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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


13/11/2014 - Anglers Challenge EU Commission Over ‘Unbalanced and Unacceptable’ Bass Management Proposals as Government's Strategy Unravels.


Sea anglers have reacted angrily to proposals published earlier this month by the European Commission on the management of (sea) bass which would see anglers restricted to keeping one fish, per person per day, while commercial trawlers would still be free to scoop up vast quantities of fish with minimal new restrictions. 

Angling organisations claim that that the EU proposals will deliver no real reductions in commercial bass fishing mortality at all and that landings  in 2015 might even go up despite the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) recommending that catches should be cut by 80% immediately to restore bass stocks hit by years of overfishing.

The 'wholly inadequate' proposals from the Commission have exposed the flaws in the UK government's strategy of relying on Europe take action to limit bass mortalities rather than coming forward with their own bass management plans. Other  EU countries including Ireland and The Netherlands have introduced tough measures to protect bass stocks in their inshore waters and the Angling Trust is now calling on the UK government to follow suit.

Last month Fisheries Minister George Eustice, in response to a Parliamentary question from Angling Trust Ambassador Richard Benyon MP, said:

"When it comes to bass, I can tell him that we expect to have an important breakthrough in December. We have always said that there should be technical measures. The stock has been fished unsustainably and there is a tentative proposal, which we expect to be raised at the December Council, that will look at both bag limits and catch limits, so that we can preserve this vital stock."

Angling Trust Campaign Chief Martin Salter said:

"George Eustice and his officials at Defra need to up their game considerably now that their flawed strategy of leaving the future of British bass stocks to the unholy horse trading processes of the European Commission is unravelling. The Angling Trust has warned Mr Eustice and MPs that the Commission was likely to cave into pressure from the commercial sector and that it was foolhardy to talk of breakthroughs and to resist drafting much needed domestic measures that could complement whatever was eventually agreed in Europe."

The Angling Trust has helped to draft a briefing note in a partnership between the European Anglers Alliance (EAA), the European Tackle Trade Association (EFTTA) and the International Forum For Sustainable Underwater Activities (IFSUA) to influence the Commission and Member States before the Council of Ministers meets on December 15th-16th.

The briefing paper highlights the Commission’s proposal for a one fish, per angler, per day bag limit on recreational catches as unfair, unbalanced and disproportionate as well as highlighting the failure of the Commission to put forward serious measures to reduce bass fishing mortality from commercial fisheries which account for more than 70 per cent of the total recorded bass fishing mortality.

The briefing paper questions the EU Commission’s powers to introduce a bag limit on recreational catches which EAA now understands could apply to bass caught from the shore as well as from boats. It also highlights the lack of data on what the bag limit would deliver in terms of reducing fishing mortality.The briefing note goes on to highlight deficiencies in the proposals for commercial fishing including:

  • Criticism that the proposals include no specific details on catch limits for vessels fishing in restricted areas important for bass spawning.
  • Criticism that the proposals will affect too small an area and only a very limited number of fishing vessels in area VIIe off the south coast of Devon and Cornwall.
  • Criticism that the proposed measures neither close these important spawning areas completely nor ban all trawling in them.
  • Suggesting that restrictions should apply beyond the short window during the peak spawning period.
  • Criticism that the proposal makes no recommendations for mixed fisheries despite being the cause of approximately 40 per cent of bass fishing mortality.

The paper goes on to argue that the proposals could deliver no real reductions in commercial bass fishing mortality at all and that with the introduction of the landings obligation, and a reduction in available quota for other species, commercial landings of bass in 2015 might even go up – a situation that would be catastrophic for the stock.  The International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has recommended that catches should be cut by 80% immediately to restore bass stocks.

What Should Happen Next?

The briefing paper argues for:

  • Proposals for a recreational bag limit to be dropped until there is more data available on its effectiveness in reducing fishing mortality and until more serious efforts are made to restrict commercial bass fishing mortality in a fair and proportionate way.
  • A total ban on all fishing in and around key bass spawning areas.
  • An immediate increase in the Minimum Conservation Reference Size from 35cm to at least 42cm. (The Angling Trust wants see this raised to at least 45cms as soon as possible)
  • An immediate review of available technical measures and a cap on bass caught in mixed fisheries.

The paper highlights the immense economic contribution recreational bass angling makes to the economy and warns against damaging this through badly thought-out and disproportionate proposals that favour exploitation by the much less economically valuable commercial fishing sector. The paper states that, “The case for managing bass as a recreational asset is overwhelming, however the Commission seems unable or unwilling to authorise management of the resource for purposes other than commercial exploitation.”

Members of EAA will be meeting representatives of the European Commission in Brussels over the coming days where these, and other concerns over the proposals, will be spelled out before the Council of Ministers meet on December 15th – 16th.

David Mitchell, Marine Campaigns Manager for the Angling Trust said:

“These proposals are outrageous and utterly inadequate to deal with the crisis facing bass stocks.  Given the EU’s failure to come up with any sensible proposals, we call once again on the UK Government to take unilateral action to protect stocks in UK waters, as Ireland and the Netherlands have done.  We will continue to fight on behalf of our members in Westminster and Brussels to protect fish stocks and anglers’ rights to fish for them.”

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Martin James Fishing
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