Massive population decline in European seabass

European seabassAn assessment by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has revealed that European seabass (Dicentrarcus labrax) have suffered a massive population decline in the Northeast Atlantic, reaching their lowest point in two decades. With a drop of more than 20%, the crash is not only a concern to the commercial fishery, but also to the recreational fishing community that considers the species to be a prize catch.

European seabass are a vulnerable species because they spawn for the first time at four to seven years (can be caught before they spawn) and return to the same coastal sites each year, which makes them more prone to habitat loss and overexploitation. The ICES report suggests that global warming and increased fishing influenced the decline in stocks in the Northeast Atlantic. When ocean temperatures began increasing in the 1990s, sea bass stocks expanded and concentrated northward, and began to decline as fishing increased. The report also suggests that the cold winters during the past five years may have killed a significant proportion of juveniles, fish that were not yet able to swim offshore for their first spawn, and causing a further reduction in breeding success.

ICES advises the implementation of precautionary reductions in catches and recommends a 36% reduction in catches. The decision to enforce any restrictions is made by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs after discussion by the members of the European Union.