Bass, seabass (Caught at sea)

Dicentrarchus labrax

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gill or fixed net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — Central and South North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, Bristol Channel, Celtic Sea
Stock detail — IVb and c, VIIa, and VIId-h
Picture of Bass, seabass (Caught at sea)

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The combination of slow growth, late maturity, spawning aggregation, and strong summer site fidelity increase the vulnerability of seabass to over-exploitation and localised depletion. Spawning stock biomass (SSB) for this stock has been declining since 2005 and is now below Blim, the stock is however being harvested sustainably and fishing pressure on the stock assessed as below FMSY, Fpa, and Flim. Emergency measures introduced in 2015 are partially effective for the recovery of the stock. Take action and sign our pledge to give wild seabass a break


Bass or seabass belongs to a family of spiny-finned fish called Moronidae, which are closely related to groupers. Bass breed from March to mid-June, mostly in April, in British coastal and offshore waters, from January to March in the Bay of Biscay and from February to May in the English Channel and eastern Celtic Sea. It is a long-lived and slow growing species - up to 30 years of age - and can achieve a length of up to 1m with a weight of 12kg. Male bass mature at 31-35cm (aged 3-6 years) and females mature at 40-45cm (aged 5-8 years). Once mature, bass may migrate within UK coastal waters and occasionally further offshore. Increases in sea water temperature in recent decades have likely led to a more northerly distribution of seabass as it is now found further north into the North Sea. Climate warming may also have lengthened the time adult seabass spend in the summer feeding areas. After spawning, seabass tend to return to the same coastal sites each year.

Stock information

Criterion score: Default red info

Stock Area

Central and South North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, Bristol Channel, Celtic Sea

Stock information

Bass is important to inshore artisanal fishers, offshore fisheries, and recreational anglers, and has a high socio-economic value. Historically, commercial seabass landings were minimal and the species was mainly the quarry of recreational anglers, but since the 1970s the commercial catch has escalated and by mid 1990s was believed to equal the recreational take. In 2017 ICES estimated recreational removals at 16% of the total catch; commercial landings 72%; and commercial discards at 12%. Accurate assessment of commercial catches is also difficult because legislation allows vessels to sell directly to the public up to 30 kilos per transaction and there is no provision for collecting data for the cumulative tonnage being sold in this way.

Spawning stock biomass (SSB) has been declining since 2005 and is now below Blim. Fishing mortality (F) has increased over the time-series, peaking in 2013 before a rapid decline to below FMSY. Recruitment was estimated to be poor since 2008, with the exception of the 2013 and 2014 year-class estimates which show average recruitment.
ICES assesses that fishing pressure on the stock is below FMSY, Fpa, and Flim, and that the Spawning stock size is below MSY Btrigger, Bpa, and Blim and advises that when the MSY approach is applied, total removals (commercial and recreational catches) in 2019 should be no more than 1789 tonnes.
Stock identity remains poorly understood and tagging and genetic studies are ongoing to address this.


Management for this fishery has improved but is still considered only partially effective. Until recently there were few management objectives or restrictive catch limits for the bass stock in these areas and catches have been in excess of scientific advice for several years.

There is no Total Allowable Catch (TAC) or harvest control rule for this species and catches are not controlled with fixed quota allocations, as most other target species are in these waters. Monthly catch limits are instead in place for different gear types, yet there is concern that the recent measures are not being universally adhered to and there is believed to be significant unaccounted mortality as a result of unreported bycatch, illegal fishing, and from the recreational fishery which have traditionally taken a significant amount of the catch yet are not well monitored.

In 2015 as part of several emergency measures introduced for the recovery of the stock, the Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) was increased from 36cms to 42cms. Further measures to reduce fishing mortality were adopted in 2016 and amended for fishing in 2017 and more recently for fishing in 2018.

Fishing in 2018 is prohibited in the south west approaches (ICES 7.b,c, j and k) and in the Irish or Celtic Sea outside the 12 nautical mile limit of ICES areas 7.g and 7.a. Only commercial vessels with authorisation to fish for bass in restricted areas (North Sea; Channel; Celtic; Irish Sea; Southwest Approaches), where fishery restrictions and maximum catch limits apply, is permitted. Fishing for bass in any restricted area is prohibited during the main spawning season in February and March 2018.
Only fixed gillnets; hooks and lines; demersal trawls and seines are permitted to catch and retain bass. All bass caught in pelagic gears must be discarded as bass are classed as a prohibited species when caught with unauthorised gears.

The landing obligation (discard ban) is being gradually phased in but does not apply to bass in 2018. Any amount of bass discarded must be recorded in the vessels logbook.

Any bass caught by recreational fishers must be returned immediately to the sea. In Ireland, a moratorium on commercial fishing for bass has been in effect since 1990 and the species is restrictively managed for its valuable recreational sector and angling tourism industry. Recreational fisheries in Ireland are subject to bag limits of 2 fish in 24 hrs; a 40 cm minimum size limit; and a closed season from 15th May to 15th June annually.
The UK also has 37 designated bass nursery areas with fishing restrictions in UK legislation to protect young bass.

Capture Information

For authorised vessels fishing with fixed gill nets a limit of unavoidable bycatch of bass of 1.2 tonnes per year is permitted. Fishing is closed or prohibited in February and March. The minimum conservation reference size (minimum landing size) for wild seabass was increased in 2015 from 36 to 42 cms.


Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Basa, Tra, Catfish or Vietnamese River Cobbler
Bass, seabass (Farmed)
Bream, Gilthead (Farmed)
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Cod, Pacific Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, Cape
Hake, European
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


ICES, 2018. ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort Celtic Seas and Greater North Sea ecoregions. Published 29 June 2018. Version 2: 2 July 2018. https://d (Accessed July 2018)
ICES 2017. Advice. (Accessed 6 November 2017)
ICES (2016) Advice, Book 5.
ICES 2014. Advice, Book 5.
MMO 2018. Statutory guidance. Bass fishing guidance 2018. Updated 15 March 2018. (Accessed July 2018)
Nunny, L. 2011. The Price of Fish: A review of cetacean bycatch in fisheries in the north-east Atlantic
Ross and Isaac. 2004. The Net Effect. A WDCS Report for Greenpeace
NSAC, 2017. Sea bass management in the North Sea. NSAC Advice ref 03-1617. Available at July 2018).