Angling Trust and B.A.S.S ‘broadly welcome’ new EU bass conservation plans
End of the line for damaging bass nets in sight
Angling organisations, who have been battling for a better deal for threatened bass stocks and for the introduction of sustainable forms of bass fishing, have today welcomed the announcement by the European Commission that should see the removal of damaging gillnets from the bass fishery in the North Sea, English Channel and North Atlantic.
If the proposals are adopted by the Council of Ministers at the forthcoming Fishing Opportunities meeting in December, commercial bass exploitation will be restricted to hook and line fishing only for ten months of the year in 2017, with a closure in February and March to protect spawning aggregations.
Recreational anglers will be allowed to retain ten fish a month during the ten month open season, as opposed to one fish a day for just six months as is currently the case.
Overall the Commission’s proposals to remove the nets from the bass fishery will make a significant reduction in commercial bass mortality, while the recreational take is likely to remain broadly similar. However, the introduction of the more flexible monthly bag limits for anglers – something the Angling Trust has been arguing for – will help to undo some of the damage done to the charter boat fleet which lost up to 20% of its revenue as a result of a downturn in anglers’ bookings following the introduction of the zero and one fish bag limits for 2016.
Both the Angling Trust and the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S.) have been examining the evidence of the impacts of the 2016 measures on both bass stocks and on recreational bass fishing in order to formulate a series of proposals to the European Commission and to UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice. This included three separate surveys carried out among charter boat skippers, bass guides and sea anglers to determine the true socio-economic impacts of 2016 measures for recreational bass angling. The conclusions point to a significant loss of revenue for small businesses and coastal communities. Angling charter boat skippers in England have seen revenues slashed by more than one-fifth and coastal towns are losing up to £3 million in valuable tourism revenue as anglers stay away.
The survey carried out by the Professional Boatman’s Association (PBA) showed that an estimated £2.87 million is projected to be lost by charter boat businesses, which take anglers to sea to fish recreationally for bass and other species. The losses amount to more than 50 per cent of the total value of commercial bass landings in the UK, with individual charter skippers reporting an average of 22 fewer bookings and losing more than £8,000 in revenues.
The Commission proposals published today state: “On the basis of social and economic impacts limited fisheries using hooks and lines should be permitted, while providing for a closure to protect spawning aggregations.
“Additionally, due to incidental and unavoidable by-catches of sea bass by vessels using demersal trawls and seines, such by-catches should be limited to 1% of the weight of the total catch of marine organisms on board.
“Catches of recreational fishermen should be restricted by a monthly limit.”
Despite evidence to the contrary, the commercial sector lobbied strongly for the retention of damaging gillnetting – a practice which impacts on more than just fish with cetaceans, seals, sea-birds regularly caught up in inshore nets with lethal results. They also argued unsuccessfully for their allowable bass by-catch to be raised from 1% to 5%, which would have allowed netting to continue via the back door.
Nigel Horsman, from B.A.S.S. said: “These proposals are very good news for bass stocks, which have been declining dramatically over recent years, to a dangerously low level. Halting that decline and giving the stocks a chance to recover is not only good news for anglers, and all the businesses and livelihoods that depend on angling, but is a welcome development for truly sustainable (hook and line) commercial fishermen.
“It is important now that the long term benefits that will arise from these management measures are not lost in the horse trading of the December Fishing Opportunities meeting. These measures can form the basis of a long term management plan for bass and would allow, for instance, a maximum landing size for bass to be introduced, in order to protect the largest, highly fecund females which are key to a healthy stock.”
Angling Trust National Campaigns Coordinator Martin Salter, who has long argued for bass to become a ‘net free species’, added: “At long last the Commission appears to have listened to the scientific advice and is learning the lessons from other countries like the USA where valuable bass stocks are managed much more sustainably.”
David Mitchell, Head of Marine at the Angling Trust, said: “It’s good to see the European Commission, so often seen as the enemy, put forward some progressive, balanced and sensible measures to protect bass stocks. Unlike last year it’s essential that these measures are implemented by the Council of Ministers when they meet in December.
“The proposal for a monthly bag limit for recreational catches is one we believe offers a fairer deal for anglers who were given a terrible deal last year once the Commission’s proposals had been watered down by the politicians.”
