By Lewis Smith
Diners are being urged to sign a pledge to avoid eating wild seabass amid deepening concerns ministers are doing too little to protect the species.
Numbers of the fish in the the UK’s most important bass fishery have slumped to “dangerously low” levels and scientists have said none should be caught.
Conservationists have now launched a pledge campaign in which the public can put pressure on fisheries minister George Eustice to do more to protect the struggling fish.
They are demanding that ministers in the UK and Europe introduce a total ban on commercial fishing for seabass from January to June, and a total ban on all fishing in the fish’s breeding grounds during the spawning season.
And they have called on consumers, at home or in restaurants, to sign up to an online promise to stop buying bass caught in the wild.
The Marine Conservation Society, which launched the campaign, said bass which has been farmed is abundant and makes a sustainable alternative. It also recommended species such as mackerel, hake and haddock as tasty alternatives.
“Whether you’re choosing to cook it at home or to serve up to customers - just stop buying wild caught seabass and switch to an alternative like farmed bass,” the campaign states.
Most seabass on the market is farmed but there are still some restaurants and other outlets that still sell it when caught in the wild.
It is also a popular catch among anglers and while limits on how many they can keep - one a day - have been imposed conservations fear too many are still being taken home for the pot.
The latest scientific advice on seabass states that all fishing for it in the central and south North Sea, the Irish Sea, English Channel, Bristol Channel, and Celtic Sea should be stopped because of the “desperate state” of the species.
Heavy restrictions on fishing for it, by commercial fishermen and recreational anglers, have been imposed over the last two years but the species is still struggling. Measures have included much stricter catch limits and temporary bans on fishing during the breeding season.
In launching its campaign the MCS said it was “extremely concerned about the future of the seabass stock around the UK” and that the measures introduced by the European Union, many of them at the behest of the UK government, have been inadequate.
“MCS believes that these measures have not been successful in reducing the overall mortality of seabass to a level consistent with stock recovery,” the organisation said in a statement.
“There needs to be significant further action to reduce the fishing mortality in the short-term, and longer term management measures need to be developed to safeguard this important species.”
Among the new measure MCS believes are vital for the quick recovery of the fish are further reductions in bycatch and for the fishermen using the lost sustainable nets and other equipment to be given preferential treatment by ministers.
It added: “In June 2016 the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advised that there should be zero catch (Commercial and recreational) due to its status having rapidly declined to dangerously low levels.
“MCS supports the scientific recommendation of ICES as vital to ensuring the future of this stock and its role in the marine ecosystem and as an important commercial and recreational species.”