As the weeks and months of 1999 moved on, the tireless efforts of Malcolm Gilbert and Bob Cox showed benefits in that for the first time they were being invited to make the case for recreational bass angling directly to MAFF and Government representatitives. Now at last we have a voice, though what we are saying sounds mighty strange to them when they are so used to only listening to the commercial netsmen’s side of the story. MAFF are, at last, being presented with the recreational angling arguments, backed up with solid evidence about the economic and social benefits that bass (and other sea angling) provides which far outweigh those that come from commercial netting. In November Malcolm met with the Fisheries Minister, Elliot Morley MP.
The next major activity of the Project was our response to the CEFAS report Offshore Bass Fishery, Pilot Study Report: M0802. This study, carried out between January and March 1999, required an immediate and powerful response from us, and from all those interested in the continuation of a viable recreational bass fishery. What it showed was that the rapacious, unsustainable expolitation of overwintering bass stocks the Western Approaches was much worse than even we had thought, with the very real prospect of things deteriorating further.
MAFF proposed a 5 tonne per week limit for individual vessels (to bring the UK in line with France). Staggeringly, the commercial interests objected to even this very minimal restriction, so much of the Project’s efforts have gone into campaigning for the limit. It is nowhere near enough, but at least it means that the ostriches at MAFF have to begin to get their heads out of the sand and recognise that there is a problem. One day they will remember that their salaries are paid by all tax payers, including millions of recreational anglers, and perhaps they will stop behaving like the paid advocates of the commercial netting interests, but in the meantime we won’t hold our breath.
We know that many of you who are reading this wrote to MAFF, your MPs and MEPs. These responses did much more than just serve to respond to the report, the knock on effect in terms of increased political awareness of our case is incalculable. Malcolm says that he has already noticed how recreational sea angling has been elevated in the political arena because of your efforts. Quality letter writing really has paid off. Well done to you all.