EU failure to act to protect our bass – a personal view from Nigel Horsman

In case you haven’t yet heard, the European Fisheries Council failed to agree any restrictions to protect our bass stock at this weeks meeting. When I read of this yesterday I felt a various powerful emotions – the strongest of which was undoubtedly anger! I imagine many of you reading this feel the same way.

All is not yet lost though, as it seems given this failure short term emergency measures can be enforced by the EU. Given however it’s the spawning aggregations of (big mature) fish that are most at risk between now and the end of March, unless they for once get their useless bureaucratic arses in gear pretty sharpish it will be too late for another year for our bass!

Nigel Horsman, the person who has invested SO much of his time and energy to run the BASS campaign over the past few years, has offered us his personal view of this latest setback. His words may be somewhat restrained, but I can testify that ‘incensed’ inadequately conveys his feelings about this outcome.

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EU failure to act to protect our bass – a personal view from Nigel Horsman

The total failure of EU politicians to take any measures to protect bass stocks graphically highlights the hypocrisy at the centre of EU fisheries negotiations. We hear all the fine words about sustainability, we see politicians attempting to engage with sea anglers, we see the UK government funding studies which show just how very much more valuable angling is for finfish than commercial exploitation and how much less impact we have on stocks. We even have fine laws such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to try and ensure politicians have to do the right thing. But in the end all that science, all that evidence and all common sense fails before the lobbying of the commercial fishing sector, whose only concern is their own personal and very short term, profit.

Fish stocks are a commonly owned resource. It is the duty and the responsibility of politicians and fishery managers to manage the exploitation of that resource for the good of the whole nation, not just the most powerful vested interests. ICES have told us we need an 80% cut in bass catches just to get to MSY. A recent study showed that a bass harvested from the stocks by an angler generated between 40 and 75 times as much economic value for the community compared to if it had been harvested by a commercial fisherman (and 39 to 75 times as many jobs). Unless we can re-assert our 200 mile limit (now there’s a thought for the next General Election) our commercial sector will continue to pressure politicians to do nothing for fear of some of “our” bass being harvested by the French. Doing nothing will likely lead to a collapse in bass stocks and closure of the fishery to all within a couple of years. I think that all this evidence tells us we in the UK should follow the Irish example right now. Take the commercial interests out of the equation, maximise economic value from exploitation of the resource, deliver the 80% cut in catches by having zero commercial catch that might just save our bass.

Going into these EU negotiations, the Government did consult angling bodies about bass (but not about any of the other fish of great interest to us, like Cod) and we were entirely reasonable about the cuts necessary to mortality. Being reasonable doesn’t seem to work. Politicians and fishery managers do not appear capable of taking evidence based decisions or being fair and even handed. Perhaps now is the time to look at the laws they are supposed to comply with and take action on that front. Unless the UK moves swiftly to bass being a recreational only species, I struggle to see any other options, if we are to try and avoid a total collapse of bass stocks.

Points to remember

  • An 80% cut in catches is needed in 2015 on an MSY (legal) basis.
  • 75% of mortality comes from the commercial fishing sector, only 25% from sea angling
  • Commercial bass landings in the UK are approx. £5m per year compared to sea angling for bass worth approx. £200m per year.
  • Farmed bass are easily capable of satisfying all UK consumer demand.
  • There are 884,000 sea anglers in England spending over £1.2bn per year compared to a few thousand commercial fishermen landing £35m per year of finfish of interest to anglers.
  • Commercial fishing hasn’t just decimated many fish stocks it has also changed the very nature of the marine environment. If it weren’t invisible, beneath the ocean waves, it wouldn’t be allowed.
19 Comments
  1. Absolutely spot on sir. How can people be so stupid? Ignore evidence and then claim sustainability? God I hate politicians.

    Off with their heads!

  2. Well thought out post which does adequately concur with my thoughts. We must go again keep trying persistence is the key. Thanks for your time and efforts.
    Paul

  3. It amuses me that commercial fishing is seen as evil these days, even if a 1 fish per day bag limit was to come in for sea anglers you are giving a quota of 884 tonnes of sea bass per day, or 322,660 tonnes per year, all in the name of ‘sport’.

  4. Nice sums Elliot! Your figures although reflecting the size of the population of anglers ( and by implication their huge economic worth compared to commercial fishing) do assume every single angler fishes every single day of the year and catches and keeps a 1kg fish each time they go out. Many anglers in my experience make an individual choice not to harvest the resource but return their catch in the name of not only sport but resource management.

