Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society has received a reply from Maja Kirchner, Head of the EU Commission’s Fisheries Management for Northern European Waters, explaining the background to the outcome of negotiations for managing the sea bass stock in 2019.

She makes it absolutely clear that George Eustice, with support from the Netherlands, wants a limited targeted fishery for bass by fixed netters. He successfully blocked the EU proposal to impose a percentage of daily catch limit for fixed netters at the negotiations in December 2018.

Although the measures introduced in 2016 prohibit fixed netters from targeting bass, in reality it is an unenforceable sham. The law allows fixed netters to land and sell “unavoidable” bycatch, but since no-one but the fisherman can tell if he was trying to avoid bass, the law cannot be enforced. And so fixed netters have targeted bass without fear of prosecution. Indeed, they have been doing this with written authorisations from the Marine Management Organisation, an enforcement arm of DEFRA under George Eustice’s control.

Maja Kirchner explains at some length that the EU took account of the data and the views expressed by many of its citizens in establishing its proposals for managing the sea bass fishery in 2019. Prior to negotiations, it proposed a 1% daily limit on bass bycatch for fixed netters to prevent them targeting bass. At the negotiations, the 1% daily limit on bycatch was deleted as “…. both the UK and the Netherlands wanted to allow a limited targeted fishery by fixed netters while staying inside the advised limit of 1789t for 2019”.

The reasons behind all the prevarication and obfuscation from George Eustice, DEFRA and the MMO are now clear. They have kicked the unavoidable bycatch can down the road since the measure was first introduced, in the full knowledge that it was an inherently unenforceable regulation that would allow fixed netters to continue targeting bass.

No doubt George Eustice will defend his position by saying that the catches are designed to be within the advised limits for 2019. He will probably also say that the seven-month, one fish per day allowance for anglers is a successful outcome.

What George Eustice will not say is that despite being the cause of the decline in the bass stock, the commercial sector has been allocated the lion’s share of the stock – 83% or more of the total catch for 2019. If he had agreed to the percentage bycatch limit for fixed netters, and supported a smaller allocation to the commercial sector, he could have obtained a two fish per day limit for anglers and a longer season for anglers to take fish.

There are other things that George Eustice is unlikely to mention. He may fail to refer to bass in the sea being a common resource owned by the public, which should be allocated to the public in priority. He may also forget to say that the recreational bass fishery provides far greater social and economic benefits than the commercial bass fishery – more than 40 times more per tonne of bass landed, according to research.

His approach to the latest negotiations for the bass fishery is revealing. We must conclude he dances primarily to the tune of commercial bass fishing interests and that in the context of the bass fishery, he considers the wider public, including many of his his own constituents, to be second class citizens.