AnglingTrust The voice of Angling

Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes – Minimum Landing Sizes – And The Common Fisheries Policy

MLS - flat fish on measure

Minimum landing sizes are used all over the World and are just one of a number of tools used to manage fish stocks. However, as a common sense approach to conservation and an easy concept to understand (protecting immature fish) they have become particularly favoured by recreational anglers with an interest in conservation and sustainable management of fish stocks.

As part of the latest reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy an obligation by commercial fishermen to land all catches was introduced (commonly known as the discards ban). As a result the EU minimum (landing) sizes could no longer apply and were replaced by ‘Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes’ (MCRS). Fish below the new MCRS will have to be landed but cannot be sold at market for human consumption – thereby creating a market force which is intended to disincentivise  fishermen from catching smaller, immature fish which must be landed but have very little market value. However, there must also be an incentive to land these fish, if caught, to comply with the landings obligation and not to continue to discard dead fish at sea. Therefore a very fine balance must be struck by the EU which disincentivises immature fish from being targeted while simultaneously incentivising fishermen to land them by providing a limited financial reward. 

The obligation to land all fish only applies to species for which there is a quota or a total allowable catch (TAC) – apart from in the Mediterranean where all non TAC species will be required to be landed. For other species it is up to each member state within the EU to decide whether or not to maintain minimum landing sizes or include them in the landings obligation at a national level and introduce a minimum conservation reference size.

Some exemptions may apply once the final details have been agreed. For instance, species with a high survivability that could be returned alive to the sea and endangered or threatened species for which no landings are permitted on conservation grounds.

It is expected that the current minimum landing sizes will be transposed into the new minimum conservation reference sizes. However, the Minimum Landing Sizes set by the EU were said to be "technical measures for the protection of juvenile fish." yet no minimum landing size existed for many species and for those that did the MLS was set below the age of sexual maturity for most species (females) – thereby preventing fish from spawning, completing their lifecycles and contributing to the futures of the stocks.

The lifecycles of some species, and the fishing methods used, mean that minimum landing sizes alone are rarely enough to secure good management; More is needed In most cases of successful fisheries management (including the restoration of depleted stocks) where minimum landing sizes playing a key role, other technical measures are used as well e.g. minimum mesh sizes for nets to avoid by-catches of small, immature fish.

Our interpretation of the current minimum landing sizes set by the EU is that they only apply to motorised vessels holding a commercial fishing license and not to recreational catches. However, a number of countries rigorously apply the EU MLSs to both commercial as well as recreational fisheries (some countries even have set MLSs for recreational fishing above the EU MLSs, while their commercial fisheries follow the EU MLSs, e.g. the French bass fisheries).
The angling Trust encourages all anglers to Give Fish A chance and apply voluntary minimum retention sizes which exceed the EU's and allow all fish retained the chance to have bred at least once.

In England the Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) have considerable responsibility for managing fish stocks out to six miles from the shore. While the IFCAs still have to adhere to the rules laid down by the EU Common Fisheries Policy they are able, through bylaws, to set minimum landing sizes that exceed the EU's and apply to all fish retained - including those caught be recreational anglers.

You can find out what these are by visiting the IFCA websites via the links below. If you are in any doubt about the legal minimum sizes contained within the bylaws or the IFCA area boundaries please check with your IFCA first.

Northumberland IFCA
North East IFCA
Eastern IFCA
Kent and Essex IFCA
Sussex IFCA
Southern IFCA
Devon and Severn IFCA
Cornwall IFCA
Isles of Scilly
North West IFCA

If an IFCA has not set its own minimum landing size/ minimum consrtvation reference size the following EU sizes apply to a limited number of species caught in UK waters. For many species no legal minimum landing size/ conservation reference size exists.

With conservation in mind we have provided the approximate size of sexual maturity for females of all species using the best available evidence to support this. Where a range was given we have published the upper limit. These are not recommended retention size limits but anglers retaining fish above these sizes can be reasonably confident that these fish will have had the chance to have bred at least once.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


