Fears over sea bass stocks

PUBLISHED: 11:20 20 May 2008 | UPDATED: 20:25 05 July 2010

It's the trendiest fish dish of them all on Norfolk's gastro coast, but conservationists were last night warning sea bass stocks are on the point of collapse.

It's the trendiest fish dish of them all on Norfolk's gastro coast, but conservationists were last night warning sea bass stocks are on the point of collapse.

Defra said it would “consider carefully” a survey from the Bass Anglers' Sportfishing Society (Bass), which says numbers of young fish are in steep decline.

The society wants a closed season, with fisheries closed for three months when bass are spawning, to allow the species time to recover.

John Leballeur, chairman of the society's restoration project team, said: “In over 20 years of bass sampling, I have never seen a period when the numbers of young bass have been so low for so long.

“Across the southern UK there has been a decline in recruitment stock and for the last three years there has been a spawning failure.”

The society wants commercial fishing stopped from February to April, when bass are spawning in the Western Approaches.

Bass, which are now into their summer run to Norfolk, migrate around our coastline from the Atlantic.

There are no quotas or restrictions on commercial landings, other than a 36cm minimum size limit. But the society has campaigned to have the limit raised, as the fish do not breed until they reach 42cm - meaning many are killed before they can reproduce.

Mr Leballeur said bumper catches in recent years stemmed from a successful breeding season in 2002. Once that year class of fish are gone, there will be far fewer juveniles to replace them.

The society has written to fisheries minister Jonathan Shaw, demanding the decline be addressed.

In the letter, Mr Leballeur writes: “I ask the fisheries minister to consider a closure in the breeding season for all stakeholders commencing in February 2009 for three months of each year so as to address the balance and also make the main offshore bass fishery area a Marine Protected Area to run parallel with the closed season.

“The breeding stock and cessations would be protected during the main reproduction cycle. All stakeholders would benefit by this precautionary measure and we would not witness the collapse in the bass fishery some years down the line.

“Another benefit would be the protection of cetaceans that have shown unacceptable losses due to this fishery.”

Mr Shaw's office at Defra said: “We will consider carefully any evidence Bass has collected. Our most recent scientific advice is that bass stocks appear to be sustainable.

“We are about to review the 37 restricted areas we have around the coast of England and Wales to protect juvenile bass, to determine if more protective measures are needed.”

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