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Bass (European)

Dicentrarchus labrax

Bass are a streamline bodied fish with a large head and mouth. They have small silver scales covering their body and two dorsal fins, the front one having 8-9 sharp spiny rays. Spines are also noticeable on the lower part of the gill plate. Bass are found sub-tidally down to around 100 m around most of the UK. Young fish are often found schooling in shallow waters, estuaries and the lower reaches of rivers as is commonly seen in the Kent and Essex IFCA district. Larger adult bass are found in deeper water usually but come closer inshore to warmer waters from March to Mid-June peaking in May after spawning. Bass are a relatively slow growing species with males reaching minimum landing size at a mean age of 4 years and females from 5 years in the UK.

Bass is a schooling predator of smaller fish species such as members of the herring family, sandeels and other small schooling fish. They are also an important predator of small crustaceans and squid playing an important part of food chains in estuaries and coastal waters.

Recreational bass fishing

Recreational fisheries, including from shore, in ICES divisions 4b, 4c, 6a, 7a to 7k are limited to catch-and-release only during 01 February to 31 March and 1 November to 31 December 2019. From 1 April to 31 October 2019, not more than one seabass may be retained per fisherman per day.

In recreational fisheries in ICES divisions 8a and 8b, a maximum of three seabass may be retained per recreational fisherman per day.

These rules apply if you are fishing from a boat or from the shore.

Commercial bass fishing
The catch, retention, transhipment and landing of bass during 2019 is subject to restrictions. Those restrictions relate to;

  • when and where you can catch bass
  • how you can fish (gear type) and whether you have an authorisation to do so
  • how much can be retained

When and where you can catch bass
Throughout 2019 you must not catch, retain, tranship or land bass caught from a vessel or the shore from the following ‘prohibited’ areas:

Sea area                                                 International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) division
South West Approaches                     ICES VIIb, VIIc, VIIj and VIIk
Irish or Celtic Sea                                Outside the 12 nautical mile limit of UK waters in ICES VIIg and VIIa

During January 2019 and from 1 April 2019 until 31 December 2019 the catch, retention, transhipment and landing of bass in the restricted areas below, is only permitted if you have an authorisation from the MMO to do so. Fishing for bass in any restricted area is prohibited during February and March 2019.

Sea area                                      International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) division
North Sea                                   IVb, IVc
Channel                                      VIId, VIIe
Celtic Sea                                    VIIf, VIIg*
Irish Sea                                      VIIa*
South West Approaches          VIIh
(*Inside UK 12nm limit only)

 How you can fish when operating in a restricted area
Subject to having an authorisation issued by your fisheries administration you are only permitted to catch and retain bass with the following gears:

  • fixed gillnets
  • hooks and lines
  • demersal trawls
  • demersal Seines

You are not allowed to catch and retain bass with any other gears, including nets that drift with the current or are capable of doing so

You cannot catch, retain, tranship or land bass if you have not been issued an authorisation.

Fixed gillnets
Fixed nets are considered by the MMO as those being “fixed, or capable of being fixed, by any means to the bottom of the sea” as set out in regulation (EC) 850/1998.

Fixed nets are defined as being fixed to the bottom of the sea in a permanent position by any method such as weights, anchors or stakes and it must be set so as not to be able to drift or move with any current.

Where a net is out of the water (i.e. on a fishing vessel) it must be immediately capable of being fixed to the bottom of the sea by any method such as weights, anchors or stakes either attached to the net or capable of being attached immediately prior to the net being deployed. In the absence of adequate means of fixing the net to the bottom of the sea being present the net will not be considered to be a fixed net.

For the avoidance of doubt, anchors, weights or other items attached to the net which do not fix it to the bottom of the sea or prevent it from drifting (regardless of the state of the current), will not be considered sufficient to consider the net as a fixed net.

Use of multiple gears
A UK fishing vessel may only carry one authorised fishing gear on a fishing trip when retaining bass on board. If you fish using more than one of the permitted gears in a single calendar month the lowest of the catch limits for the gears will apply.

