[The following letter appeared in the ‘Fishing News’, a weekly newspaper serving the commercial fishing industry. The letter is in response to an interview between Malcolm Gilbert, BASS European liaison officer and Phil Lockley, SW correspondent of the ‘Fishing News’, concerning the proposed increase in the bass MLS, which appeared in the FN. We thank the Editor of ‘Fishing News’ for allowing us to publish the letter on this web site.]

David Pessel, Chairman and Managing Director of Plymouth Trawler Agents, argues against a proposal to raise the MLS of bass to 45cm and asks why the fishing industry has not been consulted.

Is the proposal to increase the minimum landing size of bass from 36cm to 45cm a case of ‘Chinese whispers’ or Defra deceit?

Fishermen in the South West have learned through rumours and press articles that not only has fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw allied himself to the angling lobby in favour of this proposal but that a draft Statutory Instrument to support the measure is already being prepared.

We have more faith in Mr Bradshaw, who is after all a South West MP. We cannot believe that he would back such a measure. Furthermore we cannot believe that he would back any increase in the MLS of bass without a full and proper consultation of the commercial fishing industry and other stakeholders.

The only problem we have with such faith in our minister is that no Defra officer has been able to confirm that such a consultation will take place – and we have asked many.

There are many other reasons why we believe this subject must be a case of ‘Chinese whispers’.

Firstly, we are not aware that there is any problem with the bass stock. Bass is not a pressure stock. Several years ago, a most successful conservation measure was introduced banning the capture and killing of small and immature bass in their nursery areas, thus releasing many thousands of new recruits to the fishery each year.

Given the many variables affecting fish stocks, the catches of bass have been consistently good across the size ranges ever since, reflecting a healthy and sustainable stock.

Secondly, the effect of the proposal becoming law would be to prevent UK fishermen landing any bass between 0.5kg and 1kg in weight, precisely the weight band of fish that inshore fishermen in the South West predominantly catch.

This class of fish also provides important, valuable national and export markets for UK buyers and merchants. Is Malcolm Gilbert (FN 26 August ‘Angler back MLS rise’) seriously suggesting that we should give up a successful and valuable UK fishery in favour of thousands of tonnes of imported, cheap, farmed bass from Greece and other countries?

If that is the case, perhaps he should have his taste buds checked before settling down to a serious debate.

Thirdly and more sinister is the knowledge that this proposal could only end up as yet another UK unilateral measure. The French dominate the South West bass fishery in all senses and will be doing cartwheels in the knowledge that we are thinking of surrendering defined markets and further huge quantities of potential track record to them.

Mr Bradshaw has already shown disturbing signs of Gallomania by banning UK bass trawlers within our 12-mile limit. His attempts to persuade the French to do the same were met with an emphatic ‘non’ of course. The result of this piece of brilliant legislation means that, given the variations of the UK 12-mile limit, UK pair trawlers now have to steam 23 miles south of Plymouth before they can start fishing.

Fourthly, inshore fishermen in the South West face tough times and it is ironic that the proposal, if successful, would stop them from catching one of the few valuable species available inshore, in relative safety.

For Mr Gilbert’s information, the bass which would be taken out by the proposal have averaged £5.92 per kg this year and the estimated loss to the inshore fleet would be some £250,000 per year in Plymouth alone. We regularly receive such fish from ports as diverse as Swansea, Padstow, Mevagissey, Salcombe, Dartmouth, Exmouth and Poole.

The assertion by Malcolm Gilbert that a simple increase in the size of gill nets would minimise discards is naïve. Many of the fish are caught by inshore trawlers. There would be a huge discard problem and yet again British fishermen would be discarding perfectly marketable fish while their foreign competitors happily filled the void created by the stupidity of our respresentatives.

All of us have had to cheerily embrace the new concept of sea fisheries whereby all stakeholders are involved. In the Western Morning News (22 August), Mr Gilbert tells us that: ‘Total expenditure by sea anglers on equipment, travel, food and accommodation is estimated to be at least $1bn annually’.

I do recognise the importance of the angling lobby but feel it does itself a tremendous disservice when it finds it necessary to cost the price of a cheese sandwich to boost the importance of its stakeholding.

Those sea anglers currently speeding down the M4 and M3 to the South West, burning valuable petrol or diesel and wearing out their tyres to add to the importance of the angling cause, may wish to contemplate the fact that they already have their weeks’ wages in their pockets. The small matter that they can fish unregulated and uncontrolled is almost an irrelevance…

We welcome serious debate and for the record would support a proposal to increase the MLS to 38cm if only to satisfy the lunatics at large – providing the French agree likewise of course.

What is the truth of this matter please Mr Bradshaw?