The latest report from fisheries scientists has revealed that stocks of seabass around the UK and North European coast are now below the critical level at which recovery can be guaranteed. Advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) for 2017 says:
“ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, there should be zero catch (commercial and recreational) in 2017.“
The Angling Trust and the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (BASS) warned UK and EU fisheries ministers last year that their failure to take heed of the scientific advice and begin radically reducing the commercial catch limits would eventually mean more pain in the long run as solutions proposed by ICES would get ever more draconian.
They made it clear that they have no expectation that EU ministers will implement in full the ICES advice with regard to bass as “no scientifically advised moratorium has ever been introduced by the EU Council in the history of the CFP.”
Both organisations have issued a joint statement setting out a call for all bass netting to cease and for bass to become a recreational and sustainable commercial hook and line species only. They want to see the introduction of a slot size for both hook and liners and anglers to allow the larger, most fecund individuals to be returned to contribute to stock recovery. Both the Angling Trust and BASS have made it clear that they see no case for further restrictions on recreational bass fishing given the strict bag limits that were introduced for anglers last year resulting in a zero take from January to June and a one fish per day limit for the remaining six months.
Martin Salter, National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust said: “The politicians have only themselves to blame and their blatantly political decision taken last year, in contravention of clear scientific advice, to grant a four-month exemption and larger vessel catch limits to inshore gill netters and hook and liners from the proposed six-month bass moratorium, which was unfair, irresponsible and inflicted further damage on already threatened bass stocks.”
“Recreational bass fishing, which now has a tiny impact on bass fishing mortality, bore a disproportionate burden of last year’s catch restrictions and it is time that politicians finally grasped the nettle and end the unsustainable netting of this popular sporting fish before it is driven to extinction.”
Both the Angling Trust and BASS are seeking an urgent meeting with UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice to discuss the government’s response to the ICES advice on seabass ahead of the European Council of Ministers meeting in December where the final decisions will be made.
Nigel Horsman from BASS said: “This is a sad day for bass stocks and for all those thousands of anglers who take so much pleasure from catching bass. We can only hope that our fishery managers and politicians learn from their mistakes and heed the lessons from other countries, such as the USA, who have faced similar situations. It is imperative that no risks are taken with the ability of the remaining bass stock to mount a recovery. But, provided we do that now, I am hopeful that bass stocks will recover. But we must also fix the underlying cause of the current problem which is commercial overfishing on a grand scale.”
David Curtis from the campaign group Save Our Seabass added: “It is now confirmed that commercial fishing has put the very survival of the sea bass stock in jeopardy. If the politicians do not now restrict the bass fishery to recreational angling and sustainable commercial hook & line fishing, we and future generations will hold them accountable for the disappearance of bass from our seas.”
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.
- 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 below the ‘B-lim’ of 5,250 tonnes at which future regeneration becomes critically endangered and well below the trigger point of concern set by ICES at 8,000 tonnes.
- 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 gill net and hook and line commercial boats
- The ICES advice for 2017 can be viewed here