“Sea Bass Fishery Update – 31 January 2017
Hear Us Roar!
2016 will be remembered in fishing circles as the year recreational anglers found their voice and united with determination to defend bass stocks and recreational bass angling. Anglers, guides, tackle shops, tackle suppliers, and the angling press and media – all coming together to demand a sustainable bass fishery and a fair deal for recreational anglers.
Our sincerest thanks to the many thousands of you who supported the numerous campaigns: the petition in early 2015 against gill nets; the House of Commons debate on bass; the march on George Eustice’s constituency office in Camborne; the lobbying of the EU Commission as they prepared their proposal for 2017 Fishing Opportunities; the lobbying of George Eustice and other Fisheries Ministers in advance of the 2017 Fishing Opportunities meeting, and finally the Government website petition in November to “Get the Nets Out!”
At the Fishing Opportunities meeting in Brussels in December, it was agreed by EU Fisheries Ministers that only commercial hook & liners and recreational anglers would be able to target bass. But the UK and Welsh Governments’ attitude to this agreement was disappointing: they put out statements that contradicted this. Defra said they interpreted the agreed text to provide an “allowance” of 250kg per month for fixed netters that included, but was not restricted to, by-catch. In other words, Defra maintained that fixed netters would have a vessel catch limit of 250kg per month and would be able to target bass in 2017.
In response, the EU Commission promptly issued a new draft of the legislation making it crystal clear that it would be illegal for fixed netters to target bass and that the fixed netters’ 250kg per month allowance was only for “unavoidable by-catches”. The UK Government has just corrected its statement on its petition site to match the new law.
The New Rules
On 29 January 2017, the new EU laws for the Northern bass fishery in 2017 came into force. You can view them here.
- the rules for recreational anglers have been rolled-over unchanged from 2016: C&R in the first 6 months of 2017 and a 1 fish bag limit in the last 6 months of 2017.
- commercial hook & liners can land 10 tonnes of bass in 2017 but have a closure in February and March.
- fixed netters cannot target bass, but have a 250kg per month allowance for unavoidable by-catch.
- Demersal trawlers and seiners cannot target bass, but have an unavoidable by-catch allowance of 3% of catch with an overall cap of 400kg per month.
- drift netters and pair trawlers cannot target bass and have no by-catch allowance.
- Commercial fishing for bass from the shore is illegal and there is no by-catch allowance.
So, what do Save Our Sea Bass think of these new rules?
Impact on the Bass Stock
In June 2016, ICES advised that the bass stock is now below Blim. This means the stock has fallen to such a low level that there is a high probability that the stock’s ability to regenerate itself will be impaired due to insufficient egg production and the stock may fail to recover as expected and remains depleted for extended periods. Accordingly, ICES recommended a zero catch for 2017 to get the stock back to a safe level as quickly as possible.
The EU Fisheries Ministers talk a good game about respecting the science, but seem congenitally unable to follow the scientific advice in full. Recognising this, the EU Commission’s Fishing Opportunities proposal was not for a zero catch, but for 1,000 tonnes of landings, which would increase the stock by 8% (a zero catch would have given a 22% increase).
However, because the EU Fisheries Ministers have allowed “unavoidable by-catch” allowances, which will be difficult or impossible to enforce, it seems likely that landings will be far in excess of the 1,000 tonnes, so the stock will decline again in 2017, meaning tighter restrictions next year.
Impact on Fixed Netters
It will be illegal for fixed netters to fish for bass in 2017, a vitally important step in moving to a sustainable fishery and a fantastic victory for everyone who joined our campaign.
However, the UK and Welsh Governments’ statements after the Fishing Opportunities meeting made it clear that they still support fixed netters being able to target bass, despite their unsustainability. A political fudge has been delivered: fixed netters cannot legally target bass, but instead of being given a “percentage of catch” restriction that would make enforcement easy and ensure that they cannot target bass, they have been given a monthly unavoidable by-catch allowance that is far more than they need for genuine unavoidable bycatch and ensures that it will be extremely difficult to stop fixed netters who illegally target bass.
We await an explanation from the Marine Management Organisation of how it intends to enforce the new law for fixed netters, but to be frank we do not have high hopes – it has been given a virtually impossible job. We will continue to press for a complete ban on fixed netters landing bass.
