Essex Sea Bass monitoring and tagging project

Sea Bass with tag. Photo: Essex Sea bass project.

The backwaters and rivers of Essex and Suffolk provide ideal conditions for juvenile Sea Bass to feed and grow. However Bass populations have fallen dramatically in the last few years due to over fishing adult stock and two harsh winters a few years ago. Essex Wildlife Trust has been working with recreational sea anglers, Cefas, the University of Essex, the Kent & Essex IFCA, and the Environment Agency to monitor the Bass population and discover what areas of the coast are used by this species at different times of year.

Data already exists from small fish surveys conducted by various government agencies but there are gaps in our understanding of the shoals that gather off the Essex and Suffolk coast. Satellite tagging of Sea Bass is currently being conducted by Cefas in an attempt to quantify Bass behaviour and migration patterns, this is conducted alongside a longer running tagging project using identifiable plastic tags that are recovered by anglers of commercial fishermen when the individual is caught, this tag and its location when received are given to Cefas. By using many cheaper tags this can over time begin to build up an understanding of which areas are utilised by the Bass at which time of year.  

Essex Wildlife Trust are committed to the project and has secured funding for an additional 600 tags and measuring boards, provided venues for the training of recreational sea anglers who are keen to be part of the project, and is working in partnership with Cefas to deliver training on tagging techniques.

Essex Wildlife Trust also has a long term commitment to studying and understanding the importance of Essex Estuaries saltmarshes and their role in supporting juvenile and school bass. Two PhD studies have identified Essex Wildlife Trust owned saltmarsh as important feeding grounds for juvenile bass, and a long term monitoring project for bass utilisation of the saltings at Abbotts Hall is currently underway. Our newly created managed realignment site at Fingringhoe Wick is being surveyed for fish utilisation to quantify the importance of newly created saltmarsh for fish species.

We know juvenile Bass spend much of their early years in the rivers and estuaries of Essex and Suffolk. We have gaps in our understanding of where they come from, how long they stay and their movement up and down the coast. This information will assist decision makers with the introduction of effective nursery areas, helping to protect the Bass population in the future.

Mike Sharp - Independent Recreational Sea Angler Sarah Allison, Essex Wildlife Trust