We are very encouraged that at Cornwall IFCA’s Committee meeting on Friday 18 September, several Cornwall IFCA Committee members agreed with us that there is a problem with net-caught bass landings going up in Cornwall and expressed concern that some Cornish fixed netters are illegally targeting bass and landing it as “unavoidable bycatch”.  In 2019, nearly 70% of all net-caught bass landed into Mevagissey were from trips where bass made up 90% to 100% of the catch.

The Committee’s response was in sharp contrast to the deplorable official response, which failed to answer the key questions, failed to accept there is an urgent problem, attemped a whitewash by using selective facts in deliberately misleading ways, and was content to let the problem continue unaddressed for years.

Councillor Graham Coad summed up well the CIFCA officers’ response as “wishy-washy and a bit sort of smooth and silky evasiveness” adding “some people in Cornwall and some harbours in particular are taking the micky and making us look rather foolish”  and advised Cornwall IFCA officers “you seem to be a little bit too smooth and relaxed about the whole thing. I think that’s what is making people unsatisfied.”

So we are pleased that Committee members were keen to take action and voted “that Cornwall IFCA write to Defra to express their concern and the vague nature of the words “unavoidable bycatch” and provide a clear definition of this phrase at the earliest opportunity.”

Sadly, Defra will not comply.  Defra wants the EU to delete the “unavoidable bycatch” law so that fixed netters can target bass – this is why it has repeatedly resisted providing a definition of “unavoidable bycatch”, so that cannot easily be enforced.  This is a shameful position for our Government to take and is damaging for UK fisheries management.

So we expect that when Cornwall IFCA committee members next meet, in December, they will need to consider other ways of stopping netters illegally targeting bass in Cornwall.

Our proposal is that Cornwall IFCA imposes a percentage of catch restriction for fixed netters, whereby bass would be able to make up no more than 30% of their landed catch. This would enable most genuine bycatch to be landed, whilst stopping those vessels that are cynically repeatedly landing catches of 90% – 100% bass.

Houston, we have a problem!

Several Committee members acknowledged there is a problem with netters illegally targeting bass.  Local Marine Management Organisation Officer Daisy May said “we do know that in Cornwall, historically, levels of landing in this area with regards to the rest of England is higher.” and advised that “action needs to be taken”.

Andrew Pascoe said “I would urge Cornwall IFCA officers to regulate and police the targeting of bass day after day with nets”  and “when you continually shoot back in the same area day after day after day, these are the issues that need to be policed more”.

Councillor Graham Coad said “there’s specific information that’s been coming in about particular vessels, largely in the Mevagissey area that have been targeting bass and that is illegal still, I understand, and we’ve heard reports of 100% bycatch of bass. How can you have 100% bycatch? I think that Cornish IFCA needs to do more, specifically investigate these allegations”

Several other Committee members made insightful contributions: John Munday asked ”if you look at the other species which the inshore boats catch, that will tell us whether they’re targeting bass or whether they’re not targeting bass, so can we put some effort into doing that?”  We agree, but we doubt Cornwall IFCA will do this, so we intend to look at this closely ourselves.,

Nick Tregenza focused on the term “unavoidable bycatch”: “if a boat has unavoidable bycatch repeatedly, it wasn’t unavoidable”  and advised “we shouldn’t view unavoidable bycatch because it’s undefined as meaningless. It obviously is very meaningful and could be established.”

And Councillor Geoff Brown made the practical recommendation, which was accepted by the committee, that Cornwall IFCA “write to Defra to express their concern at the vague nature of the words “unavoidable bycatch” and ask for them to provide a clear definition as soon as possible.”

We would like to thank these Committee members for engaging with the problem and for their suggestions on how to deal with it.  We encourage them to consider what Cornwall IFCA will do next if, as expected, Defra will not provided a definition of “unavoidable bycatch” prior to the December committee meeting.

You can watch a recording of the Committee meeting here: