Funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (£241,000), the Immature Bass Acoustic Stock Surveillance (I-BASS) project investigates how European bass, Dicentrarchus labrax, use nursery areas through the tagging of juvenile bass and installation of acoustic arrays in three bass nursery areas in the southwest of England. The research will assess the effectiveness of different  nursery areas at protecting immature bass from capture within commercial fisheries, and help to identify habitats or features which are of importance to bass development. The outcomes of this research will provide vital knowledge to support decision-making for the future management of this high value, iconic species.

Over the past 10 years, a severe reduction in the North Atlantic European bass stock has been reported. This decline has resulted in severe management restrictions for both the commercial and recreational fisheries across the region. Following this decline the Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries Authority, in collaboration with the University of Plymouth initiated project I-BASS to explore how bass move within designated Bass Nursery Areas (BNAs).

Designated BNAs largely take the form of estuaries on the east, south and southwest coast of England and Wales. Within BNAs targeted commercial fishing for bass is prohibited for all or part of the year (depending on the site). However, there remain many unknowns regarding how effective these protected areas are at protecting juvenile fish, and what habitats or features are important to juvenile bass within estuaries.

A total of 146 bass have been tagged with small acoustic transmitter tags, which emit a unique “ping” approximately every 90 seconds. These pings can be detected by series of strategically placed acoustic receivers which have been distributed around three designated BNAs in Devon, namely the Dart and Taw/Torridge estuaries, and Salcombe Harbour. With this system deployed we are able to monitor the movement of these tagged fish continuously over the duration of the project (2 years).

The data from the project will greatly increase our knowledge of bass movements within inshore and estuarine habitats, as well as inform management of bass within, and adjacent to designated Bass Nursery Areas.

Many thanks to Dart Harbour & Navigation Authority, Salcombe Harbour Authority and North Devon Fishermen’s Association for providing logistical support and tagging venues for the project. We are also indebted to the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S) and local anglers at each of the study sites who made the tagging possible.

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