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EU Ministers agree better deal for bass stocks but angling bodies claim the political fix was a missed opportunity

14.12.16

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EU fisheries ministers have agreed a deal that recognises that targeted netting for threatened bass stocks is no longer an acceptable form of fishing.

At the 'Fishing Opportunities' meeting for 2017 in Brussels, proposals from the EU Commission calling for an end to netting for bass - which had the wholehearted support of recreational fishing organisations and conservation bodies - were discussed late into the night. The politicians agreed to restrict bass fishing to commercial hook and line and recreational angling only save for a series of over generous bycatch 'allowances' which anglers have slammed as a political fix.

Recreational fishing rules for bass remain the same - catch and release only up to the end of June and one fish a day per angler from July to the end of the year. A proposed monthly bag limit for anglers was rejected meaning that anglers have once again been disproportionately affected when they have by far the lowest impact on stocks and deliver the greatest economic benefit from the fishery.

Commercial trawlers are to be allowed a 3% bass bycatch - well in excess of the suggested 1% and fixed gill nets are to be restricted to a bycatch allowance of 250kg a month. Currently they have a monthly vessel allocation of 1,300 kg.

The EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting this week followed the recent fisheries debate in the House of Commons where strong representations were made in favour of the Commission's proposals to help rebuild bass stocks following the ICES assessment for 2017. It also follows a strong campaign by the Angling Trust, Bass Anglers' Sportfishing Society and other conservation organisations which saw over 11,000 people signing a national Save Our Sea Bass petition.

Martin Salter, National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust said: "This looks like a shoddy political fix when set against the ICES advice for a complete moratorium and the Commission's original proposals for a hook and line and recreational only fishery not exceeding 1,000 tonnes per annum.

"However, we should be pleased that netting has been brought down by 80% from a 1,300kg per month allocation to 250kg monthly bycatch allowance. Whilst progress has been made, once again the politicians failed to follow the science and failed to do what is really needed to rebuild our threatened bass stocks. We intend to fight on."

Ministers resolved the following:

(7) According to scientific advice, sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) in the Celtic Sea, Channel, Irish Sea and southern North Sea (ICES divisions IVb, IVc and VIIa, VIId–VIIh) remains in a perilous state and the stock continues to decline. The conservation actions to prohibit fishing for sea bass should therefore be maintained in ICES divisions VIIa, VIIb, VIIc, VIIg, VIIj and VIIk, with the exception of the waters within 12 nautical miles of the baseline under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. Spawning aggregations of sea bass should be protected with commercial catches restricted further in 2017. On the basis of social and economic impacts limited fisheries using hooks and lines should be permitted, while providing for a closure to protect spawning aggregations. Additionally, due to incidental and unavoidable bycatches of sea bass by vessels using demersal trawls and seines, such bycatches should be limited to 3% of the weight of the total catch of marine organisms on board with a maximum of 400kg per month. For the same reasons, for fixed gillnets bycatches should be limited to 250kg per month. Catches of recreational fishermen from the Northern stock and, for precautionary reasons, from the stock in the Bay of Biscay should be restricted by a daily limit.

David Mitchell, Head of Marine at the Angling Trust added: “It’s very disappointing that the proposal for a more flexible monthly bag limit system for recreational catches was rejected but we intend to continue pursuing this for the future.

"Anglers may feel aggrieved at the outcome but I would urge them to look at the package of conservation measures as a whole and recognise that while far from perfect, conservation of the stock must be the priority and the move to a bycatch only fishery for nets does balance in part the disproportionate restrictions that EU fisheries ministers applied to angling in 2016.”

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