bass. French and UK
vessels fishing in the same area are allowed to land sea bass and this
is a source of intense frustration in the Irish fishing industry (Kupschus,

Stock units were reviewed by Pawson et al. (2007a) based on the
results of tagging work (see Figure 1). Four management units are
proposed; two channel stocks (Divisions VIId and Division VIIe) while
the sea bass populations in English and Welsh waters in ICES
Divisions VIIa, f, and g and the northern part of Division VIIe could be

regarded as a single management unit. The bass population around
Ireland can be regarded as a discrete stock for management purposes.
Tagging studies have shown that sea bass in the waters around
Ireland do not intermix with British and French fish (see Figure 2).

A study of the sea bass fishery in England and Wales (using data from
1985 to 2004) has suggested that bass stocks in UK coastal and
offshore waters are being exploited sustainably. Fishing is at a
moderate level and the exploitation pattern gives a near maximum
yield per recruit. There has been an increase in exploitable biomass
since the early 1990’s (Pawson, 2007b). The status of stocks in Irish
waters is not known. Angling returns from Irish inshore waters show
the stock to be depleted when compared to angling catches in the
1960’s and 1970’s ( Figure 3).

Sea bass are around the UK and Ireland is long lived and can reach an
age of 30 years. In the UK sea bass up to 80 to 85cm are regularly
recorded from the commercial catch with the record standing at 95cm.
Sea bass are slow to mature (age 5 as compared to age 3 in cod).
These biological characteristics make sea bass vulnerable to

Sea bass undergo offshore-inshore movements during their life cycle.
Sea bass begin to spawn in early February offshore in the western
English Channel and the Celtic Sea. They spawn in mid water and
their eggs are found throughout the water column. As a consequence
their spawning areas are not as well defined as those of bottom
spawners (e.g. herring) which deposit their eggs directly on the bottom.
The main spawning area in the Celtic Sea areas is off the north
Cornwall coast. Sea bass can continue to spawn until late June. Sea
bass larvae move inshore and at age 2-3 months they migrate into
juvenile nursery areas in estuaries, harbours, backwaters, creeks and
shallow bays. For the first 2-3 years of their life , juvenile bass
continue to migrate to deeper water each autumn and return inshore
the following spring. When sea bass are 4-5 their movements become
increasingly wide ranging between inshore and offshore areas

The long held belief that Irish sea bass are harvested by other
European countries is not proven. Irish sea bass would appear to
remain close in to the shore, behaviour suggested from limited
landings data and from the returns of tagging experiments.
Furthermore, there is insufficient interchange with other sea bass units

to replenish Irish sea bass when they are depleted. For the past 30
years, sea bass have been an angling rather than a commercial
species. There are no landings statistics for sea bass but angling
catch data show that the sea bass stock declined dramatically in the
early 1970’s and has not recovered since. There is evidence that sea
bass in Irish waters do not exhibit the same strong recruitments as
recorded closer to continental Europe and the species abundance
remains depressed.

The sea bass stock appears depleted in Irish waters and should
be allowed to rebuild. The legislation in place for sea anglers
should continue and should be enforced. Sea bass should not be
allowed to be caught by commercial fishing operations within the
Irish 12 mile limit in Sub Area VII (i.e. applied to all EU vessels).
Irish vessels should be allowed to catch Sea Bass in other parts
of Sub Area VII where the stock is considered sustainably
exploited. This must be accompanied by a industry self sampling
programme to collect data on sea bass. The Irish Government
should request ICES to examine the latest information on the
status of sea bass stocks in ICES Sub Area IV and VII and
propose management measures for the sustainable exploitation of
the stocks from an angling and a commercial fishing perspective.

Figure 1: Release positions for sea bass tagged between 2000-2005.

ICES divisions are also shown. (Source Pawson et al. 2007a)

Figure 2: Main population movements and proposed stock assessment units
for sea bass in ICES Sub Area VII (Source Pawson et al 2007a). Note sea
bass in Irish waters are considered a separate stock.

Figure 3: Catch of Sea Bass per angler day recorded by the Cork sea angling
club1963 to 2006 (Source: Marine Institute Stock Book 2006).

Source of Information

Anon. (2007) The Stock Book. Marine Institute 372-374.

Kupschus, S. (2008) Bass – what does the assessment tell us, what it doesn’t tell
us and what we can learn about management. ICES Annual Science Conference
2008. Theme Session O: 01.

Pawson, M.G., Pickett,G.D., Leballeur,J., Brown, M. and Fitsch,M. (2007a)

Migration, fishery interactions and management units of sea bass in northwest
Europe. ICES Journal of Marine Science. 64, (2), 332-345.

Pawson, M.G., Kupschus, S., and Pickett, G.D. (2007b) the status of sea bass
(Dicentrarchus labrax) stocks around England and Wales, derived using a separable
catch at age model and implications for fisheries management. ICES Journal of
Marine Science 64, ; 346-356.

Pickett, G.D. and Pawson, M.D. (1994). Sea Bass. Biology, exploitation and
conservation. Chapman & Hall.