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Angling Trust calls on MMO to help tackle illegal drift net fishing for bass off the Essex coast


bass 3 credit Matt Powell - Fishing and Foraging Wales x550px

The Angling Trust has called on the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to investigate reports of licensed fishing vessels illegally drift netting for bass off the Essex coast.

Drift netting for bass was banned by the EU in January as part of a range of measures to protect bass. However, reports from local anglers based in the rivers Crouch, Roach, Blackwater and Colne, have reported several incidents of the EU conservation measures being ignored with drift nets being used by licensed vessels fishing for bass.

They claim banned nets are used to target huge shoals of spawning bass that gather off the Suffolk and Essex coast during April, May and June in order to spawn. They also allege that by increasing mesh size from 90mm to 100mm and fishing at the right depth, fishermen have been able to skim off female fish between seven and fourteen pounds and sell them to foreign markets where these larger fish are popular.

Fishermen claim they are using the drift nets to target cod and not bass but local reports indicate that the cod moved offshore some weeks ago and the nets are now being used to illegally target bass. Whether directly targeted or caught as a bycatch in the cod fishery no bass caught using drift nets should be being landed or entering the market.

Anglers are frustrated by the Kent & Essex IFCA’s failure to respond to this illegal fishing and a post on the Kent & Essex Sea Anglers' Facebook page about the issue has already received over 6,000 views since it was posted last Friday.

The Angling Trust has asked the MMO, which only last week launched a campaign to tackle illegal fishing, to support the Kent & Essex IFCA in investigating the reports and taking appropriate action should licensed vessel owners be caught using banned drift nets to target bass.

The Angling Trust has itself launched a new campaign to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and is encouraging the MMO and other agencies to develop a new centralised intelligence-led marine illegal fishing initiative which can log, investigate and share reports and intelligence of illegal fishing activity at sea.

In the meantime, any illegal fishing should be reported by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or by contacting the IFCAs and MMO directly.

Mike Sharp, a local angler and former MMO appointee to the Kent & Essex IFCA, said: “I urge all government authorities to work together and thoroughly investigate what is going on within the district.

UK bass stocks are at a point where recovery will be impossible to achieve if we continue to allow current conservation measures to be ignored. It won't be long before a pensioner will be attending the local magistrate’s court because he took a bass he caught from a local pier home for his tea when the real damage to stocks is being allowed to continue."

David Mitchell, Marine Campaigns Manager for the Angling Trust, said: “Illegal fishing like this is undermining attempts to stabilise bass stocks which are in danger of facing a total collapse.

"Recreational anglers legally required to return all the bass they catch until July 1st are justifiably frustrated by licensed vessels flagrantly ignoring the law.

With the recent launch of the MMO’s campaign to tackle illegal fishing, we look forward to the MMO investigating these reports and supporting the Kent & Essex IFCA in prosecuting any vessel found to have been using illegal methods to catch and sell bass.

"Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing damages all of us.”

Meanwhile licensed vessels using fixed nets to target bass are legally allowed to land up to 1.3 tonnes of bass per month. Recreational anglers are required to release all bass until July 1st after which a one-fish-per-day bag limit will apply for the second half of 2016.

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