  5. Matt,

    The problem with the ‘battle’ between commercial fisherman and recreational sea anglers is the grey areas surrounding anglers, there is no record or proof of how much a single angler kills and this leads to an easily manipulated statistic based on trust.

    My sums are very bland and very simple and goes of the bases that every sea angler goes out 365 days a year and catches a 1kg fish (which is the average weight of a 36cm Bass) which is not going to happen I understand.

    As a commercial fisherman and a keen angler I have a variety of connections in the charter boat industry. I have an understanding that on a charter boat very few fish are put back into the sea, said fish are then taken by the angers or sold either through a commercial licence held by the boat or become black market fish.

    Now my previous paragraph I understand is not an occurrence that happens on every charter boat all the time. To do the sums on how much fish is removed from the stocks by sea anglers each year is close to impossible anywhere near accurately.

    My sums all though simple is just a quota, based on something that is being thrown about by the EU currently a one fish per person per day bag limit, it also bases that each angler takes home a minimum size fish averaging at 1 kilo.

    Let me ask a question to you though, when I take a trip on a charter boat I go out to enjoy the sea and enjoy the battle between man and fish. I understand bass put up a great fight but why not just enjoy the battle enjoy your day and put the fish back? Why have anglers put up such a voice about possible restrictions on how much bass they may or may not take from the stocks?

  6. How can they call it sustainable when there is so much sound evidence that proves it is not. Short term greed again from the EU.

  7. @Elliott this rather misses the point. The concern now is that no one is stepping up to introduce measures to save the bass.

  8. @David,

    Yes measures do need to be in place to protect bass however my posts were specifically about the slating Nigel is giving to the commercial fishing, while recreational sea anglers are second only to pair trawlers in the killing of bass stocks.

  9. With the greatest respect Elliot – introducing the relative extraction of bass by pair trawling and RSA into the debate is like comparing chalk with cheese.

    Pair trawling for bass is massively destructive given the mainly deliberate targeting of pre-spawning aggregations of bass.

    The practice is carried out by relatively few vessels – compared to other commercial fishing methods and the large volumes of landings floods the market, depress prices and often with poor quality fish when compared to line caught bass for example, which is rightly regarded as a premium product.

    The closure of this highly destructive, minor participant, low economic value fishery should have been the priority for all member states given the scientific advice to reduce bass landings by such a stunning percentage.

    Of course pair trawling is just ONE commercial capture method and overall the commercial sector is responsible for between 70 to 80% of bass mortality (depending on which report you choose to use).

    Comparing pair trawling to RSA is simply not justified when the recreational catch (this includes angling, spearfishing and ‘hobby’ netting) accounts for the remaining 20 to 30% on an EU-wide basis with anglers having the choice out of these practices to release bass if they so choose – and many do.

    I don’t agree with the banning of commercial fishing for bass but clearly if commercial extraction is taking the lion’s share of a dwindling stock then the commercial sector should be forced to reduce its take proportionally starting with the most destructive and least selective methods, so I would like to see a commercial bass fishery which is hook and line only, with a minimum landing size of 48cms to preserve and indeed enhance the premium value of line- caught bass.

    IMO the main reason that agreement couldn’t be reached at the December meetings was because of pressure from the commercial fishing sector – notably the French – and a complete lack of cojones on the part of the bureaucrats to do what they are paid to do.

    Regards
    Steve

  10. Elliot
    Management of pretty much anything and everything needs to be based on EVIDENCE. I have spelled out the highlights of the evidence in my viewpoint above. One of the things that annoys me about the commercial sector is that when the evidence doesn’t suit them, it is either ignored or accused of being false and then the commercial sector attempt to replace it with a blunderbuss of their own opinions, which are simply asserted as being right. I suggest you carefully read all the papers from ICES and Cefas from the last few years, Sea Angling 2012 (all of it, including the appendices which might answer some of your questions about evidence quality, it’s about a couple of hundred pages) and the latest MRAG report then come back if you still want to discuss the quality or nature of the evidence.
    Unless you don’t believe in evidence based management and decisions?

    Nigel

  11. @Steve Pitts
    ”so I would like to see a commercial bass fishery which is hook and line only, with a minimum landing size of 48cms to preserve and indeed enhance the premium value of line- caught bass.”