Impact on Hook & Liners
We are disappointed that no commercial hook & line organisation has publicly come out in support of our campaign for a sustainable bass fishery, but we are pleased that hook & liners are now the only commercial fishermen who can legally target bass.
However, we are extremely unhappy that whilst everyone else in the fishery is suffering pain to help recover the stock, for hook & liners it is business as usual. We have analysed the UK 2013 landings data to see what impact the new 10 tonnes per year restriction would have had:
- only 1 vessel caught more than the 10 tonnes in the year;
- 99% of vessels caught less than 3.5 tonnes; and
- 90% of vessels will not be at all affected unless the restriction comes down to less than 1 tonne.
The closure in February and March to protect the spawning stock sounds meaningful, but in fact is a complete con: in 2013 less than 1% of annual hook & line landings were in February in March!
So, much as we support sustainable commercial hook & line bass fishing, we will be pressing for restrictions that ensure hook & liners play their fair part in saving and regenerating the bass stock.
Impact on Demersal Trawlers and Seiners
The commercial fishing lobby argued that these métiers are needlessly discarding dead bass that is unavoidable by-catch and managed to get the by-catch allowance increased from 1% to 3%, subject to a 400kg per month cap.
We object to this for two reasons:
- why has this decision been taken without any evidence being provided on the level of discards or whether this is truly unavoidable by-catch?
- allowing bass to be landed as by-catch and sold provides a profit incentive to catch bass and a disincentive to fish more selectively.
The UK Government has said “We were disappointed we could not move beyond the current scheme and agree a fairer package for anglers.”
George Eustice has listened to recreational bass anglers in 2016 and tells us he wants a fairer deal, but actions speak louder than words. Had the UK Government been truly committed to delivering a fair deal for bass and bass anglers it would have pushed harder for:
- no commercial bass landings to take place when recreational fishing is restricted to catch & release. Why should a recreational angler be unable to take a bass home to feed his family, when a commercial vessel fishing nearby can catch and land bass?
- a “percentage of catch” restriction on fixed netters.
- real restrictions on hook & liners, rather than trying to hoodwink the public with measures that sound meaningful but in truth have no impact.
Cefas report that recreational bass landings have been cut by between 63% and 85%. The 2017 rules repeat the injustice of last year’s measures. We must continue to fight and put even more pressure on George Eustice and the other EU Fisheries Ministers to redress the balance.
Fully Documented Fishery
ICES tell us that actual UK commercial bass landings are 3 times greater than shown by the official landings data. How can anyone manage a fishery without knowing the true level of landings? The EU Commission and the MMO are currently working on this issue and we will keep pressing for urgent action.
The current 42cm MCRS will be reviewed by the EU Commission in 2017. It is too low and needs to be increased to 48cm to give bass a chance to mature and reproduce. Now that the bass fishery is recreational and hook & line targeting only, the MCRS can be increased without fear of increased discard mortality or netters complaining that they can’t afford to buy new nets with larger meshes. More mature bass will: enable the fishery to recover quicker; deliver increased profit per kilo for hook & liners; and improve the recreational bass angling experience. A no–brainer.
Bay of Biscay/Golfe de Gascogne
French small scale fishermen have warned that the destruction of the Northern bass stock is being repeated in the Bay of Biscay. Hook & liners’ landings in the first half of 2016 were down 43% on 2015. The EU Commission has found that despite no reduction in fishing effort, landings overall were down 13% in 2015 and down 20% in 2016, which strongly suggests the Southern bass stock is declining rapidly.
In November, the EU Commission floated the idea of some restrictive vessel catch limits for the Bay of Biscay. But it appears this idea has been dropped and the French Government has introduced its own, inadequate rules:
- A 2017 catch limit of 2,490 tonnes (a level that was only exceed twice in the last 7 years, according to French small scale fishermen).
- No allocation of the 2,490 tonnes to specific métiers, so it fails to give priority to sustainable hook & line fishermen.
- An increase in the MCRS from 36cm to 38cm, still far too low to protect juvenile bass.
- A 5 fish a day daily bag limit for recreational anglers.
In 2016, we have made great progress towards a sustainable recreational and commercial hook & line bass fishery – EU Fisheries Ministers have accepted our arguments about their environmental and socio-economic superiority. But commercial fishing pressure remains too high for a stock that is in grave danger and the new rules will not deliver the cuts that are needed.