Stephen Eades – English Channel sea bass is facing oblivion – can anyone make a sensible decision? – Jan 15

Sea Bass occurs widely in European seas, and is a species that prospers in the English Channel and Celtic Sea. Whilst it is a fish that inhabits open seas, particularly during spawning time (January to March), it does in fact spend most of its life in coastal and inshore waters. As a result, it is readily sought after by sea anglers and small boat commercial fishermen.

For many years the sea bass stock in English seas has remained relatively stable, providing a reliable catch for sport fishermen and the inshore commercial fishing industry. Moreover the age profile of the stock — the adult becomes sexually mature around 6 years and lives until 28 — has remained very good, meaning that there have always been larger, older fish to be caught. A mature adult can measure up to 1 metre in length.

Older fish in a stock are important because not only are they commercially more valuable (they a large fish), but also because older fish lay more eggs and sperm than younger fish and so they are of vital importance to the reproductive success of the stock.

However a storm which threatens the survival of the English Channel sea bass stock has been brewing on the horizon for awhile . . . . and now it has broken with a vengeance.

Fishing pressure has been there for the past 30 years, slowly reducing the size and resilience of the stock by removing all the larger fish — but during the past 10 years, particularly the last 5, this pressure has gone into over-drive. So what has caused this storm to break?

The short answer is the collapse in stocks of other types of fish due to over-fishing. Everywhere the CFP has been imposing quotas (catch limits), and so commercial fishermen have set their sights on sea bass — a stock they had hitherto largely ignored, and a stock for which the EU (CFP) had never bothered to create a management regime. Result — commercial fishermen have descended like “a wolf on the fold” with their trawlers, hovering up the sea bass stock when it collects together in its spawning grounds in the English Channel from January to April.

The stock has collapsed and its spawning stock is now so low that its survival is seriously in question. So what would you expect to happen? Conservation measures — you must be joking!

Presently, the rules say fishermen can catch bass once they’ve grown to 36 cm but actually the females are not sexually mature until around 40/42 cm. This means the breeding stock is literally disappearing! Furthermore, the commercial industry target the spawning grounds with pair trawlers and take the fish as if the stock were limitless — it is not, and the EU has imposed no quotas! The scientists are alarmed, and say catch levels must be reduced by 80%.

The British Parliament met on 3rd December, with ex-UK Fisheries Ministers lined up in a row to urge urgent action. Someone even dared to ask them — why did you not do something when you were a Minister? The excuses and the explanations are both shameful and shameless!
The EU Council of Ministers met on 16th December, and decided to do absolutely nothing!

Those who care are now turning to the current UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustace, and appealing to him to take “emergency action”. Only if he wanted to take such action why did he not do so when he had the EU’s attention on 16th December, and if he really believed in decisive action — unlike all the other UK Fisheries Ministers before him — why has he not already acted to raise the minimum landing size from 36 cm to 40/42cm, and preferably 46cm so that there are older fish in the breeding stock?

And why do the offshore commercial trawlermen not just stop destroying the spawning stock — have they no intelligence? Have sanity and hope sunk without trace into Davy Jones’ locker? Is there no one in government or the fishing industry who understands what a sensible decision means, let alone how to make one? If you’ve got the answer, tell Marinet and join us.

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