“In January 2017 and from 1 April to 31 December 2017 in recreational fisheries in ICES divisions IVb, IVc, VIIa and from VIId to VIIk, a maximum of 10 fish per fisherman may be retained each month.”
Bass stocks in Britain and Europe are in trouble and urgent action is needed to conserve and rebuild the remaining spawning populations. The decline is the result of increased commercial overfishing since 1985 – not recreational sea angling (RSA).
Estimates as to the impact of recreational angling on bass stocks vary from 10% to 25% of all landings. Recent evidence from CEFAS and the Eastern IFCA illustrates how ‘official’ commercial landings data is massively understated suggests that the figure is much closer to 10% and many anglers would argue that it is even lower.
The imminent collapse in bass stocks or a total moratorium on all forms of bass fishing would be disastrous for the economy of recreational sea angling and coastal communities. Sea Angling 2012, the study of Recreational Sea Angling carried out by CEFAS for Defra shows:
- there are 884,000 sea anglers in England who directly pump £1.23 billion p.a. into the economy (£2.1 billion including induced and indirect impacts)
- 10,400 full time jobs are dependent on sea angling (23,600 jobs including induced and indirect impacts)
The VAT alone which is collected from sea anglers dwarfs the entire value of all commercial fish landings in England. Recreational bass fishing in the UK is estimated to be worth £200 million a year to the economy.
Organisations like the National Federation of Sea Anglers, now part of the Angling Trust, and the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S.) have been campaigning for the introduction of bass conservation measures for more than 20 years. Things looked hopeful in 2004 when the Net Benefits report by the Cabinet Office recommended that fishery managers look at making bass a recreational-only species. This was followed up by the publication of a Bass Management Plan by B.A.S.S. in October 2004. Sadly, the reports stayed on the shelf, bass stocks continued to be over fished and the unsustainable minimum size limit of 36cm remained in place until last year’s long overdue rise to 42 cm – the absolute smallest size at which bass reach maturity and are able to reproduce.
Scientific advice issued by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) in June 2014 recommended an 80% cut in bass mortality across the EU area for 2015. This followed the 2013 advice for a 36% cut which was ignored. In 2014 bass landings by UK vessels rose by 30% (from 772 tonnes to 1,004 tonnes).
Current stock biomass in North Atlantic fishery is now estimated to be 7,320 tonnes, well below the ‘B-lim’ of 8,075 tonnes, at which future regeneration becomes critically endangered.
Sea bass are an iconic sporting species, a top target for anglers with a recreational value of £200m to the economy. Thirty years ago bass were considered primarily a recreational species and were subject to very little commercial harvesting. [MAFF 1987].
Commercial Hook and Line fishing is more sustainable and allows undersized (and oversized) fish to be returned. It accounts for around 20% of all bass caught commercially in the UK. However, this figure is likely to have decreased following last year’s increase in the bass minimum landing size.
Following the failure to reach agreement at the European Fisheries Council meeting in December 2014 the EU took the unusual step of introducing a series of welcome emergency measures which were confirmed at the Fisheries and Aquaculture Committee meeting on Friday, January 23rd, 2015. These included a new minimum landing size of 42cms and a ban on the trawling of spawning aggregations in order to help save declining bass stocks in the English Channel, Southern North Sea and Irish and Celtic Seas.
The UK secured some success in leading on the introduction of the 2015 package of emergency measures to protect bass stocks. However, the situation has continued to deteriorate. ICES advice for 2016 recommended catches of no more than 541 tonnes – effectively a 90% reduction on 2014. The 2015 measures are estimated to have reduced catches by only 36% – the EC accept they simply didn’t go far enough – and it is now clear that the neither did those adopted for 2016 which included increase in vessel catch limits for inshore gillnet and hook and line commercial boats.
There is no doubt that inshore gillnetting has played a significant part in the decline of bass stocks. For example in 2014, UK gillnetters landed 584 tonnes of bass – more than the ICES 2016 Northern Stock advice of 541 tonnes for the whole of the EU.
The ICES advice for 2017 revealed a deteriotating situation and recommended a moratorium on all bass landings to allow for a recovery in bass stocks.
Recreational angling bodies are not in the least surprised that ICES is now recommending a total moratorium in 2017. For several years we have warned that unless EU Fisheries ministers started taking heed of the scientific advice and began radically reducing the commercial catch limits then the solutions proposed by ICES would get evermore draconian.
The ICES advice for 2017 can be viewed here