How much can be retained
You can only retain and land bass subject to the limits below. Catch limits are not transferable between vessels.

For vessels with authorisations

Demersal Trawls Demersal Seines Hooks and Lines Fixed Gillnets Nets All other gears (including drift nets) Commercial shore fisheries
Fishery Restrictions Closed February and March Closed February and March Closed February and March Closed February and March All bass catches prohibited All bass catches prohibited
Maximum catch limit Maximum 1% by weight of all marine organisms per day. Unavoidable by-catch of 400kg per two consecutive calendar months Maximum 1% by weight of all marine organisms per day. Unavoidable by-catch of 210kg per month 5.5 tonnes per year Unavoidable by-catch of 1.4 tonnes per year All bass catches prohibited All bass catches prohibited

Charter vessels
If you have a licensed fishing vessel and have been issued an authorisation you can catch and retain bass in accordance with that authorisation, your fishing licence and this guidance.

Within ICES divisions 4b, 4c, 6a, 7a to 7k from 1 April to 30 October 2019 if you do not have a licensed fishing vessel, not more than one specimen of European seabass may be retained and landed per recreational fisherman per day in the restricted area.

If you have a fishing vessel with a licence but without a bass authorisation you could still take recreational fishermen out to fish. From 1 April to 30 October 2019 not more than one specimen of European seabass may be retained and landed per recreational fisherman per day in the restricted area. However, no bass may be sold in relation to any recreational fishing.

In ICES divisions 8a and 8b, a maximum of three seabass may be retained per recreational fisherman per day. Recreational bass restrictions include fishing activity from a vessel and the shore.

 Pelagic Landing Obligation
You must discard all bass caught when using pelagic gears as bass is classed as a prohibited species when caught with unauthorised gears.

 Demersal Landing Obligation
The demersal landing obligation does not currently apply to bass in 2019. This means that you must discard all bass unless you have an authorisation and are fishing with the correct gear type for that authorisation.

During February and March 2019 all bass fishing is prohibited and bass catches must be returned to the sea. Fishers should take all reasonable measures to avoid and minimise bass discards.

 Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS)
The MCRS (‘minimum size’) for bass is 42cm.

You must not retain, tranship, land, transport, store, sell, display or offer for sale specimens below the MCRS, but must return them immediately to the sea.

 Authorisations
If you want to catch and retain bass with the above gear types in 2019 you must have an authorisation to do so. In 2019, commercial fishermen have been authorised to catch and retain bass with certain gears. Authorisations were issued to vessels with a track record of landing bass during the reference period of 1 July 2015 to 30 September 2016 subject to any successful transfer requests.

If you have been issued a 2019 authorisation you will be authorised to catch and retain bass with the gear types listed on your authorisation, subject to the specific limitations for each gear. Unless otherwise notified, your 2018 authorisation will be valid until January 2019.

Unless otherwise notified, your 2019 authorisation will be valid until January 2020.

Vessel Replacement and transfer of authorisation
If you are replacing a vessel that has a bass authorisation a transfer of authorisation will be considered providing the replacement vessel is no larger in engine size and tonnage. In addition, owners intending to sell vessels being replaced should also make the purchaser aware that the vessel being sold will lose its authorisation to catch bass once the transfer is completed (written evidence from the purchaser to confirm their understanding may be required).

Where a vessel is lost at sea and/or is damaged beyond repair a transfer of authorisation will be considered providing the replacement vessel is no larger in engine size and tonnage.

Individuals wishing to transfer an existing authorisation to a new/replacement vessel should make initial contact with their local MMO office as soon as practicable, providing evidence that their circumstances meets the above mentioned criteria.

Authorisations will transfer to a new owner of the vessel when the ownership of the Union vessel is transferred. The current catch uptake by that vessel will also be transferred – i.e. the catch limits will not be reset. For example, if a vessel has used all of its hooks & line annual catch limit then the new owner of the vessel will not be permitted to catch and retain further bass using hooks & lines.