Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Your help is required - undersized bass being caught in nets with too small a mesh size, please email Cornwall IFCA

From the consistently excellent SOS (Save Our Sea Bass) website, and yet again it beggars belief how mankind gets itself into a situation like this whereby legal action seems to be the only way to go to at least try and afford a degree of protection to bass: “In 2015, the MCRS (previously known as the Minimum Landing Size) for bass was increased to 42cm in 2015, as part of a package of measures to try to recover the bass stock from a stock crash. However, the minimum mesh size for fixed nets was not increased at the same time because:

The EU Commission did not want to be accused of micro-managing fisheries.

The EU Commission hoped that regional fishery managers would make appropriate laws to suit the needs of their particular fisheries.

Commercial fishermen said they could be trusted to increase mesh sizes without a change of law.

Since 2015, CIFCA was aware of the need for fishermen to change to nets with a larger mesh size, but did nothing, hoping the EU or Defra would change the law or that fishermen would change their nets of their own accord.

This inaction came home to roost in late 2018, when there were a number of incidents of commercial fishermen using fixed nets catching, landing and selling under-sized bass because their nets had too small a mesh size.

CIFCA called an extraordinary meeting in February 2019 to consider if it should introduce an emergency byelaw to stop this unsustainable fishing. CIFCA officers argued that there should not be an emergency byelaw because they felt there was a risk of a legal challenge on the grounds that the need to make the byelaw could reasonably have been foreseen (emergency byelaws can only be used where an event could not reasonably have been foreseen). We strongly disagreed with the CIFCA officers’ analysis for a number of reasons.

However, CIFCA Committee decided not to proceed with an emergency byelaw and CIFCA officers indicated that the matter might be dealt with as part of a general netting review (scheduled to complete in 2023). The matter was referred back to a Byelaw Sub- Committee for further consideration.

It is clear that unsustainable exploitation is taking place in CIFCA District. Undersized bass are being caught and killed by a minority of commercial fishermen using fixed nets with meshes that are too small for a 42cm MCRS. CIFCA has a legal responsibility under s.153 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2019 to “seek to ensure that the exploitation of sea fisheries resources is carried out in a sustainable way”.

We are concerned that CIFCA may have failed in its legal duty. We hope that the CIFCA Committee will propose a course of action to swiftly remedy this situation. Failing that, we will investigate taking legal action against CIFCA.

We urge all sea anglers, and especially those who fish in CIFCA District, to email CIFCA’s Committee telling them to introduce a byelaw urgently to protect undersized bass.”

Please, please take a few minutes to send this email, indeed SOS have made it easier than ever to do so - go to this link here, fill in the appropriate details, and hit that big “Send Email” button. Apathy is not an option. There are plenty more details about all this over on the Fish Legal website here, and note that “Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority has been threatened with judicial review following a decision not to introduce a new emergency byelaw which would have protected juvenile bass from commercial fishing nets”.