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Sea anglers condemn Fisheries Minister after he fails to show up at bass demonstration


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Pictures by Matt Spence

Recreational sea anglers are furious that Fisheries Minister George Eustice failed to show up at his constituency office on Saturday to hear their concerns about unsustainable, unfair and illogical bass regulations introduced early this year.

A protest had been planned for weeks to coincide with a time when the Minister would normally be holding constituency surgery meetings, but last week Mr Eustice announced that he had another meeting to attend elsewhere in the country.

The Minister also failed to show up at a special debate in Parliament on the same subject in February, choosing to spend the day with the National Farmers’ Union in Scotland instead.  He left fellow Defra Minister Rory Stewart to face criticism from MPs on both sides of the house about the deal he struck at the EU Fisheries Council meeting last December.

To make matters worse, the minister has tried to claim that he secured a good deal for sea anglers at the European Council Meeting when in fact the record shows he was more concerned to secure exemptions for the same commercial fishing vessels who have driven bass stocks to crisis levels.

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The new regulations, approved in December, require anglers to return all bass they catch for the first 6 months of the year and restrict their take to just one fish a day for the rest of the year.  Anglers feel that this is grossly unfair because at the same time commercial gill netting boats have had their monthly allowance increased from 1 to 1.3 tonnes this year and have been given a four month exemption from the six month moratorium on bass landings from January to June.

Defra’s own statistics demonstrate that recreational sea angling has far more benefit for the economy than commercial fishing, and it is much more sustainable.

The new restrictions will impact on thousands of people employed in the recreational sea angling industry and will threaten many small businesses in coastal towns which rely on the trade from hundreds of thousands of recreational sea anglers fishing for bass.

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Many anglers travelled long distances on Saturday to attend the meeting and feel that the Minister should have made the effort to attend and to hear their concerns.

Among them was Mike Spiller, Honorary Secretary of Honiton Sea Angling Club and the Angling Trust Wyvern Region, who said: "Along with scores of other anglers I gave up a day of my weekend and spent nearly £50 in fuel and other costs attending the protest march to represent anglers from Honiton Sea Angling club and the Angling Trust Wyvern Region.

"I think it is despicable that the Fisheries Minister couldn’t be bothered to turn up to hear our concerns when he was aware many weeks ago that we were planning the event.

"It’s another indication that the Minister is completely out of touch and hasn’t grasped the importance of sea angling to constituents, small businesses and the economy."

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Also present was long time bass campaigner Malcolm Gilbert from the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers who added: "The Minister really needs to stop digging himself deeper and deeper into his own pit of incompetence.

"As soon as Eustice and his colleagues rejected the Commission’s proposals for a total cessation of fishing bass for the first half of the year and agreed derogations for some commercial methods, they should have had the sense to foresee how such derogations for commercials would be incompatible alongside a zero take for recreational sea angling.

"What happened to all those Government assurances of ‘proportionality’? If anyone in Defra considers zero retention for recreational sea anglers and 5.2 tonnes per vessel for some commercial vessels during the first half of this year as proportional, I suggest a course of maths is urgently required."

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal said: “The Minister must stop spinning the deal he secured in December at the EU Fisheries Council as a success. It was a disaster for the £2 billion sea angling industry and inadequate to achieve the conservation of bass stocks and it should be torn up and re-written next year.

"Commercial fishing is solely responsible for the crash in bass stocks and therefore any solution must focus on restricting the nets that scoop up tonnes of fish rather than on imposing restrictions on recreational anglers with rod and line.”

Angling Trust's Campaign for Bass

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