English and Welsh Governments told to stop misrepresenting new measures to protect sea bass

Fisheries ministers in both London and Cardiff have been challenged by the Angling Trust and the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS) to correct misleading statements that they have published claiming that targeted netting for threatened stocks of sea bass would be still be legal in 2017, when in fact EU ministers have ruled that only 'unavoidable by-catches' are legal.

Both the UK and Welsh governments have put out statements that do not accord with what was agreed, prompting Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd to write to George Eustice at Defra and Lesley Griffiths - his opposite number in the Welsh Assembly, demanding a public retraction and clarification in order to prevent British commercial fishing boats from finding themselves in breach of the new legislation.

Last month in Brussels, EU fisheries ministers came up with a deal that recognises that targeted netting for threatened bass stocks is no longer an acceptable form of fishing. At the 'Fishing Opportunities' meeting for 2017, proposals from the EU Commission calling for an end to netting for bass - which had the whole hearted support of recreational fishing organisations and conservation bodies - were discussed late into the night. The politicians agreed to restrict bass fishing to commercial hook and line and recreational angling only, save for 'unavoidable by-catch allowances'.

The rules governing recreational fishing for bass remained the same at one fish a day per angler for the latter half of the year.

Commercial trawlers and seine netters are to be allowed a 3% bass by-catch to avoid unnecessary discards and fixed gill nets are to be restricted to an unavoidable by-catch allowance of 250kg a month. Currently they have a monthly vessel allocation of 1,300 kg.

This followed a recent fisheries debate in the House of Commons where strong representations were made in favour of the Commission's proposals to help rebuild bass stocks in the wake of a damning ICES stock assessment for 2017. There was a strong campaign mounted by the Angling Trust, Bass Anglers' Sportfishing Society and other conservation organisations, which saw over 11,000 people signing a national Save Our Sea Bass petition.

In his letter to the Ministers Mark Lloyd wrote: “We remain very concerned that the UK and Welsh Governments are still publicly seen to be interpreting the provision for gillnets, clearly stated to be for unavoidable by-catches only, as a targeted monthly catch limit when both the Commission and your officials have made it clear that this is not the case. Unless you publicly clarify your positions by amending the HMG response to the petition and correcting the WG press notice there will be continuing targeted fishing of bass by gill nets rather than allowing for limited incidental and unavoidable by-catches as was agreed at the Fishing Opportunities meeting in December.

We intend to make representations to the Commission on this matter but would like to give you the opportunity to correct your statements now that Article 9 has been published and all possible ambiguity has been removed."

David Mitchell, the Angling Trust’s Head of Marine, said:
“There is a very important distinction to be made between an allocation of 250kg per month and an allowance of 250kg per month for genuine unavoidable by-catches. We are pleased that the Commission has made it clear that this provision is only for unavoidable by-catches and that no targeted netting of bass is permissible. However, how this is currently enforceable in the UK remains to be seen and we look forward to hearing how Defra and the MMO intend to implement this legally-binding measure effectively and without delay.”

David Curtis of BASS said: “In December, the EU Fisheries Ministers accepted our argument that the bass fishery should be restricted to only the most sustainable forms of fishing: recreational angling and commercial hook and line.  They ruled that it would be illegal for fixed netters to target bass and that they should only have an allowance for unavoidable by-catch.  Unfortunately, since then the UK and Welsh Governments have made public statements incorrectly indicating that fixed netters can continue to target bass – we look forward to them correcting these statements so that commercial netters will be clear on the correct legal position.”