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To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(1) what estimate he has made of bass stocks in (a) the Tamar, (b) the Solent, (c) the Thames and (d) nationwide in each year since 1977; and if he will make a statement;
(2) if he will make a statement on the spawning stocks for bass in the UK.
Bass are highly mobile and migratory fish and the exact identity of stocks is not well understood. Around the UK bass stocks are generally assessed in four units, namely the North sea, the eastern English channel, the western English channel and the UK west coast and not in terms of specific estuaries. However pre-recruit surveys (i.e. surveys of juvenile fish before they recruit to the fishery) have been carried out in the Tamar, Solent and Thames.
(i) Pre-recruit surveys available for the Tamar since 1984 suggest that year-classes in the mid 1980s were weak, while through the 1990s there were some strong year-classes and some weak year-classes. The 2002 year-class appeared strong in this area, and 2004 was above average as age 0 fish, but since then the indices in this area are low.
(ii) Pre-recruit indices in the Solent are available since 1977 and show a similar pattern of weak year-classes in the mid 1980s, several strong year-classes interspersed with weaker ones through the 1990s and a decline to more average levels since 2000.
(iii) Pre-recruit indices in the Thames estuary are only available since the mid 1990s. They indicate relatively strong year-classes in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003. Provisional estimates for 2006 and 2007 suggest these year-classes may also be strong.
(iv) Bass stocks around the UK were analytically assessed by ICES in 2004 and more recently by CEFAS. They indicated that spawning stock biomass had increased substantially following a number of strong recruitments in the 1990s, and that biomass levels in all areas were currently close to the series maxima (on the basis of data from 1985 onwards).