On Friday the 5th of March 2004 at Weston Super Mare, Liberal Democrats, Graham Watson MEP, Brian Cotter MP, prospective parliamentary candidate for Bridgwater West, James Main and prospective parliamentary candidate for Wells, Tessa Munt, and a group of sea anglers assembled on the beach to launch the Liberal Democrat Euro campaign on the UK Bass Proposals in the South West Region.

image:photo of James Main, Frank Beaugendre and John Leballeur

[photo- James Main, Frank Beaugendre, John Leballeur] Sea anglers at the meeting included members of the Bristol Channel Federation of Sea Anglers, members of the Birnbeck club, members of the Burnham boat club and their boats, members of BASS, a representative from the NFSA, three local tackle dealers, a representative from Veals Mail Order, a BBC Points West camera crew, a photographer from the local press, several journalists and a number of members of the public joined in.

The LibDem Bass Management Proposals include the following:-

1) That the UK introduce a non-discriminatory closed season for the retention of sea bass as a conservation measure from the 1st January to 31st March, applicable in all UK territorial waters.

2) There should be a phased increase to the minimum landing size of sea bass within all UK territorial waters from 36cm (approximately 1lb weight) to 55cm (approximately 3.5lb in weight)

These proposals have been placed before Defra who have informally expressed the view that the UK can manage sea fish stocks autonomously within the 12 mile limit.

The proposals aim to stop the pair trawling of the bass spawning shoals in UK waters, during the closed season, where most of the pair trawling and spawning now takes place. An increase in the minimum landing size in phases from 36 to 55cms, should encourage an increase in the average size of bass in UK waters. Nets set for bass would need to use a bigger mesh size; in practice this would also benefit other species.

The proposals should provide more and bigger bass for sea anglers to catch outside the closed season, ensure a better representation of the age range in the stock, providing extra cover for bad spawning years.

A brief report was shown on BBC Points West and Sunday’s Politics Programme; Graham Watson MEP said,

“The value of recreational fishing to the UK economy is around £1.3 billion, I think it’s worth around £100 million to the South West. The value of commercial fishing is much, much less than that and the numbers involved in commercial fishing are smaller than those in recreational angling. Sadly, the Government seems far keener to listen to commercial interests, than it does to individual citizens, who are enjoying fishing and add a lot to the economy in doing so. I think that the Government have got it wrong.”

Local BBC Radio also broadcast reports involving Liberal Democrat Graham Watson MEP and BASS/SACN members on the UK Bass Proposals and the threat of pair trawling in the morning news bulletins. A number of articles have already been published in local papers and more are due to appear shortly.

James Main emphasised that it was now vitally important for sea anglers to write to MPs asking them to bring their support for the UK Bass Proposals to the attention of Margaret Beckett, The Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Although the Liberal Democrat campaign is only to run in the South West, the UK Bass Proposals would apply to the UK; anglers in other regions who support the proposals should therefore also write to their MPs since maximum support is essential.

James Main also proposed that he and Brian Cotter MP will meet with Defra in the lead up to the election campaign to discuss the UK Bass Proposals.