George Eustice MP – Minister of State at DEFRA

Nobel House



26th November 2016

Dear George,

Re: Fishing Opportunities 2017 and bass stocks

Thank you for agreeing to hear our case for supporting the very sensible and long overdue proposals from the EU Commission for this year’s Fishing Opportunities meeting on December 12/13. I was sorry not to join you myself, because I was unwell.

My colleagues set out why we consider the current ICES assessment for a total moratorium on all bass harvesting as an entirely predictable consequence of past decisions that were based on short-term politics rather than the long-term interests of the fishery. Put simply, bass stocks are in deep trouble because of commercial overfishing and the repeated failure of politicians and fishery managers to follow scientific advice on conservation measures.

Last year’s disproportionate restrictions on anglers and increased commercial catch limits were absurd, indefensible, caused widespread anger and political embarrassment. They were bad for bass, bad for coastal businesses and damaging to sea-angling. They masked some of the real progress that has been made on your watch, such as the pair-trawling ban and 42cm MCRS.

The Angling Trust and B.A.S.S. have pressed hard for a ban on bass netting and we fully support the EU Commission’s proposals for 2017 for a recreational and commercial hook and line bass fishery. This will deliver far higher socio-economic returns and see an end to the unsustainable gill-netting, which damages not only bass stocks but also seabirds, seals and cetaceans.

We drew your attention to economic impacts of last year’s measures.

A growing body of evidence, most recently supported by the Blue Marine Foundation’s report, “Defining the Economic and Environmental Values of Seabass”, concludes that recreational angling for bass delivers a far greater economic return than the commercial exploitation of bass.

However, the livelihoods and small businesses supported by this economic activity have been put under severe strain in 2016, with charter boats and other angling dependent businesses struggling to survive as a result of the ban on retaining bass and then the one-fish-per day bag limit. A survey by the Professional Boatmens’ Association, representing charter boat owners across the UK, suggests a total projected loss across the economy of £2.8m, with individual charter skippers reporting an average of 22 fewer bookings and losing more than £8,000 in revenues.

Stuart Belbin, a charter boat skipper, explained the downturn in his own business caused by the inability of anglers to keep more than one bass in just six months of the year. In common with other charter boat skippers, his bookings were down by 25% this year – with a consequent knock-on effect for other small businesses in his supply chain and local community.

David Curtis from B.A.S.S. then highlighted the dire condition of the bass stock and why netting has no place in a fishery where the stock levels are below ‘Blim’ and falling.

A stock level below Blim means a high probability that stock regeneration is impaired due to insufficient egg production, so that even if fishing is much reduced, the stock may fail to recover for years. The Commission’s proposal is in excess of the ICES and Cefas advice – there is no scientific basis for an increase from the Commission’s proposal.

The Commission’s proposal represents a 90% cut in commercial landings from those in 2013. To achieve this for netters using a monthly vessel catch limit, the limit would have to be reduced to just 30kg per month (see our Vessel Catch Limit paper). At this low level, it only makes sense to think about a by-catch allowance for netters, since 30kg a month cannot support targeted bass-netting.

Of the 1,000 tonnes of landings the Commission is proposing for 2017, once we remove an allowance for recreational angling and 1% trawler and seine-netting by-catch, there is only something like 450 tonnes available to be shared between all Member States for commercial fishing. This simply isn’t enough to allow both hook & line fishing and targeted netting to continue, which is why the Commission has rightly proposed favouring hook & line bass fishing (with greater socioeconomic benefits), and treating netting as a bass by-catch fishery.

We then discussed how an optional monthly bag limit for individual anglers would provide flexibility to the recreational sector and be a real boost to recreational sea angling and the charter boat and private boat owning sectors in particular. We explained how monthly systems work successfully elsewhere e.g. Bluefin Tuna in the Mediterranean and salmon tagging in Ireland and confirmed our commitment to making a monthly bag limit recording system work here in the UK. We have until April 1st 2017 to get such a system up and running – plenty of time to ensure that a workable and cost-effective solution is implemented, and we are currently reviewing a number of candidate systems. It is essential that a daily bag limit system is maintained and runs in parallel with a monthly system for those members of the public fishing recreationally who, for whatever reason, do not wish to, and should therefore not be forced to, register for a monthly bag limit system.

You explained that you are still giving consideration to an appropriate level of bass by-catch from netting – it is important that this is set at a low level so as not to undermine the conservation benefits from excluding targeted netting from the bass fishery. We also reminded you of the failure of the official bass landings figures to reflect the true level of commercial landings and the need to move to a fully-documented bass fishery.

We concluded by reiterating our support for the Commission’s proposals and asked you to state what the UK position will be at the Fishing Opps meeting in December.

We were encouraged to hear that you were favourably inclined towards what was being proposed by the Commission. However, it was a little unclear as to whether you intend to follow the best possible scientific advice which is that provided by ICES. We reminded you of the statements made in the Commons earlier this year by your ministerial colleague Rory Stewart MP in which he stated:

The best analysis that we can currently reach on the subject comes from ICES.

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

Finally, we concurred with your view that monthly vessel catch limits were preferable to an annual quota but pointed out that if monthly limits are the preferred option for the commercial sector there could be no credible objection to applying them to recreational sea angling.

We shall be in Brussels for the Fishing Opportunities meeting and trust that we will have the same access to you and your officials that is afforded to representatives of the commercial sector?

Thank you again for meeting us and we look forward to a successful outcome next month

Yours sincerely,

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive, Angling Trust & Fish Legal, on behalf of:

Martin Salter, National Campaigns Co-ordinator Angling Trust

David Mitchell, Head of Marine, Angling Trust

David Curtis, Save Our Sea Bass campaign and Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society

Stuart Belbin, Chairman of the North Thames Boatmens’ Association (representing skippers from West Mersea and Bradwell) and skipper of Razorbill out of West Mersea

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