The ICES advice for 2017 reveals a severe situation and a moratorium on commercial bass landings is now essential to allow bass stock recovery. Recreational angling bodies are not in the least surprised that ICES is now recommending a total moratorium on all bass landings in 2017. For several years we have warned that unless EU Fisheries ministers started taking heed of the scientific advice and began radically reducing the commercial catch limits then the solutions proposed by ICES would get evermore draconian. Politicians have only themselves to blame and their political decision last year to grant this year a four-month exemption and larger vessel catch limits to inshore gill netters and hook and liners from the bass moratorium was unfair, irresponsible and inflicted further damage on threatened bass stocks.
The Recreational Sea Angling (RSA) sector, which has least impact on bass fishing mortality, bear a disproportionate burden of this year’s catch restrictions with a zero (Jan – June) and one fish bag limit (July – Dec). We believe the impact of RSA on bass landings was minimal last year and will be negligible this year, which we expect to be confirmed by ICES advice next year. Further restrictions if needed must be sought within the commercial fisheries and not recreational angling.
There has been strong criticism in Parliament and thousands of anglers have petitioned and demonstrated against these exemptions and the unfair treatment by comparison of recreational bass fishing. Both UK and EU Fisheries ministers should be aware that we will not accept a repeat of this unfairness in 2017.
We believe the following key points should be central to any strategy to rebuild bass stocks:
- If a moratorium is applied, it must be applied to all forms of commercial bass fishing.
- There must be no exemptions for commercial gill netting of any description.
- At the very least all bass netting should cease and bass should become a recreational and sustainable commercial hook and line species only.
- Consideration should be given to 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.
- We see no case for further restrictions on recreational bass fishing given the bag limits that are already in place.
- The government should speed up progress in coming forward with its promised Long Term Management Plan for bass, particularly in the light of the Brexit vote and the likely withdrawal of the UK from the EU Common Fisheries Policy.
- It is with regret that we have no expectation that EU ministers will implement in full the ICES advice with regard to bass; no scientifically advised moratorium has ever been introduced by the EU Council in the history of the CFP. Bass is caught in mixed fisheries as by-catch. This alone will be used as an argument to not introduce a moratorium. In light of the fact that Ministers will not follow the scientific advice and close the fishery we therefore recognise the need to secure fishing opportunities for members of the public fishing recreationally for the publicly owned bass stocks. We are in discussions with our European colleagues about coordinating a response from the recreational sector (whose economic value is worth over 30 times that of the commercial bass fishery) ahead of the Fisheries Council meeting at the end of the year.
- A further statement will follow once these discussions are concluded. The ICES advice for 2017 can be viewed here.