Anglers object to MAFF

In response to the recent MAFF consultation – Proposed conservation measures for the offshore spring bass fishery (15 October 1999), anglers produced a number of robust arguments, including:

The data presented in MAFF Pilot Study Report M0802 give unequivocal evidence that the fishery is not sustainable. This fishery has already become a recruitment fishery, relying on each new year class as soon as they join the adult stock. The catches now consist predominantly of small adults in their first or second year of spawning and very few fish were present in the widely sampled catches that exceeded ten years of age.

Bass do not successfully spawn until aged 6/7 years and could normally live in excess of 25 years. Even the exceptional 1989 year class has been virtually fished out (supported by recorded catches along the south coast of England during 1999). A succession of poor year classes will result in a complete collapse of the fishery.

The bass is particularly economically important in the UK ? and Ireland (where there is a valuable tourist recreational fishery). This statement borders on being unworthy of a Government representative, as it tries to conceal the true value of the UK recreational fishery. MAFF undeniably know (MAFF Leaflet No.75) of the multi-million pound value of the UK recreational fishery, and that it is already generates an economic value many times greater than that of the commercial fishery per unit weight of fish landed.

If the stocks were managed to restore the population structure so that it includes relatively abundant larger fish, the socio-economic benefit will be far greater. Data from overseas (of which we are sure you are aware) indicate both that current economic estimates undervalue the recreational sector, and that this sector would be capable of far greater expansion without damage to stocks than is the commercial sector.

It is clearly time that significant control of this fishery is placed in the hands of those who value it the most and who can derive the maximum economic yield with the least harm to the fish stocks – the recreational anglers.

Prudence suggests that managers should act now to introduce some controls on fishing ? even though there is no absolute evidence ? . MAFF’s own documentary evidence clearly indicates that the time for prudence is long past. The Precautionary Approach, incorporated in the Treaty of the European Union at Maastricht in February 1996, is binding on all EU countries. As outlined in the FAO Code of Conduct, this states that The absence of adequate scientific information should not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take means to conserve target species.

Furthermore, MAFF Pilot Study Report M0802 reveals that this fishery specifically targets bass shoaled up for spawning, and this is in direct conflict with the Labour Party’s Charter for Anglers, which clearly promotes introducing closed areas for spawning and preserving breeding stocks.

to provide a constraint on the rate of exploitation ?. The proposed landing limit would only have any useful effect:

  • if the levels were demonstrably sustainable, which they clearly are not
  • if there were evidence that the proposal would not lead to a rise in black landings of fish and an increase in selective discards at sea
  • if the numbers of vessels involved in the fishery were not allowed to expand. Recent news, not least the ICES proposal for a 40% reduction in whitefish landings for year 2000 (12 November 1999), suggests that more boats will enter this fishery in winter 1999/2000 and increase the fishing pressure. All available evidence indicates that even were the 5 tonnes limit implemented, it would still be economically viable for boats to enter this fishery.
  • to buy time for the stock pending the international research work ?. The proposal for funding for this research has already been rejected by the EU, so the argument for retaining the operational fishery to facilitate this scientific study fails.

In summary, we fear that the proposal will prove to be too little, too late, and amounts to little more than a sop to the commercial sector. Furthermore it maintains the MAFF stance of minimising access to the management of the fishery by the recreational sector, which exploits it with greater economic benefit and much less environmental impact, two of the principal criteria on which sustainable fisheries management should be based.

While there are political benefits to your approach in achieving consistency with the French fleet, as a basis for introducing further controls in future years, this will yield little benefit to the bass stocks when they have been destroyed as effectively as was the black bream fishery years ago.

We fear that at this late stage the additional measures which may yet allow the survival of a viable bass fishery will require the immediate introduction of a partial or complete winter close season or the introduction of closed areas to this fishery, and, in the absence of a complete closure, at the very least the restriction to vessels with an existing track record.

Measures of this magnitude should be fully supported by the present Government and the European Union (DGXIV) in the light of their public statements on fisheries management outlined above.

In 1887, John Bickerdyke (C.H. Cooke) wrote, I venture to say that if sea angling comes into general favour, the followers of the contemplative man’s recreation will ? be foremost with sound reasons in urging upon the Government the necessity of protecting our sea fisheries ?

In 1904, R.B. Marston wrote, Unfortunately we have no public body like the United States Fish Commission, ? and indeed it seems impossible to expect any British Government to do more than publish Blue Books and appoint Commissions to take evidence as to the decay of our fisheries.

Surely with the imminence of the new Millennium we should expect better from the representatives of our elected Government.