Specie

EU
Minimum Landing Size

Size of Sexual
Maturity

Bass (Dicentrarchus labrax)
42cm
46cm
Bream - Black (Spondyliosoma cantharus)
None
20cm
Bream - Gilthead (Sparus aurata)
None
Unknown
Brill (Scophthalmus rhombus)
None
41cm
Coalfish (Pollachius virens)
35cm
(see note 1) 70cm
Cod (Gadus morhua)
35cm
(see note 1) 60cm
Common skate (Dipturus batis)
None
180cm
Conger eel (Conger conger)
None
Unknown
Dab (Limanda limanda)
None
25cm
European Eel (Anguila anguila)
None (See note 2)
Unknown
Flounder (Platichthys flesus)
None
30cm
Garfish (Belone belone)
None
45cm
Gurnard - Grey (Eutrigla gurnardus)
None
25cm
Gurnard - Red (Chelidonichthys cuculus)
None
25cm
Gurnard - Tub (Chelidonichthys lucerna)
None
Unknown
Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus)
30cm
(see note 1) 40cm
Halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus)
None
135cm
Herring (Clupea harengus)
20cm
3-9 years
Horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus)
15cm
30cm
John Dory (Zeus faber)
None
35cm
Lesser Spotted Dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula)
None
60cm
Ling (Molva molva)
63cm
(see note 1)
100cm
Mackerel (Scomber scombrus)
20cm (30cm North sea)
34cm
Megrim (Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis)
20cm
25cm
Anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius)
None
70cm
Mullet - Grey, thick-lipped (Chelon labrosus)
None
47cm
Mullet - Grey, thin-lipped (Liza ramada)
None
47cm
Mullet - Golden Grey (Chelon aurata)
None
28cm
Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa)
22cm
35cm
Pollack (Pollachius pollachius)
30cm
(see note 1) 50cm
Poor Cod (Trisopterus minutus)
None
Unknown
Pouting (Trisopterus luscus)
None
25cm
Ray - Blonde (Raja brachyuran)
None
100cm (nose to tail)
Ray - Cuckoo (Raja naevus)
None
59cm
Ray - Small-eyed (Raja microocellata)
None
Unknown
Ray - Spotted (Raja montagui)
None
Unknown
Ray - Starry (Amblyraja radiata)
None
40cm
Ray - Stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca)
None
Unknown
Ray - Thornback (Raja clavata)
None
85cm
Ray - Undulate (Raja undulate)
None (see note 3)
60cm
Rockling - Five Bearded (Ciliata mustela)
None
Unknown
Rockling - Shore (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus)
None
Unknown
Rockling - Three-bearded (Gaidropsarus vulgaris)
None
Unknown
Shad- Allis (Alosa alosa)
None
See Note 4 below
Shad- Twait (Alosa fallax)
None
See Note 4 below
Monkfish AKA Angel Shark (Squatina squatina)
None
169cm
(see note 5 below)
Shark - Blue (Prionace glauca)
None
220cm
Shark - Bull Huss (Scyliorhinus stellaris)
None
Unknown
Shark - Mako (Isurus oxyrinchus)
None
285cm
Shark - Porbeagle (Lamna nasus)
None (See note 6)
220cm
Shark - Smoothhound (Mustelus asterias)
None
85cm
Shark - Spurdog (Squalus acanthias)
None (see note 7)
80cm
Shark - Thresher (Alopias vulpinus)
None
260-465cm
Shark - Tope (Galeorhinus galeus)
None (See note 8)
Unknown
Sole - Dover (Solea solea)
24cm
35cm
Sole - Lemon (Microstomus kitt)
None
30cm
Trigger fish (Balistes capriscus)
None
Unknown
Turbot (Scophthalmus maximus)
None
46cm
Tuna - Bluefin (Tunnus tunnus)
30kg/115cm
        (Excluding trolling and bait boats)     
See Note 9 below
Whiting (Merlangius merlangus)
27cm
30cm
Witch (Glyptocephalus cynoglossus)
None
Unknown
Wrasse - Ballan (Labrus bergylta)
None
Unknown
Wrasse - Cuckoo (Labrus mixtus)
UnknownUnknown
  1. The size of sexual maturity for species from the Gadidae family including cod, whiting, haddock, pollack and coalfish (saithe) can vary wildly depending on a number of factors. The figures quoted represent the size at which 50 per cent of fish of these species have reached sexual maturity.
  2. An Environment Agency byelaw prevent anglers from retaining the European eel (Anguilla anguilla). However, they can be retained for weighing or measuring but must be returned alive to the water they were taken from on completion of fishing. For the Angling Trust’s policy on retaining European eels click here
  3. Undulate ray are classified as endangered. We recommend that all fish are returned alive
  4. Shad are now protected under the (EU - Berne Convention) and all fish must be returned.
  5. Monkfish (also called Angel Shark) are listed under UK Wildlife and Countryside Act and will be protected against killing, injuring or taking (section 9(1)) on land and up to 3 nautical miles (nm) from English coastal baselines. These are not to be confused with the unprotected Anglerfish (Lophius piscatorius) whose tails are marketed as Monkfish.   
  6. Porbeagle are critically endangered in the Northeast Atlantic. We recommend that all fish are returned alive
  7. Spurdog are classified as critically endangered in the Northeast Atlantic and we recommend that all fish are returned alive
  8. Anglers should be aware that there is a national restriction on landing tope caught from a boat, which includes kayaks, by rod and line. Any boat-caught tope are legally required to be released as soon as possible after capture. Details of the Tope (Prohibition of Fishing Order) 2008 can be found here
  9. In order for bluefin tuna to be caught directly, each Member State must apply for quota and then apply a second specific quota for recreational fishing purposes.  The UK does not currently have a quota for the direct commercial or recreational fishing of bluefin tuna.  Therefore, direct fishing for bluefin tuna is not allowed in the UK under current Regulations. Article 12.5 of Regulation 302/2009 states that “Each Member State shall take the necessary measures to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, the release of bluefin tuna caught alive, especially juveniles, in the framework of recreational fishing”. Therefore, recreational sea anglers are obliged to do everything they can to ensure any by-catch is returned to the sea alive.

Sizes of sexual maturity shown here have been gathered from the best available evidence at the time. If you have more information and can provide referenced studies to update this information then we would love to hear from you. Please email us at admin@anglingtust.net

For minimum sizes for matches and competitions please download the document at the top of this page -- Recommended Retention sizes For Competitions and Matches 2014


For more information visit:

Contact: Angling Trust Eastwood House, 6 Rainbow Street, Leominster, Herefordshire HR6 8DQ
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