Now What – Taking Stock of the European Union’s Sea Bass Measures

EU Commission Emergency Measures

After years of political deadlock, 2015 has been a watershed year for Sea Bass conservation.  With the help of considerable grass roots pressure from recreational anglers and conservationists across the EU, the EU Commission has succeeded in persuading the EU Member States to agree to a number of emergency measures to try to save the Sea Bass:

  1. A temporary ban (ended 30 April 2015) on mid-water trawling for Sea Bass, to protect them whilst they aggregate before and during spawning.
  2. A 3 fish per person, per day, bag limit for recreational angling (until 31 December 2015).
  3. Monthly Vessel Catch limits for 2015 and in amounts tailored to each different method of fishing (until 31 December 2015).
  4. A closure around Ireland (Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, South of Ireland and West of Ireland) for all EU commercial Sea Bass fishing (until 31 December 2015).
  5. An increase in the Minimum Conservation Reference Size from 36cm to 42cm for commercial and recreational fishing North of the Bay of Biscay (from 1 September 2015).

How much will these measures cut Sea Bass landings in 2015?

Before we answer this question, we have to ask: can we rely on the accuracy of the landings data and therefore the calculations based upon them?  Unfortunately the answer is no.  With regard to Sea Bass, the book “Advances in Fisheries Science”[1] states that “the official statistics may record as little as 20% of actual landings”.

The more we learn about how the data is produced, the clearer it becomes that it is seriously understating the true level of Sea Bass landings:

  • The UK Sea Bass fishery is dominated by under 10 metre vessels, but there is no requirement for these vessels to report their landings at all!
  • Vessels over 10 metres do not have to record the Sea Bass catch on board if it is less than 50kg.
  • First Sale Notes are not required for sales of Sea Bass less than 50kg.

The EU Commission makes an adjustment to try to correct for under-reporting, but this is clearly no substitute for a properly documented fishery where all landings are recorded.

So we currently find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of trying to consider the possible impact of the emergency measures on landings data that we can be sure is incorrect!

OK, but given that, what might these emergency measures achieve in 2015?

We have pieced together the various estimates from the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (“STECF”) and the EU Commission and believe that the most optimistic view is that the cuts will reduce landings in 2015 by a maximum of 40%, from 5,668 tonnes to 3,465 tonnes.

This sounds great, until we remember that the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (“ICES”) told us in June 2014 that in order to fish sustainably, Sea Bass landings needed to be cut by at least 80%, to just 1,155 tonnes in 2015.

So even with the most optimistic view of these 2015 cuts, Sea Bass will still be fished in 2015 at a level that is three times the maximum sustainable amount.

Here’s what it looks like in a graph:

what now 1

And here is a reminder of why drastic cuts are needed:

what now 2

What about 2016?

The EU Commission hopes to roll over most of the 2015 emergency measures into 2016; having these in place from the start of 2016 should mean that they have more impact, but we are currently waiting to see estimated figures.

We should remember though, that there is a real risk that the EU Council may not agree to roll over the emergency measures, particularly if the commercial fishing lobby becomes more vocal, so we need to maintain pressure.

We know, disappointingly, that the EU Commission does not intend to repeat or extend the winter ban on mid-water trawling for Sea Bass – aimed at protecting Sea Bass when they aggregate to spawn.   The Commission takes the view that the Vessel Catch Limit of 1.5 tonnes per month should make it uneconomic for the mid-water trawlers to fish for Sea Bass.  However, a ban would remove the threat completely and also provide protection for Sea Bass while they migrate to spawning areas and are an easy target for other fishing methods (such as gill netting).

Are these cuts enough?

No, clearly further drastic cuts are needed.  The ICES recommendation for 2016 is only 541 tonnes.  Even if all targeted commercial fishing for Sea Bass were to stop on 31 December 2015 (which of course it won’t), the amount of Sea Bass landed as by-catch in 2016 would exceed 541 tonnes.

So what else is needed?

We urgently need:

  • A package of measures agreed in 2015 that will cut landings in 2016 to 541 tonnes.[2]
  • A Long Term Management Plan that sets out clear management objectives
  • A fully documented Sea Bass fishery, with all Sea Bass landings recorded.
  • A discard ban for Sea Bass from 2016.[3]
  • An increase in the Minimum Conservation Reference Size to 48cm.[4]
  • Commercial and recreational fishing for Sea Bass to be restricted to hand lines and rod & line only.[5]
  • A ban on commercial fishing for Sea Bass during the migration and spawning months.[6]
  • Improvements to existing Sea Bass Nursery Areas, including a netting ban.[7]

How can we make it happen?

We must all continue to exert pressure on the decision-makers – making our voices heard – writing emails in advance of each key decision, setting out what we want. NB this requires a sustained effort – we need people to commit to sending a number of emails over the next year or so.

We know that this works: the EU Commission has told us that emails from individuals were a great help in introducing the temporary ban on fishing for Sea Bass in spawning areas.

Saveourseabass.org makes sending emails to the decision-makers easy:

  • it sets out the most urgent issues (updated as the situation changes); and
  • provides all the email addresses needed in a cut and paste format.

We urgently need people to get on board and join our campaign – if you don’t help to save the Sea Bass, who will?

http://www.saveourseabass.org

 

 

[1] Andy Payne, John Cotter, Ted Potter, ‪John Wiley & Sons, 22 Jan 2009

[2] A cut in landings to 541 tonnes, as recommended by ICES, is a 90% cut from 2010 to 2013 average annual landings.

[3] The discard ban would require all Sea Bass caught to be landed, unless the fishing method allows for release with a high expectation of survival.

[4] Few female Sea Bass reach maturity below 42cm.  An MCRS of 48cm would give every female Sea Bass the opportunity to mature and spawn at least once before being killed.

[5] Hand lines and rod & line are the most sustainable methods of fishing for Sea Bass.  With the Sea Bass stock so low, there is now only room for the most sustainable and low impact forms of fishing.

[6] Commercial targeting of fish that are just about to spawn is completely unsustainable. The timing of the ban may need to vary across regions because spawning is climate-driven.  The precise dates and areas to be determined by the scientists.

[7] Netting in Sea Bass Nursery Areas is killing juvenile Sea Bass.  Please see our paper on Sea Bass Nursery Areas on Saveourseabass.org

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