Bream, Black or porgy or seabream

Spondyliosoma cantharus

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Pelagic trawl
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — English Channel
Stock detail — Sussex IFCA district
Picture of Bream, Black or porgy or seabream

Sustainability rating four info

Sustainability overview

The Black Seabream were was once rare in British waters, but their population off Plymouth has increased with rising sea temperatures over the past century. The English Channel expanded in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Black Seabream were heavily exploited.

Black Seabream are a data-limited species and the stock status is unknown. They are a vulnerable species because of a few reasons: firstly, they aggregate during their breeding season (making them easier to catch). Secondly, because they hatch as females and turn into males at sexual maturity - the fishery previously targeted larger fish (predominately males) which impacted reproduction and repopulation. Thirdly, they rely of very particular habitats (chalk beds with veneers or various sediments). To see just how passionately Black seabream males protect their young, see

Black Seabream are caught in both commercial and recreational fisheries. They are targeted small inshore boats using fixed nets when they congregate in inshore shallow inshore hard-ground areas (when they are feeding before breeding). Trawlers (primarily pair trawlers) exploit bream when bream aggregate in their breeding grounds. Bream are also exploited by netters and commercial and recreational anglers. After breeding, bream tend to go offshore, but the remaining breams are usually targeted by anglers.

The majority of the Black Seabream UK catch occurs in the English Channel (opposed to North Sea) and particularly in the Eastern side of the English Channel (area 7d). Outside the 6 nautical mile limit, a significant proportion of bream are harvested by French vessels stocks: around 87% of the total Black Seabream landings in 2000 were by French fishing vessels. There is a general lack of management to protect the species, though Sussex IFCA have implemented measures to protect the species, such as Marine Protected Areas.


A member of a group of fish known as Sparidae, the black bream is one of two species commonly found in northern European seas. Found off south-west Britain and east Ireland in the English Channel and the Irish Sea. Spawning occurs in April and May in a number of inshore waters, such as the English Channel. Since black bream aggregate to spawn in predictable times and locations, the species can be vulnerable to high pressure from anglers. They are called black bream because they turn a jet black colour when they are courting. Black seabream are unusual in that they are sequential hermaphrodites (undergoing a sex change during their lives), maturing as females at a length of 23cm, then as males at around 30cm. All fish over 40cm are males. The maximum reported age, length and weight are 15 years, 60cm and 1.2kg respectively. They are found over seagrass beds and rocky and sandy bottoms between about 5m to 300m. Black bream lay eggs in a nest that the male has excavated on sand with its tail. The larger the female, the more fecund or more eggs she lays, e.g. a female of 18.5cm will lay aroud 31,000 eggs compared to a female of 33.5cm which lays around to 554,000 eggs. Gregarious, sometimes in large schools but the males can also be very aggressive when they are protecting the nests. Omnivorous, feeding on seaweeds and small invertebrates, especially crustaceans. Likely predators on black bream eggs are clawed crustaceans. Adult black bream have few predators, however a few are likely to be taken by seabirds and marine mammals.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.75 info

Stock Area

English Channel

Stock information

There have been no stock assessments for Black Seabream and their abundance is unknown. An abundance index - produced using catch rates from a beam trawl survey in the Eastern English Channel - has shown fluctuations in recent years, after a period of relative stability. However, recent local fishers from the Southern IFCA have raised concerns regarding the size, number of Black Seabream from competitions in recent years.

It is unknown if fishing mortality are at appropriate levels but there is no evidence to suggest that they are overfished. Catch rates UK fleets have ranged between 182 and 377 t since 2000, with no overall trend.

The FishBase vulnerability score for Black Seabream is 52 out of 100.


Criterion score: 0.5 info

There is currently very little management to protect Black Seabream in European waters. They are not managed under a Total Allowable Catch or minimum landing size. The EU mandates that any towed gear used to catch seabream must have a mesh size >80mm and sea bream must form a minimum of 70% of the catch. For static/fixed gear used to catch sea bream, the minimum mesh size is 120mm. These measure are designed to protect juvenile seabream.

Black Seabream are vulnerable to overexploitation because they are change sex from female to male during their lives, they aggregate spawning and have important habitat requirements. These attributes both make the species difficult to manage effectively: the males are often over exploited because females receive protection from recreational and commercial fisheries. Further protection, such as harvest windows are required to reduce pressure on males. Black Seabream is a highly valued recreational sport fish: recreational catch are estimated to represent around 25% of the total annual catch and management must cover commercial and recreational fisheries.

There is generally little information available for the species and data accuracy is questionable. There are a mixture of surveillance and enforcement methods, particularly including logbooks and vessel monitoring systems. Fishing effort is limited by kW-days depending on gear, mesh size and area. The fishery is also regulated under a licensing scheme.

North Wales and North Western, Cornwall and Southern districts IFCAs mandate a minimum landing size of 23cm. This is above the female average size at maturity (around 20 cm). However, this measure does not adequately protect males as the species does not change sex from female to male until they are 30-40 cm in length. The Southern IFCA district have confirmed that recreational charter boats mandate voluntary self-management for bream stocks where they only retain male bream. However, this may not be effective for the long-term management of the stock.

IFCAs enforce gear restrictions and seasonal closures. For example, the Sussex IFCA has designated Kingmere Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) that protects important nesting areas for Black Seabream by restricting all fishing between April end of June, round restriction on trawling, static gear effort management and measures to implement the recreational fishery component. IFCAs monitor and enforce the districtas measures via land and sea based patrols and violations can result in financial penalties. Sussex-based ports receive a relatively large proportion of the landings, particularly because there are larger population of bream in this district, along with more well-known nesting locations, it is a more desirable commodity in the area and there is easier access.

IFCAs have implemented stronger management, though only Sussex IFCA have designated enough management to sufficiently protect the species’ vulnerabilities. Though the measures have not been proven effective, measures appear likely to be effective, given the difficulties of managing this species (for example, MPAs to protect nursery areas).

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.5 info

In mid-water trawls, bycatch species form a small part of the catch and mainly include Atlantic mackerel, European horse mackerel, whiting, starry Smoothound, John Dory, and Red Gurnard. Species of concern include the European sea bass and some skates and rays. Cod have catch limits and are managed in a long-term management plan but species such as sea bass and skates and rays lack management at a European level. There is limited information available for wrasse in the English Channel. There is a lack of management for the species, however, management is increasing in IFCA areas. More management is required for some of these co-occuring species.

Mid-water trawl fisheries in the English Channel targeting European sea bass have been estimated to incidentally catch around 800 shortbeaked common dolphin per year. However, catches have not been reported in mid-water trawl fisheries targeting Black Seabream. A recent study suggests that bycatch levels of common dolphins from the coastal stocks may be unsustainable. To mitigate this, pingers are used in some gear. Discarding has not been quantified.

Mid-water trawls have very limited interactions with the seabed habitat and therefore, is not considered to be a concern here.

The capture method score for mid-water trawls is limited by the impacts of trawls on marine mammals.


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
Cod, Atlantic Cod
Coley, Saithe
Hake, European
Monkfish, Anglerfish
Pollock, Alaska, Walleye
Sturgeon (Farmed)


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