    I forgot to mention that I would also like to see the same bag limit applied to recreational and commercial fishers IF bag limits are introduced as a management tool for bass.

    I see no valid reason why as an angler I should be restricted to one, two or ten bass per day when a commercial fisherman, if not subject to the same bag limit, could take many, many more for commercial gain.

    To impose an ‘X’ fish bag limit on anglers and not impose the same on commercial fishers is discriminatory.

  12. Hopefully we will get a referendum next year where we can vote to leave the EU.

  13. Alas, yet again a monumental effort to apply some common sense to help safeguard the future of bass has been scuppered by career politicians and fools. This is the 2nd campaign in recent years that has brought scientific evidence to the table that shows beyond any doubt that harvesting bass at the prevailing rate will eventually lead the stock to crash. And it will. And commercial fishermen will just turn to the next available species and fish that one to oblivion because the same politicians and fools will still be making the decisions, ignoring the scientists and enjoying the perks of their associations with people holding power, money and influence. I think it’s tragic that pre-spawning bass can legally be harvested on a commercial scale, but even more tragic is the ignorance of anyone who thinks this policy is acceptable at any level. You could describe this policy to ten year olds and they would all agree it’s folly. I applaud those who have tried hard to represent the interests of the masses of recreational bass anglers, environmentalists and others who otherwise would not have been heard by our so called leaders….you deserve a lot more than this result.

  14. Elliott, Perhaps it was the sport anglers that caused the collapse in the Herring and cod stocks in the past ?

    Regards Steve

  15. Are you a B.A.S.S. member Elliot?

  16. why are you guys so selfish and secular to suggest that the bass should be uk rsa only, how many of you actually speak to the commercial sector as opposed to creating a barrier. Your wrong to suggest the damage to the sea bed, your wrong to put such a lowly commercial cost against total rsa spend, your wrong to suggest that the commercial u k fleet are clearing out the stock, why is there no mention of the western approaches stock when you consider the stock as a whole in the channel. Your assumptions regarding the imminent collapse of the stock fail to take into account the very many foto’s you put up on your web site and fail to take into account the huge amount of rsa captures all the time reported on the net. Did Austin goldsmiths mother load arrive this winter as he was expecting, bet he has no shortage of bass work. How can you guys possibly consider that banning the u k commercial fleet from the bass will achieve the goal of replacing the alleged shortage. You lot are ‘p’ ssd that the e u didn’t do anything on the December meetings so you want to offer up pointless restriction in u k waters when clearly the issue, problem and the fix is in the e u’s hands, that’s where you so called reps should be concentrating your efforts, not scoring a home goal. The euro fleet guys are fighting you back and you might just end up with more than you wish for with a total rsa ban on landing any bass what so ever once the French have had a go, egg on faces? To that extent have you considered or care about the damage you can cause to our healthy charter boat fleet? Look at all three disciplines of the commercial sector and also the u k landing figures and tell us the the u k fleet are at fault, they are not, look further afield and do your job as opposed to offering up something like the irish model that’s also failing as it’s not targeted at the real problem because you guys are missing the point and the fix just to suit your own vanities.

  17. The problem with all you anglers is you quote the figures from the survey as gospel
    Let me ask this….take the figures quoted for angling revenue and then the figures for commercial fishing.
    Look whats included in the recreational figures and then ask where is the fuel costs for commercials…ship repair, the income from processing and the fish mongers, the employment it creates, electronics, dock fees, etc etc.
    Very biased report and if both sectors were valued correctly, angling would be a poor second.
    I challenge any of you to prove me wrong with figures that included the items I have detailed.

  18. Twenty years ago all I wanted was a European ban on pair trawling. Now I realise that in all probability all that might have achieved would have been an increase in the size and power of single trawlers perhaps operating like mid-water beamers (such is the nature of greed and finance).
    I used to care about the little guy but things have changed. Today I would campaign for a total ban on all commercial bass fishing. Total catch and release by anglers Jan 1st to June 30th and a 1 fish per day limit from 1st July to 31st December, and a slot size for the hard of thinking.
    The bass caught in commercial hook and line fisheries have no economic value whatsoever, in fact quite the opposite. Nearly 20 years ago, a PETA researcher primarily investigating dolphin bycatch/deaths discovered that ninety percent of what culinary experts call the primest of bass, end up in parliamentary restaurants, subsidised by the tax payer.

  19. This is why I voted out….. Muppets.

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