Stop Over-Fishing – Now!

The “Unavoidable By-Catch” Allowance for Fixed Netters Has Failed.

Last year we and the EU Commission called for a ban on fixed netters being able to land Sea Bass. However, in December the EU Fisheries Ministers caved in to pressure from commercial fishermen and delivered a fudge: fixed netters would not be able to target bass, but would be allowed to land up to 250kg per month of “unavoidable by-catch”.

To its shame, the UK Government initially tried to argue that it had agreed an “allowance” for fixed netters, that covered both targeted fishing and by-catch. The EU Commission quickly confirmed that fixed netters could not target Sea Bass.

The MMO has done its bit to muddy the waters too, issuing letters to commercial fishermen stating: “The vessel named below is authorised to fish for sea bass using the gears specified” – where one of the specified gears is fixed gill nets. The MMO refuses to accept that this is misleading or that it should correct this error and reissue the authorisation letters.

The word from fishing communities is that fixed netters are simply treating the 250kg as a targeted allowance, since they believe the law to be unenforceable. And regrettably, we have to agree with them, this concept of “unavoidable by-catch” is a complete nonsense. No Court would ever be able to find someone guilty of breaking this law – who can tell what a fisherman is fishing for when he sets a fixed net?

The IFCA enforcement officers don’t seem to know either. The MMO tells us that if a fixed netter’s catch has over a certain percentage of Sea Bass, then this indicates targeting. But the MMO won’t tell us or commercial fishermen what that percentage is and, as of July 2017, 6 months after the law coming into force, IFCA officers are still waiting for the MMO to provide guidance – what a shambles!

We are still waiting to hear from the MMO if a single fixed netter has been charged with illegal targeting of Sea Bass. The silence is deafening.

The 2017 landing data clearly indicate that the fixed netters “unavoidable by-catch” law has failed. The graph below shows that, in the 6 months to 30 June 2017 alone, UK fixed netters caught 37% more than their 2011 – 2013 full year average, and by the end of 2017 they will have exceeded their 2011 – 2013 full year average by a staggering 240%!

UBC_2017There are two simple ways to fix this.  Ditch the failed “unavoidable by-catch” allowance and either:

  • ban fixed netters from landing Sea Bass; or
  • restrict fixed netters’ Sea Bass landings to 3% of their total catch, subject to a total monthly cap of 40kg. e. make it a genuine by-catch allowance using the same percentage of catch restriction as applies to demersal trawls and seiners.

Let us be crystal clear, in the face of its abject failure and the ease with which it facilitates illegal targeting of Sea Bass, the continuation of the fixed netters’ unavoidable by-catch allowance is unacceptable to the public.

Hook & Line commercial fishing has not been restricted

We support commercial hook & line fishing as being the most sustainable form of commercial fishing. However, commercial hook & line fishermen have so far done nothing to help cut fishing pressure on Sea Bass, because the 10 tonnes limit is unfeasibly high. In 2015 and 2016, not one single vessel caught more than 10 tonnes!

In contrast, public sea anglers have experienced an 84% cut in their landings, from 1,473 tonnes to 230 tonnes (figures provided by STECF and CEFAS). Sea-angling members of the public are not allowed to land Sea Bass from 1 January to 30 June; whilst from 1 July to 31 December, they are allowed to take just 1 Sea Bass a day.

Hook & line fishermen should be included in the moratorium from 1 January to 30 June. From 1 July to 31 December, hook & line fishermen should be restricted to landing 1.0 tonne of Sea Bass in total. This would only impact 10% of hook & line vessels, but would cut the hook & line fishery landings by two-thirds.

Protect Spawning Sea Bass

The scientists tell us that Sea Bass spawn between January and June, with a peak in April. In the UK, CEFAS has recently confirmed inshore spawning aggregations of Sea Bass in April, May and June.

With the Sea Bass spawning stock now in a perilous state, it is crucial to protect Sea Bass during their spawning period. Any hope of regenerating the stock is entirely dependent upon these spawning fish. Allowing commercial exploitation of spawning Sea Bass is an obscenity.

There is a moratorium for the public between 1 January and 30 June. This moratorium must now be extended to all commercial fishing – no-one should be allowed to land Sea Bass in the first half of the year, whether targeted or by-catch.

It is clear from the 2017 landing data that many commercial fishermen are illegally targeting bass, so a full moratorium from 1 January to 30 June will reduce mortality by removing any economic benefit from catching spawning Sea Bass in this period.