Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes (MCRSs)

Minimum landing sizes are used all over the World to manage fish stocks. As a common-sense approach to conservation, and an easy concept to understand (protecting immature fish) and apply when fishing, they have become particularly recognised by recreational anglers as important conservation method for fish.

Minimum legal fish sizes are referred to as ‘Minimum Conservation Reference Sizes’ (MCRS) and are set by the EU as part of the Common Fisheries Policy which the UK is still subject to until the start of 2021.


In 2019 a change to EU law meant that minimum conservation reference sizes would no longer continue to apply to recreational fishing. Some of the Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authorities, which manage fish stocks out to six miles around England, have their own bylaws which set minimum sizes and which do apply to recreational angling. Others do not and continue to assess whether there is a risk to fish stocks from recreational fishing before setting any legal size limits.

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

The Angling Trust believes in allowing all species of fish the chance to have spawned at least once before being taken. On this basis the following table also provides the approximate size of sexual maturity for females of all species using the best available evidence to support this. Anglers retaining fish above these sizes can be reasonably confident that these fish will have had the chance to have bred at least once.


EU legal MCRS Size of Sexual
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)


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) Unknown Unknown
  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 protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 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


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