In case you haven’t yet heard, the European Fisheries Council failed to agree any restrictions to protect our bass stock at this weeks meeting. When I read of this yesterday I felt a various powerful emotions – the strongest of which was undoubtedly anger! I imagine many of you reading this feel the same way.
All is not yet lost though, as it seems given this failure short term emergency measures can be enforced by the EU. Given however it’s the spawning aggregations of (big mature) fish that are most at risk between now and the end of March, unless they for once get their useless bureaucratic arses in gear pretty sharpish it will be too late for another year for our bass!
Nigel Horsman, the person who has invested SO much of his time and energy to run the BASS campaign over the past few years, has offered us his personal view of this latest setback. His words may be somewhat restrained, but I can testify that ‘incensed’ inadequately conveys his feelings about this outcome.
EU failure to act to protect our bass – a personal view from Nigel Horsman
The total failure of EU politicians to take any measures to protect bass stocks graphically highlights the hypocrisy at the centre of EU fisheries negotiations. We hear all the fine words about sustainability, we see politicians attempting to engage with sea anglers, we see the UK government funding studies which show just how very much more valuable angling is for finfish than commercial exploitation and how much less impact we have on stocks. We even have fine laws such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to try and ensure politicians have to do the right thing. But in the end all that science, all that evidence and all common sense fails before the lobbying of the commercial fishing sector, whose only concern is their own personal and very short term, profit.
Fish stocks are a commonly owned resource. It is the duty and the responsibility of politicians and fishery managers to manage the exploitation of that resource for the good of the whole nation, not just the most powerful vested interests. ICES have told us we need an 80% cut in bass catches just to get to MSY. A recent study showed that a bass harvested from the stocks by an angler generated between 40 and 75 times as much economic value for the community compared to if it had been harvested by a commercial fisherman (and 39 to 75 times as many jobs). Unless we can re-assert our 200 mile limit (now there’s a thought for the next General Election) our commercial sector will continue to pressure politicians to do nothing for fear of some of “our” bass being harvested by the French. Doing nothing will likely lead to a collapse in bass stocks and closure of the fishery to all within a couple of years. I think that all this evidence tells us we in the UK should follow the Irish example right now. Take the commercial interests out of the equation, maximise economic value from exploitation of the resource, deliver the 80% cut in catches by having zero commercial catch that might just save our bass.
Going into these EU negotiations, the Government did consult angling bodies about bass (but not about any of the other fish of great interest to us, like Cod) and we were entirely reasonable about the cuts necessary to mortality. Being reasonable doesn’t seem to work. Politicians and fishery managers do not appear capable of taking evidence based decisions or being fair and even handed. Perhaps now is the time to look at the laws they are supposed to comply with and take action on that front. Unless the UK moves swiftly to bass being a recreational only species, I struggle to see any other options, if we are to try and avoid a total collapse of bass stocks.
Points to remember
- An 80% cut in catches is needed in 2015 on an MSY (legal) basis.
- 75% of mortality comes from the commercial fishing sector, only 25% from sea angling
- Commercial bass landings in the UK are approx. £5m per year compared to sea angling for bass worth approx. £200m per year.
- Farmed bass are easily capable of satisfying all UK consumer demand.
- There are 884,000 sea anglers in England spending over £1.2bn per year compared to a few thousand commercial fishermen landing £35m per year of finfish of interest to anglers.
- Commercial fishing hasn’t just decimated many fish stocks it has also changed the very nature of the marine environment. If it weren’t invisible, beneath the ocean waves, it wouldn’t be allowed.