Attempts by commercial fishing groups to find ways round the new rules agreed by EU ministers last December to protect bass stocks appear to be floundering. It follows formal confirmation by the government, in response to an enquiry by the Angling Trust, that targeted netting for bass is no longer permissible and that enforcement action will be taken against transgressors.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), ignoring several years of scientific advice from ICES, lobbied hard but unsuccessfully against the 2017 bass measures which now only allow for bass to be targeted by commercial hook and line boats or by recreational fishing. Those fishing with fixed nets may only land bass caught as ‘unavoidable by-catch’ while targeting other species.
In an answer to a recent parliamentary question from North Cornwall MP and Angling Trust ‘Bass Champion’ Scott Mann, the Fisheries Minister George Eustice said:
“To ensure compliance, the Marine Management Organisation will continue to engage with industry via regionally based staff to raise awareness of the rules, ensuring they are understood and individuals can access the right information easily. Where these rules are broken a proportionate and appropriate approach to enforcement action will be taken.”
The NFFO had appealed to the minister claiming that there was a “moral panic” over bass stocks and that this was in response to “huge political pressure from the well organised and funded recreational angling lobby and their friends in Brussels and Westminster.”
They have also tried to object to the rules requiring only vessels with an existing record for catching bass to continue to exploit the bass fishery – a measure deliberately introduced to limit the capacity of the commercial fleet -- but this too looks like it won’t get very far as recent guidance published by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) states:
“The track record is linked to the vessel and remains with the vessel if it changes ownership. A track record cannot be transferred from one vessel to another. New vessels without a track record will not be eligible to fish for bass.” It goes on to say: “The catch limits shall not be transferable between vessels.”
And George Eustice has confirmed that: “Letters are being sent to all commercial fishermen within England and Wales who, based on their catch track records, have authorisation to catch bass, and to those who do not have such authorisation.”
Last month, the Angling Trust secured clarification of the rules regarding targeted netting for bass and it has also written to the minister reiterating the need for the measures to be implemented in full.
Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd said: “Recreational anglers, charter boats and commercial fishermen have all suffered severe limitations in their fishing opportunities as a result of the new regulations which were based on scientific advice that the spawning stock has reached a level at which its ability to regenerate itself may be compromised. All these groups might want changes to the regulations, but if appeals to compromise agreements were allowed it would create chaos, uncertainty and utterly undermine the functioning of the EU Council Fishing Opportunities process.:
He added: "The NFFO has enjoyed huge political influence with the government and it is laughable for them to suggest that they are the victims here. They have been allowed great freedoms to exploit this fishery, which they have done irresponsibly and, as a result, we have ended up with a total ban on bass netting as well severe restrictions on the freedom of anglers to fish recreationally for a publicly owned stock."
Scott Mann MP said: "I am pleased to have helped secure these important clarifications from the government as I have been aware for some time of the decline in bass numbers and the targeting of bass, even in what are supposed to be bass nursery areas. The by-catch limit should be a by-catch and is not a target. These necessary changes will take some time to lead to a recovery in the numbers and size of bass, as the fish can take seven years to reach sexual maturity.”