Irish vessels are currently precluded from landing Sea Bass under the Bass (Conservation of Stocks) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 230 of 2006) and the Bass (Restriction on Sale) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 367 of 2007). The complete ban for the commercial fishing of sea bass applies to Irish fishing vessels in all areas. These regulations were introduced as a co-ordinated set of measures with the Sea Bass Fishing Conservation bylaws. The bylaws imposes a bag limit on anglers of two bass in any one period of 24 hours and a ban on angling for bass during the spawning season, from 15th May to 15th June in any given year.
These measures have been in place since 1990 and were introduced arising from the dramatic decline of sea bass stocks in the 1970’s. Bass in Irish waters are a slow growing fish and, at a recruitment age of roughly 5 years, are late maturing fish. The distribution of bass around Europe is found mainly in southern waters, including the inshore waters of the south west of England and the English Channel. It is farmed extensively in Mediterranean waters.
The Marine Institute carried out an annual bass survey between the years 1996 and 2007. This survey validates previous research on the species and indicates that the stock of bass in Ireland’s inshore waters remains greatly depleted since the 1960s and 1970s. In Irish waters, the available scientific advice is that the sea bass stock appears depleted and should be allowed to rebuild. The evidence suggests that sea bass in Irish waters do not exhibit the same strong recruitments as recorded closer to continental Europe and the species abundance remains depressed.
The EU Commission has indicated that it is considering introducing Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for seabass in specified fisheries management areas stretching from the North Sea down to waters off the coasts of Spain and Portugal. The EU Commission has indicated that it proposes to use track record of landings of seabass by Member States fleets to establish each Member States shares of the TACs. As Ireland has implemented a complete closure of the commercial seabass fishery since 1990, under this methodology it would not receive any quota. I consider that it is unacceptable that the Irish fleet would not benefit from a share out of these fisheries because of the responsible approach taken to protect and rebuild the stock around Ireland. I have made the case at the Fisheries Council and to the Commission that an alternative method of establishing access to the fisheries should be developed that allows Irish fishermen fishing opportunities for sustainable stocks of seabass in areas where the Irish fleet would operate. I will continue to press Ireland’s case in this matter in the coming months and in the lead in to the December Fisheries Council , where the decisions on this matter will be finalised. I will consider management arrangements for seabass when and if Council decides on TACs and quotas for the relevant stocks.