Anglers could be limited to catching one sea bass a day by the European Commission as part of its efforts to prevent overfishing.
The Commission warned that stocks were in “rapid decline” and could be “on the verge of collapse” but an angling group insisted that commercial, rather than recreational, fisherman should be targeted.
Sea bass has seen rocketing demand by restaurants in recent years and is a popular catch for anglers. But enthusiasts breaking the one-fish limit could be fined if the change is approved for 2015.
A spokesperson for the European Commission said its proposals were based on scientific evidence compiled by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which recommended an 80 per cent cut in European sea bass fishing.
“Sea bass is a late maturing and slow growing species whose fishing mortality currently quadruples the levels maximum sustainable yield levels,” he added.
“In view of the worrying situation of this stock, which could be on the verge of collapse, fishing opportunities are proposed in the form of fishing effort and catch limits, which should target the main sources of fishing mortality - pelagic trawling and recreational fishing.”
The limit will apply to recreational fishing in waters surrounding the British Isles, including the central and southern North Sea, English Channel, Irish Sea, Bristol Channel and the Atlantic off south-east Ireland and Cornwall.
But the decision to impose restrictions on anglers rather than the commercial fishermen also partly responsible for the crisis is proving controversial.
The Angling Trust told The Times that the proposed limit was “grossly disproportionate” and would threaten thousands of jobs on charter boats, in fishing shops and at seaside pubs and guest houses.
The group also disputes the Commission’s claim that anglers were responsible for almost a third of sea bass caught.
Martin Salter, the trust’s campaigns co-ordinator, said a limit of two or three bas per day could be acceptable alongside tougher restrictions for commercial fishing.
“[The commission] is targeting the people least responsible for bass mortality. It’s a bit like trying to reduce road deaths from speeding by targeting cyclists rather than drivers,” he told The Times.
The Angling Trust separately started its own campaign last week to press the Fisheries Minister to raise the minimum size at which bass can be caught, meaning younger fish are left to mature and breed to keep numbers up.
A Defra report from 2012 said England’s 884,000 sea anglers pump £1.23 billion into the economy every year and support 10,400 full time jobs, the organisation said.
Acknowledging the “bleak prospect for the future of bass stocks”, the trust recommended limiting commercial fishing to farm fish and allowing wild sea bass to be line caught only.
A joint letter from the Angling Trust and the Bass Angler’s Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S.) proposed raising the legal minimum size for caught fish from 36 cm to 45 cm.
Nigel Horsman, from B.A.S.S., said: “The scientific evidence is alarmingly clear. Urgent and very significant action is needed to prevent a total collapse of bass stocks, of a kind that some other fisheries around the world have struggled to recover from.
“Bass is our most valuable sea fish due to the very high economic value derived from recreational sea angling and we simply should not have allowed stocks to have been overfished to this extent."
The European Commission is also proposing tighter catch limits for a number of other fish to allow stocks to recover.
It recommends reducing limits for 40 stocks, such as cod from the Irish Sea, and an increase for 29 stocks, including lobster from the Norwegian Sea.
EU ministers will discuss the proposals in mid-December and if agreed, they will take effect from 1 January.