How to reduce fishing mortality in the recreational sea bass fishery?
- Increase the minimum landing size (MLS) and/or introduce a bag limit?

That question was a hot topic in the last months of 2014.

In October 2014 the European Commission had proposed a bass bag limit for the very first time but only of one sea bass per person per day. The EAA and EFTTA (the tackle trade) argued that this was not appropriate and asked the Commission to investigate what an increase in the MLS could bring. An MLS increase clearly would be preferred over bag limits by the recreational angling community. The Commission ordered a report, which was worked out in haste by independent scientists and delivered to the Commission early December 2014:

"Assessment of recreational fisheries for seabass" - Mike Armstrong (contract lead), Tessa van der Hammen and Ronan Goff Independent scientific experts, UK, Netherlands and France, December 2014"

The findings and recommendations in this report convinced the Commission that it would be prudent to increase the bag limit from one to three fish in combination with a MLS increase from 36 cm to 42 cm.

In fact, the scientists recommended to increase the MLS to 45 cm. Page 8:

- Because of the weak 2008 - 2012 year classes, which "..are expected to have a major negative effect on future spawning stock biomass, there would be benefits in providing as much protection as possible which in 2015 would be consistent with an MLS of 45cm."

And they warned against a one-fish bag limit. Page 4:

- "Very small bag limits such as the 1 fish per day proposal by the Commission are likely to have more unpredictable outcomes and greater non-compliance."

Now (October 2015) we are awaiting the Commission's proposal for 2016 measures. We would expect the 42 cm and three fish bag limit to be rolled over from this year, but you never know. If changes have to be made, we (EAA) clearly prefer a MLS increase or something else but with no reduction of the three bass bag limit, which we regard as a critical borderline  Go below that borderline and you would make a lot of anglers very unhappy as well as doing damage economically to charter boating and tackle trade, tourism and other businesses.

Below some cuttings from the report, which - among other things - show the outcome of combinations of various MLS and bag limits. The figures are based on the situation last year. It is clear that these figures would look slightly different if worked out today but the tendency is clear in our opinion: No further bag limit reductions required or wished for. Page 22:

"Typically anglers consider the MLS should be large enough to allow most seabass to spawn at least once. This would require MLS of 42–45cm. Using data from recreational fishery surveys, it is shown that MLS in this range can already reduce total retained catch numbers by a large amount, up to 50% or more for a 45cm MLS that is fully complied with."

SOME CUTTINGS FROM THE REPORT:

Page 14:

Table 3.

Summary of % reduction in retained catch numbers for combinations of MLS and bag limits applied to recreational survey data from the three countries. Figures in bold are for MLS or bag limits on their own. The effect of combinations of MLS and bag limits for UK and Netherlands are given as “>x” where x is the greater of the individual measures applied on their own. (No bag limit calculations available for France for the theoretical condition of maintaining a 36cm MLS).


- "2.3.5 Equivalence of MLS and bag limits
Using the survey data, equivalent combinations of MLS and bag limits can be identified which give the same overall reduction in retained catch numbers (see Table 3):

● For France, an MLS of 45cm, without bag limits, is approximately equivalent to an MLS of 42cm with a daily bag limit of two fish (46% reduction).
● For England, increasing the MLS from 36cm to 42cm MLS without bag limits, is approximately equivalent to an MLS of 36cm with a BL of 2–3 fish (23% reduction). A 45cm MLS is equivalent to a 36cm MLS with BL=1 (48% reduction).
● For the Netherlands, the 42cm MLS with no bag limits gives a reduction of 64% in retained catch, greater than achieved with an MLS of 36cm and BL of 1 fish. A 45cm MLS with no bag limit gives an even greater reduction of 74%.

An MLS of 42-45cm implies delaying of harvesting until roughly 50-80% of females are mature, based on sampling in the UK since the 1980s (Fig. 4). There is some evidence from recent sampling in the Netherlands and the UK that seabass may be maturing at a smaller size in recent years than in the 1980s and 1990s, but this does not alter the conclusion that an MLS of 42-45cm would substantially reduce the numbers of immature female seabass killed."

Page 23:

- "The concept of MLS is connected in the anglers’ minds to a biological reality (size at maturity), and they would not easily understand that different MLS could be taken in the different countries of the European Union, unless there were clearly demonstrated differences in biology of the stocks. They would also not understand how MLS could be altered at intervals in the future to adapt recreational landings to changes in stock biomass and productivity (although this approach is used in the USA). It therefore makes sense for the Commission to fix a MLS for each region (e.g. northern and southern), based on well-founded scientific knowledge of the biology of the stocks, and maintain it throughout the development of the long term management plan."

- "In the short term, it is likely that the most successful approach for reducing recreational fishing mortality on the seabass stock in the North Sea, Channel, Celtic and Irish Seas, and probably also in the Biscay area, will be an increase in MLS to 45cm (to achieve a substantial reduction in catch numbers using a method likely to have good compliance) combined with a daily bag limit of 4 fish,.."
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References:

- Request for Services - Sea bass. Commitment No.686192. Paper for STECF, "Assessment of recreational fisheries for seabass", Mike Armstrong (contract lead), Tessa van der Hammen and Ronan Goff Independent scientific experts, UK, Netherlands and France, December 2014

- European Commission - Proposal for a COUNCIL REGULATION fixing for 2015 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Union waters and, for Union vessels, in certain non-Union waters and repealing Council Regulation (EU) No 779/2014, Brussels, 28.10.2014, COM(2014) 670 final

- European Commission press release 28 October 2014:
  "Commission proposes fishing opportunities in the Atlantic and North Sea for 2015, " (in 19 EU languages)

- The legislative act, which finally introduced a three bass bag limit: "Council Regulation (EU) 2015/523 of 25 March 2015 amending Regulations (EU) No 43/2014 and (EU) 2015/104 as regards certain fishing opportunities"
Cutting:
   (4) The following Article is inserted:
       ‘Article 11a
        Recreational sea bass fisheries in the north-east Atlantic In recreational fisheries
        in ICES divisions IVb, IVc, VIIa, VIId, VIIe, VIIf, VIIg, VIIh, VIIj and VIIk not more than
        three specimens of sea bass may be retained per person per day.’

- EAA and EFTTA briefing note of 13 November 2014:
 
"on the Commission’s proposal for bass measures of 28 October for adoption by the Council 15-16 December 2014"