How is the EU protecting sea bass?

How is the EU protecting sea bass?

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How is the EU protecting sea bass?

Sea bass is a high value, iconic species for recreational and commercial fishermen. Scientific advice has clearly identified the need to drastically reduce catches of this species, following an increase in the fishing pressure and a reduction in reproduction.

European seabass © ScandFish
Sea bass (Latin name: Dicentrarchus labrax)

We need to act to address the declining state of the stock, to protect jobs and livelihoods. If the EU does not act decisively now, the risk for greater and long term losses to this valuable fish stock and to coastal communities will be increasing.

In 2015 the EU has taken action to protect sea bass

Infographic - Protecting sea bass

Measure one - A short term ban on pelagic trawling

On 19 January 2015 the EU imposed a pelagic trawling ban until the end of April 2015: a critical first step in this package of measures. The ban protected the stock from being targeted when at its most vulnerable – when the fish is coming together in shoals during the spawning season to reproduce. It applied to the Channel, Celtic Sea, Irish Sea and southern North Sea.

Measure two - A 3-fish bag limit for recreational fishermen

On 25 March 2015 the EU set a catch limit of three fish per day per angler. Recreational fishing accounts for 25% of sea bass catches.

Measure three - A monthly catch limit and a closed area

On 19 June 2015 the EU set catch limits for particular fishing gears in order to protect sea bass for the remainder of 2015. The decision also comprises an area closure around Ireland for commercial fishing, namely the Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, south of Ireland and west of Ireland (ICES areas VIIa,b,c,g,j,k outside the UK 12 mile zone), thereby extending a national measure, that Ireland has had in place for Irish vessels only, to protect sea bass since 1990 to cover all EU vessels active in the area.

Measure four – An increase in the minimum size of northern sea bass
On 2 July 2015 the EU increased the minimum size for northern sea bass from 36 to 42 cm. The new rule applies to both commercial and recreational fishermen. This will further improve the protection of this valuable stock and give it more chances to reproduce young fish before it is caught. The Commission had also proposed to increase the minimum size for the two southern stocks of sea bass in Iberian waters and the Bay of Biscay. Member states however pointed to the lack of data available on these stocks, which does not support the use of urgency measures. The Commission will therefore ask for renewed scientific advice on the southern stocks, which will feed into new proposals on sea bass from 2016 onwards.

Measure five – strengthened proposals for 2016

On 10 November 2015 the Commission proposed further measures, to be decided by the 28 Member States meeting in the Fisheries Council on 14 and 15 December. The proposals build upon and strengthen the measures already put in place, with the aim of bringing the stock under MSY management by 2017. They include:

  • a complete ban on fishing for the first half of 2016;
  • a 1-fish bag limit for recreational anglers and a monthly one tonne catch limit per commercial vessel for the second half of 2016;
  • a continued area closure around Ireland for commercial fishing.

On 16 December the Member States have adopted the following measures:

  • In the first half of 2016: No fishing for sea bass by commercial vessels targeting sea bass, except for long lines, pole and lines and set nets who will have a closure of two months in February and March 2016; a small by catch allowance of 1% is envisaged for demersal trawlers and seiners per vessels per month to cover unavoidable by by-catches. Recreational anglers may practise a catch and release fishery.
  • In the second half of 2016: catch limits for commercial vessels and a 1 fish bag limit for recreational anglers.
  • A continued area closure around Ireland for commercial fishing.

Questions and answers


Sea bass is one of the most valuable fish on which many fishermen, especially small fishing enterprises, depend. Recent scientific analyses have reinforced previous concerns of unsustainable fishing advising urgently a substantial reduction in fishing mortality. We are witnessing a rapid decline of sea bass that risks leading to a collapse if no action is taken. International scientific bodies have called for an 80% reduction in catches to turn the situation around.

Around 100 fishermen depend to a higher degree for part of the year on pelagic trawling of sea bass, while during the rest of year their income is made up also from other fisheries. There are however several hundred small scale fishermen that depend solely on sea bass for their income and for whom finding another source of income is much more difficult. With over 1.3m recreational anglers in France and another 800 000 in the UK, many thousands of jobs also depend on recreational fishing.

Following a lack of agreement between Member States since 2012 on coordinated and effective measures to protect this important stock and another lack of agreement of EU ministers in December's Fisheries Council, on 19 December 2014 the UK made a formal request to the Commission to take emergency measures. The Commission then consulted the Member States involved and analysed the scientific evidence available. On the basis of discussions with all Member States and based on the scientific evidence the Commission has taken its own decision.

The Commission has previously taken such emergency measures to protect vulnerable stocks, most recently with anchovy in the Bay of Biscay.