Fishing Opportunities Meeting
12/13 December 2016

This is the final position paper from representatives of the Recreational Sea Angling sector produced for the UK team attending the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council Fishing Opportunities meeting next week. It follows the recent fisheries debate in the House of Commons where strong representations were made in favour of the Commission’s proposals to help rebuild bass stocks following the ICES assessment for 2017. It also follows a strong campaign by angling and conservation organisations which saw over 11,000 people signing a national Save Our Sea Bass petition.


The bass spawning stock is in trouble: it is now so low that there is a high probability that the stock may fail to recover and remain depleted for years.

Last year the Member States, primarily the UK, France and the Netherlands, promised to fish bass at a sustainable level (FMSY) from 2017.  However, the Member States had not bargained on the ICES scientists advising in June that FMSY 2017 would mean a zero catch.

Recognising that the Member States are highly unlikely to agree a zero catch in 2017, the EU Commission has proposed a compromise: 1,000 tonnes of landings in 2017, and achieve FMSY in 2018.  The Commission has also proposed that those 1,000 tonnes should be allocated to recreational angling and commercial hook & line fishing: the most sustainable forms of fishing with the greatest socio-economic returns for Society.

The UK Fisheries Minister has told us that he is inclined to respect the science.  That means under no circumstances should bass landings exceed 1,000 tonnes in 2017.

Netters by-catch allowance

There is no longer room in the bass fishery for netting.   Netting is responsible for unsustainably large landings of bass (646 tonnes in the UK alone in 2014) and kills sea-birds, cetaceans and seals.

Once the current 1% by-catch allowance for trawlers and seiners is deducted from the Commission’s 1,000 tonnes proposal, there is barely enough available for recreational fishing and commercial hook & line fishing, let alone netters.

A number of Member States have asked for a by-catch allowance for netters.   Let us be clear, any by-catch allowance will increase mortality at a time when we should be striving to restore the stock.  If the Member States do decide on a by-catch allowance for netters, this must be kept to just 1% or 2% for two reasons:

  1. Any more than this and the allowance ceases to be truly about by-catch, but becomes a valuable target for netters to reach; and
  2. A higher allowance would mean either:
    1. exceeding the Commission’s proposed 1,000 tonnes (which is itself already in excess of the scientist’s recommendation); or
    2. reallocating landings from commercial hook & line fishing or recreational fishing – this would be completely crazy: taking landings from sustainable fishing with high socio-economic benefits in order to support unsustainable fishing with low socio-economic benefits.
EU Commission Proposal 1,000
Less: Hook & Line fishing -600
Less: Recreational angling (23% per Cefas) -230
Sub Total 1 170
Less existing 1% trawler & seine by-catch allowance -150?
Sub Total 2 – available for netters’ by-catch allowance 20


The bass fishery is predominantly a targeted fishery.   NUFTA chief executive, Dave Cuthbert, was reported in Fishing News commenting on the ICES advice for 2017: “a zero catch would impact far more heavily on dedicated small-scale boats with complete selectivity and no by-catch/discards than on larger scale mobile gears.”

In their assessment of the Bristol Channel Trawl Fishery, the Marine Stewardship Council said: “bass are taken all year round along the South-west English coast, in a directed fishery from small boats using fixed gill nets and drift nets inshore”.

A key skill for professional fishermen is knowing what different fish are likely to be in different places.  Bass generally don’t inhabit the same places as main demersal species like cod or flatfish.

Gill-netting for bass is a targeted activity. You buy a “bass gillnet”. Bass can be avoided by most gill-netters most of the time.

The commercial fishing organisations have made fanciful predictions of high discards without a shred of supporting evidence.  EU Fisheries Ministers must not be taken-in by this cynical, predictable, last-ditch attempt to stop the bass fishery becoming sustainable.

Monthly Bag Limit

The Commission has proposed a flexible monthly bag limit of 10 fish for recreational angling, recognising the economic damage that the daily bag limit and 6 month moratorium inflicted on recreational angling and in 2016 and in particular the Charter Boat business which has experienced a 20% loss of revenue. We have proposed that anglers should continue to operate under a daily bag limit unless they opt into a monthly bag limit scheme that would involve them recording their landings.  We and the EAA have committed to work with the UK and other Member States to introduce a suitable recording system.

A copy of the EAA paper highlighting how such a system could work for bass and has been adopted for other species and is available here

We understand that some Members States are not keen on a monthly angler’s bag limit, quoting concerns about enforceability. It has been calculated that such a measure would not lead to any appreciable increase in bass mortality and in any case Member States are considering a monthly by-catch allowance percentage with a monthly cap. This is in the full knowledge that, due to a number of recording exemptions for U10 vessels, it will be virtually impossible to enforce the cap.  In contrast, we are proposing a recording system that would require all landings by participating anglers to be recorded. In fact, as recreational anglers we would support the introduction of a fully documented bass fishery for all sectors.


Last December, Ministers returned from Brussels with a terrible deal for bass stocks, bass anglers and livelihoods on which this £200 million activity supports.   This year we will be attending the Fishing Opportunities meeting to support the UK delegation in securing a sustainable bass fishery for 2017 and a monthly bag limit for recreational anglers.

We do hope that the UK position will be steadfastly in line with the evidence and the science which shows no scope for any netting whatsoever in the bass fishery.

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