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English and Welsh Governments told to stop misrepresenting new measures to protect sea bass

13.01.17

Bass march on George Eustice's office 2016

Fisheries ministers in both London and Cardiff have been challenged by the Angling Trust and the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS) to correct misleading statements that they have published claiming that targeted netting for threatened stocks of sea bass would be still be legal in 2017, when in fact EU ministers have ruled that only 'unavoidable by-catches' are legal.

Both the UK and Welsh governments have put out statements that do not accord with what was agreed, prompting Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd to write to George Eustice at Defra and Lesley Griffiths - his opposite number in the Welsh Assembly, demanding a public retraction and clarification in order to prevent British commercial fishing boats from finding themselves in breach of the new legislation.

Last month in Brussels, EU fisheries ministers came up with 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, proposals from the EU Commission calling for an end to netting for bass - which had the whole hearted 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 'unavoidable by-catch allowances'.

The rules governing recreational fishing for bass remained the same at one fish a day per angler for the latter half of the year.

Commercial trawlers and seine netters are to be allowed a 3% bass by-catch to avoid unnecessary discards and fixed gill nets are to be restricted to an unavoidable by-catch allowance of 250kg a month. Currently they have a monthly vessel allocation of 1,300 kg.

This followed a 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 in the wake of a damning ICES stock assessment for 2017. There was a strong campaign mounted 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.

In his letter to the Ministers Mark Lloyd wrote: “We remain very concerned that the UK and Welsh Governments are still publicly seen to be interpreting the provision for gillnets, clearly stated to be for unavoidable by-catches only, as a targeted monthly catch limit when both the Commission and your officials have made it clear that this is not the case. Unless you publicly clarify your positions by amending the HMG response to the petition and correcting the WG press notice there will be continuing targeted fishing of bass by gill nets rather than allowing for limited incidental and unavoidable by-catches as was agreed at the Fishing Opportunities meeting in December.

We intend to make representations to the Commission on this matter but would like to give you the opportunity to correct your statements now that Article 9 has been published and all possible ambiguity has been removed."

David Mitchell, the Angling Trust’s Head of Marine, said: “There is a very important distinction to be made between an allocation of 250kg per month and an allowance of 250kg per month for genuine unavoidable by-catches. We are pleased that the Commission has made it clear that this provision is only for unavoidable by-catches and that no targeted netting of bass is permissible. However, how this is currently enforceable in the UK remains to be seen and we look forward to hearing how Defra and the MMO intend to implement this legally-binding measure effectively and without delay.”

David Curtis of the Bass Angler's Sportfishing Society said: “In December, the EU Fisheries Ministers accepted our argument that the bass fishery should be restricted to only the most sustainable forms of fishing: recreational angling and commercial hook and line.  They ruled that it would be illegal for fixed netters to target bass and that they should only have an allowance for unavoidable by-catch.  Unfortunately, since then the UK and Welsh Governments have made public statements incorrectly indicating that fixed netters can continue to target bass – we look forward to them correcting these statements so that commercial netters will be clear on the correct legal position.”


Notes:

1) UK Government's Response to petitioners on 2017 Bass Measures - available here.

“Bass measures agreed at December Council included:
The limit tightened for bass catches by fixed gill nets from 1.3 tonnes to 250kg per vessel per month, with a closed season of February-March, representing an 80% cut from this year's provision, and for all forms of netting at UK level an estimated 88% cut from the former 2011-2013 baseline annual average;…”

2) Welsh Assembly Government's Media Response to 2017 Bass Measures - available here.

Press Notice - Wednesday 14 December 2016
“The Cabinet Secretary helped secure the deal as part of the UK Ministerial negotiating team at the EU Fisheries Council in Brussels which concluded early this morning.

The deal that was reached with regards to Wales’ priorities were:
Commercial Sea Bass Fishery - The retention of the use of selective netting within the seabass fishery.  This was a significant challenge as stock remains in a recovering state.  However, working within the overall sustainable envelope, a modest increase in netting was secured.  Initial proposals would have seen no provision at all for netting in 2017”.

3) Article 9 - European Commission Sea Bass regulations (published 23.12.16)

Article 9
Measures on Sea bass fisheries

1. It shall be prohibited for Union fishing vessels to fish for sea bass in ICES divisions VIIb, VIIc, VIIj and VIIk, as well as in the waters of ICES divisions VIIa and VIIg that are more than 12 nautical miles from the baseline under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. It shall be prohibited for Union fishing vessels to retain on board, tranship, relocate or land sea bass caught in that area.

2. It shall be prohibited for Union fishing vessels as well as for any commercial fisheries from shore to fish for sea bass and to retain on board, relocate, tranship or land sea bass caught in the following areas:

(a) ICES divisions IVb, IVc, VIId, VIIe, VIIf and VIIh;

(b) waters within 12 nautical miles from baseline under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom in ICES divisions VIIa and VIIg.

3. By derogation from the first subparagraph, the following measures shall apply regarding sea bass in the areas referred to in that subparagraph:

(a) Union fishing vessels deploying demersal trawls and seines  may retain on board unavoidable by-catches of sea bass that do not exceed 3 % of the weight of the total catches of marine organisms on board in any single day. The catches of sea bass retained on board by a Union fishing vessel on the basis of this derogation may not exceed 400 kilograms per month;

(b) in January 2017 and from 1 April to 31 December 2017, Union fishing vessels using hooks and lines , may fish for sea bass and retain on board, relocate, tranship or land sea bass caught in that area not exceeding 10 tonnes per vessel per year.

(c) Union fishing vessels using fixed gillnets  may retain on board unavoidable by-catches of sea bass not exceeding 250 kilograms per month.

The above derogations shall apply to Union vessels that have recorded catches of sea bass over the period from 1 July 2015 to 30 September 2016: in point (b) with recorded catches using hooks and lines, and in point (c) with recorded catches using fixed gillnets.

4) Angling Trust letter to George Eustice 22/12/16 - available here.

5) Angling Trust letters to George Eustice and Lesley Griffiths 9/1/17 - available here.

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