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Bass

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bass

Description

An athletic, predatory fish found in coastal areas around Europe, bass is prized by anglers and chefs. It has delicious white flesh and beautiful sivery scales with robust spiney fins and a powerful tail.  Bass have been over-fished in European waters in recent years. Following Europe wide improvements in management stocks of bass are beginning to recover and line and trawl caught bass is now again recommended by Cornwall Good Seafood Guide. 

Sustainability Overview

Bass populations are beggining to show signs of recovery in our waters thanks to emergency restrictions on Europe-wide bass fishing brought in in 2016. 

For the past few years bass stocks appear to have been recovering although the recovery is slowing.  The management score for bass is poor at 0.75 (out of 1) due to the lack of an effective control rule and need for improvement in management. In terms of fishing methods, trawling gets a score of 0.5 out of 1, due to issues with damage to seabed and lack of selectivity. Gill netting is given a poor score of 0.75 reflecting issues with by catch of non-target species, cetaceans, seabirds, sharks and seals.

The best method of capture for this species is handline (line caught), as it is selective and has little impact on other species. Look for fish labeled with a blue 'line-caught tag', if its not labelled it may not have been line caught. For more info visit www.linecaught.org.uk . Avoid gillnet caught bass and farmed bass imported from the Mediterranean. 

Bass stocks have historically been poorly studied and bass fishing has also been poorly managed.  Bass are highly mobile and migratory and therefore management needs to be consistent across Europe. In 2016, after years of little or no management ICES recommended that European catches should be zero. (this meant bass received a default rating of 5) At that time extreme management measures were brought in resulting in a drop in fishing effort which is now well below sustainable levels.  The minimum landing size for bass has been increased to 42cm across the whole of Europe. 
 
In 2021 a total of 62.8 tonnes of bass were landed to Cornish ports with a value of £648k (MMO data).
 
Updated October 2023

Sustainability ratings for this species

Hook and line

Cornish vessels landing to Cornish Ports

The best choice. Handline fishermen use hooks and lines to catch premium quality fish. Undersized specimens can easily be returned to the sea unharmed. This is a very selective method and there is minimal effect on seabed habitats and by catch of unwanted species. look for line caught tagged fish.

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Demersal Trawl

Cornwall, ares VII e, f g and h

Demersal trawls are large nets that are pulled through the water with the bottom edge of the net touching the seabed. At each edge the net is pulled open by metal ‘trawl doors’. Sometimes referred to as Otter trawling

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Gill Netting

Cornish Waters

Gill nets are lightweight nets made of nylon (monofilament) fishing line that are anchored to the seabed and are used to catch fish by entangling the gills.

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How we rate fish

Cornwall Good Seafood Guide rates fish on sustainability using a scale of 1 to 5.

1, 2 and 3 are recommended, Fish to avoid are rated 5.

We use the system devised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) so our scores are comparable with the scores produced by MCS for the UK and fisheries from all around the world. For more information on scoring click here.

Biology

Bass are highly mobile and predatory fish that prey on smaller fish, worms and crustaceans. Bass are slow growing and females don’t reach sexual maturity until they are between 38cm and 42cm at the age of 6 to 7 years. Bass can live for up to 30 years and can reach 120- 130cm in length. Bass spawn offshore during the winter and are known to aggregate in shoals that are targeted by mid–channel pair trawling teams.  Juvenile bass settle in estuaries where they take advantage of plentiful food (mainly mysid shrimps) and warm temperatures. Being slow to mature bass have a moderate biological vulnerably rating of 58% (Cheung et all 2005) so are vulnerable to over fishing. 
 

Stock Info

Over the past six years advice from International Convention for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) on the state of bass painted a grim picture of widespread overfishing of bass. Wide spread cuts in landings however are beginning to pay off and the latest advice shows that stocks are beginning to improve.  Whereas in previous years ICES recomended zero catch they are currently advising that in 2024 total removals of bass in Europe should be no more than 2542 tonnes, the same advice as for 2023.
 
