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Bass ban sparks fury amongst sea anglers

17.11.17

Bass

This week’s announcement by the European Commission that it is proposing to EU ministers that sea anglers should no longer be allowed to retain a single bass caught in 2018 (and face a complete ban on catch & release bass angling for six months of the year) has sparked fury amongst angling groups and charter boat skippers, particularly because the Commission is proposing permitting some forms of commercial fishing.

Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd has today written to UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice describing the proposals as “unfair, unworkable and disproportionate.”

The Angling Trust, the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS) and other organisations have been campaigning for the introduction of bass conservation measures for more than 20 years.  But until three years ago fishery managers and fisheries ministers made little attempt to control and protect the fishery, despite repeated warnings from scientists and conservation bodies that ever more draconian measures would become inevitable.

As far back as 1987 the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issued a paper warning that increased commercial exploitation was creating ‘intense pressure’ on bass stocks and that management measures were necessary then to ensure a sustainable future for the fishery.

It wasn’t until 2015 that a sensible minimum size limit of 42cm was brought in for bass, in the teeth of opposition from commercial fishing organisations, to give the species a chance to spawn successfully and rebuild stocks. Gill netting wasn’t banned until last year and even then ministers approved a huge by-catch ‘allowance’ which has been shamelessly exploited. By contrast, members of the public who enjoy sea angling have been hit hard over the last two years with six-month catch and release followed by a one fish daily bag limit which has hit the charter boat industry hard.

Now it is proposed that there can be no angling whatsoever for bass in the first six months and no fish taken at all for the rest of the year. Commercial hook and line boats, by contrast, will be able to take four tonnes of bass and fish for ten months of the year. The only welcome aspect is the proposal to close the much abused by-catch loophole for gill netters.

The Angling Trust submitted a position paper to the Commission ahead of their announcement calling for the EU Commission to target a minimum 5% growth in the bass stock in 2018 by:

  • Removing the unavoidable by-catch loophole for fixed netting which facilitated illegal targeted fishing.
  • Reducing the commercial hook and line allowance to 1.0 tonne per annum – so that they can contribute proportionately to reducing fishing mortality.
  • Extending the six-month moratorium to apply to commercial bass fishing.
Both the Angling Trust and the campaign group Save Our Sea Bass made it clear that:
“..there can be no justification, as we have demonstrated, for increasing the already severe restrictions on anglers who have already borne a disproportionate burden of restrictions.”
David Mitchell, Head of Marine at the Angling Trust, said:

“Members of the public who enjoy fishing for bass from the shore or from pleasure or charter boats make a significant contribution to hard pressed coastal economies - estimated by Defra to be as much as £200 million a year and far in excess of the value of the commercial fishery. Not only is it ridiculous and utterly unenforceable to suggest that anglers can stop a bass rather than a pollock or a wrasse from biting on their bait or lure, it is monstrously unfair. Anglers have more than played their part in measures to stop the decline of bass stocks and yet once again the sector that contributes the most and has less impact has been unfairly targeted in order to allow commercial exploitation to continue.”

David Curtis, from Save Our Sea Bass, said:

"Sea angling by the public is the most environmentally-friendly form of bass fishing and delivers the greatest social and economic benefits by far. The public's access to the bass fishery must come first. And yet the Commission's proposals would deny anglers the right to take even one bass for the table in 2018, while the 4 tonne limit for commercial hook and liners will restrict just five vessels in the UK.This is totally unacceptable."

Ian Noble, charter skipper and Chairman of the Professional Boatman’s Association, said:

“No targeted fishing for bass for the first six months of 2018 will see a number of charter fishing businesses go to the wall. Why should charter fishing businesses serving members of the public be put out of business while commercial fishing continues? The Commission’s proposals are totally unfair and will have a fatal impact on charter fishing businesses reliant on bass fishing."

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust, has already written to UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, and will be meeting with him in a few days’ time to express anglers concerns. He said:

“These measures to restrict the ability of sea anglers to take even a single fish from a publicly owned stock due to its depletion by commercial overfishing are simply unfair, unworkable and disproportionate. If the politicians had listened to anglers, conservationists and even their own scientists 20 years ago we would not be in this absurd and economically damaging situation.”

There are signs that U.K. ministers will challenge aspects of the Commission proposals and Defra officials have already told the Angling Trust:
"We will be seeking further clarification from the Commission and developing our UK response. Of course, we are aware of the unenforceability of the ‘no fishing for’ bass proposed for the first six months for anglers."
Angling organisations and the European tackle trade are planning further representations ahead of the final decisions which will be made by EU fishing ministers at their Council meeting in December.   

Copy of Angling Trust / Save Our Sea Bass Briefing

Bass stock at critical level

The bass stock is crashing. It was nearly 19,000 tonnes in 2010, but the forecast for 2018 is just 6,414 tonnes, a fall of two thirds. The stock is now well below the critical level of 8,075 tonnes (Blim), which means the future regeneration of the stock is now critically endangered and the stock may remain depleted for extended periods.

Scientific advice issued by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) in June 2013 recommended a 36% cut in fishing mortality across the Northern EU area for 2014. This was ignored and in 2014 bass landings by UK vessels actually rose by 30% (from 772 tonnes to 1,004 tonnes).  In 2014, ICES recommended a cut of 80% for 2015. Recreational angling bodies are not in the least surprised that ICES is once again recommending a total moratorium in 2018. For several years we have warned EU fisheries ministers that unless they radically reduce the commercial catch limits in line with the scientific advice, the ICES recommendations would get ever more draconian.

Gill netting and its part in the decline

There is no doubt that inshore gill netting has played a significant part in the decline of bass stocks. For example, in 2014 UK gill netters alone landed 584 tonnes of bass – more than the 541 tonnes that ICES recommended as the total for the entire Northern EU bass fishery in 2016.

The “unavoidable by-catch” allowance for fixed netters has been a disastrous failure. It is impossible to prove that a fisherman is targeting bass. Fixed netters know this and so many have been illegally targeting bass secure in the knowledge that they cannot be prosecuted. UK Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities are admitting that they do not have the legal powers to enforce the fixed netting laws and the MMO are telling fixed netters that it is legal to net reefs where bass is the target species.

As a result, in the UK, the restrictions on fixed netting have failed to deliver the necessary reductions in bass mortality as they were intended when agreed by the Council of Ministers.

The public – the biggest stakeholder in the bass fishery

Sea bass are an iconic sporting species, a top target for the 8.7 million sea anglers whose total economic activity across Europe is estimated to add €10.5bn to the European economy. A report published in 2017 for the European Parliament’s PECH Committee on the value and impact on fish stocks of marine recreational fishing estimates it creates almost 100,000 jobs across Europe and that “If this (marine recreational fishing) was a single company, it would be in the top 10 in Europe, in terms of number of employees and the top 100 in the world.”

The UK recreational bass fishery alone is estimated by Defra to be worth £200 million a year. The imminent collapse in the bass stock, or a further reduction in the ability of the public to take a bass for the table, would be disastrous for the economy and many coastal communities.

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