I’d find the proposed 2018 recreational bass fishing regulations a lot easier to swallow if they’d bloody well enforce the commercial restrictions

I am sure that by now you have heard the news from earlier this week that the recreational bass fishing restrictions for 2018 are not going to be the initially proposed six month ban and instead will most likely be catch and release for the entire year, with perhaps July and August to be set aside for an angler to be able to take one bass a day. Here’s what the Angling Trust have said this week, and I will continue afterwards:

(R)D412172.jpg

“After two days of tough negotiations over proposals from the European Commission that could have seen bass angling banned for the first six months of the year EU Fisheries ministers have announced the final measures for 2018.

This followed strong representations from the Angling Trust and representations from angling bodies and the tackle trade across Europe, including a 18,000 signature petition, calling for no further restrictions on recreational fishing for bass.

The package of measures for 2018 have been produced in response to advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) which shows that the Northern European bass stock is crashing. It was nearly 19,000 tonnes in 2010, but the forecast for 2018 is just 6,414 tonnes, a fall of two thirds. The stock is now well below the critical level of 8,075 tonnes (Blim), which means the future regeneration of the stock is now critically endangered and the stock may remain depleted for extended periods.

Anglers have argued that ministers need to address the prime cause which is commercial overfishing with nets rather than targeting the limited impact on the fishery from angling with hook and line.

Ministers announced this morning that catch and release angling for bass all year round can continue with the prospect of a recreational bag limit in the second half of 2018 depending on a data review of the updated ICES advice in March. (This was specifically pushed for by the UK delegation in response to our representations).

There will be further limits on commercial bass fishing as follows:

Fixed nets:

1.2t provision over 10 months (Feb-March closed).

– reduction of approx. 50 percent on 2017 BUT now a provision rather than by-catch. Therefore likely to be more enforceable as the by catch allowance was being widely abused.

Demersal trawls and seines:

Bycatch down to 1 percent of catch capped at 100kg for trawls and 180kg for seines per month over 12 months.

– reduction from 5 per cent and reduction of cap on 2017

Commercial Hooks & Lines:

5t per vessel per year over 10 months (Feb-March closed)

– reduction of 50 percent on 2017.

The Angling Trust is pleased that commercial over fishing of bass numbers continues to be addressed but obviously disappointed with the extra restrictions on bass angling. However, overall the settlement looks like about the best we were going to get in the context of the ICES stock assessment of bass numbers.

David Mitchell, Head of Marine at the Angling Trust, said:

“We are pleased that the proposed six month ban recreational fishing for bass was rejected and members of the public will be able to continue to fish for bass in 2018 on a catch & release basis all year round. Charter skippers, bass angling guides and other businesses reliant on bass angling at least now have some certainty and can plan ahead for 2018.

"The UK government confirmed that the measures for recreational fishing will be reviewed in March when updated scientific advice will be issued which will take into account the impact of the restrictions on recreational fishing since 2015. We hope at this point that the impact of recreational fishing will have been reduced and there may be the leeway for a bag limit to be introduced in the second half of 2018.”

And as was expected, there’s been all manner of reaction on various social media platforms especially - I can understand a lot of the different arguments, but I can’t help but wonder if the same levels of effort that go into the reactions were actually put into trying to do the right thing and work towards more fish for everybody, then where might we be? We seem to love ranting and raving after the event, but we ain’t nearly so keen on standing together and fighting for a better world. Anyway, I digress………

A potential twelve month catch and release recreational bass fishery will most likely personally affect me very little - I don’t kill the bass I catch and I am very much in favour of the bulk of bass we as anglers might catch being returned. But of course I can see how a lot of other stakeholders in the recreational bass fishery are very worried, and I do my best to understand their point of view and what might happen. With bass stocks being how they are though, I can’t help but feel that from a purely ethical point of view we should be returning the bass we catch, and of course there must also be the question whether we should even be sport fishing for bass these days anyway - but I do see how a purely catch and release fishery might adversely affect a lot of people.

(R)D432158.jpg

What grates with me the most is knowing how little will be done to enforce the new measures - firstly as an angler I have never, ever been checked on when fishing here in the UK, so what’s to stop me killing every single bass I catch, and secondly what really makes the whole thing a bitter pill to swallow is the rampant disregard so many commercial fishermen seem to have for the rules and regulations because they don’t remotely fear any form of prosecution. Why have laws if they aren’t going to be enforced?

I will draw your attention here to something I read on the Mounts Bay Angling Society page on Facebook, and I hope I am not doing anything wrong here by copying and pasting what I read into this blog post. This makes for some horrible reading……….

“Based on the MMOs (Marine Management Organisation) own figures and up until the end of September 2017 there were 3513 recorded landings of bass in fixed gill nets. 497 of these landings contained only bass – no other species at all – at a time when it is illegal to target bass with fixed gill nets. 100% bass in the landing - if that is not targeting bass perhaps the MMO can tell us what is. Now comes the crunch - How many fishermen have been prosecuted by the MMO for landing avoidable catches of bass - for targeting bass – NONE. The MMO know all about these landings – these are their own figures yet they do nothing about it. Some boats are transgressing time and time again. As far as bass are concerned netters are being allowed to catch what they want with total impunity. How can this be right? What is the point of legislation if those charged with enforcing it disregard it totally.”

“Further analysis of the figures below show: One vessel in consecutive months landed 1207 kg and 1034 kg. Another vessel in consecutive months landed 472 kg, 205 kg, 285 kg, 80 kg, 972 kg and 270 kg. When the MMO are charged with enforcing a monthly catch limit of 250 kg, (of unavoidable by-catch), how can you possibly not notice this! At least 61 incidences of the 250kg cap being broken have been identified.”

Now I have good reason to believe that these facts and figures above are true, and that the information wasn’t exactly easy to come by for various reasons which I am sure make some sense. What the bloody hell is the point of laying down various rules and regulations which are actually designed to help bass stocks recover but then don’t prosecute any boats which break these rules? Surely all this does is send out the message that it’s just fine to flagrantly disregard the already daft bycatch laws because you’re not going to get into any trouble at all? Would you pay your taxes if you didn’t have to? Sod that!

And then within the recreational fishing world, what on earth is going to stop unscrupulous anglers taking as many bass as they want, whatever the laws are? If the laws aren’t enforced then what’s the bloody point? As much as there are a few people in this world who I could quite cheerfully slap, I know that if I were to do so I’m going to get into some form of trouble with the law - so where’s the equivalent law based protection for the fish? There does seem to be a slowly increasing desire and indeed need to properly protect and grow the bass stocks, but if the measures brought in are so easily bypassable, doesn’t that then simply allow for human nature and the rampant disregard we have for the natural world to prevail instead?