Bass has this year seen an improved stock score  (from 0.5 to 0.25) due to stock size increasing and approaching MSY and fishing effort being well below MSY according to the latest ICES advice on seabass in our area. Recruitment, however, is still poor. 
 

Management

Historically there was no restriction on numbers of bass taken in European fisheries. In Cornwall for many years we have had a larger minimum size for bass (37.5mm) than in many other areas of Europe. (EU minimum landing size was 36cm), but in 2016 emergency measures to help bass conservation have resulted in an increase across Europe to a minimum landing size of 42cm. 
A EU wide precautionary management plan has resulted in improvement in this stock. Since Brexit the UK government have kept bass recovery rules in place, including a ban on pelagic fishing (bass pair trawling) for bass and a closed season with no commercial or recreational take of bass during February and March each year.
 
Cornwall has several designated bass nursery areas within estuaries where national legislation prohibits taking of bass and fishing from a boat.  There are also several areas where gill netting is restricted – e.g., the Runnelstone and the manacles bass box.
 
In 2018 Cornwall IFCA passed a byelaw banning the use of gill nets in Estuaries and rivers . As estuaries are known nursery areas for bass this will likely benefit bass stocks as well as other species. River and estuarine fishing nets byelaw
  
A cetacean by-catch code of conduct has been set up by Cornwall IFCA after a series of cetacean by catch incidents due to inshore winter bass netting in 2005. 
 
The MMO have announced that there will be catch limits on all commercial bass fishing in 2020 and 2022 and that recreational anglers will be restricted to two bass per day per angler, Minimum landing size is 42cm.  Details of these managment measures will be released via the CIFCA website
 
Commercial fishing restrictions (Set by Marine Managment Organisation) MMO bass fishing regulations 2024
 
  • Fishing recreationally and commercially for bass is prohibited during February and March (spawning season)
  • Pelagic trawling or ring netting for bass is prohibited in UK waters.
  • Using demersal trawls a maximium of 5% of catch can be bass and there is an allowance of 3.8 tonnes per vessel per year
  • Gill netters are not allowed to target bass but are allowed an unavoidable by catch of max 1.6 tonnes, per year, per boat.
  • Hook and line fishing commerciallyis limited to 6.2 tonnes, per year, per boat.

 

The management score for bass is poor at 0.75/1 due to the lack of an effective control rule and need for improvement in management.

Capture Info

Bass are caught in significant numbers by recreational fishermen, and commercial fishermen. Numbers of bass being caught by anglers and spear fishermen is not recorded which makes stock assesment very difficult. 
 
Handline and rod and line caught bass represent a large share of this and is the most sustainable method of catching bass. It recieves the best score for capture methods of 0/1.
 
Gill nets, although not allowed to target bass, catch bass in Coastal areas with in Cornwall. There are well documented issues of bycatch of dolphins and porpoises and other non-target species such as rays and sharks, and seabirds with this method of fishing. Consequently, gillnetting recieves a poor score of 0.75/1.
 
Bottom-towed trawls are allocated an allowance of 5% of their total catch for bass. Due to their lack of selectivity, and impact on the seabed, trawling recieves a score of 0.5/1.
 
Capture of bass in UK waters using pelagic fishing methods such as pelagic pair trawls, purse seines and ring nets are banned.

References

ICES advice Bass 2024
ICES advice Bass 2023
 
MMO Bass fishing guidelines 2023
 
Seafish responsible sourcing guide, bass
 
Cornwall Bass Fishery, Edwin Derriman, Cornwall IFCA Jan 2013 
 
Project inshore pre assessment database 2013
 
 
Report of the Inter-Benchmark Protocol on New Species (Turbot and Sea bass ; IBPNew 2012). 1-5 October 2012 Copenhagen, Denmark
 
Cheung, W.W.L., T.J. Pitcher and D. Pauly, 2005. A fuzzy logic expert system to estimate intrinsic extinction vulnerabilities of marine fishes to fishing. Biol. Conserv. 124:97-111
 
MMO landings data to Cornish ports.
 

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Cornwall Good Seafood Guide is underpinned by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Good Fish Guide. The first UK consumer guide to sustainable seafood. For more information visit www.fishonline.org

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