“HE THAT IS GOOD FOR MAKING EXCUSES IS SELDOM GOOD FOR ANYTHING ELSE.”

               – BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

In our last press release, we thanked Cornwall IFCA Committee members for engaging with the problem of some Cornish fixed netters illegally targeting bass, but noted the deplorable official response.  Rather than owning the problem and working on how to solve it, Cornwall IFCA officers ill-advisedly tried to tell Committee members: there is no problem; Cornwall IFCA has not been remiss in failing to monitor the landing data; and the issue would best be dealt with by its planned Net Fishery Management Plan.  If Cornwall IFCA was seeking to alienate sea anglers and commercial hook and liners and destroy its already tattered reputation on bass management, it could not have done a better job.

Passing the Buck

Cornwall IFCA pointed out that bass has been managed by measures set by the EU and the Marine Management Organisation.  True, but Cornwall IFCA has the statutory responsibility to manage bass in Cornwall and cannot pass the buck – if bass measures are not working in Cornwall, Cornwall IFCA is legally required to address that problem.

Cornwall IFCA next noted that the MMO is responsible for monitoring bass landings – again true, but beside the point, since Cornwall IFCA is the fishery manager for Cornwall it is its business to know exactly what is being landed in Cornwall.  Is Cornwall IFCA seriously suggesting it can manage its fisheries without knowing what is being landed and by who?

Lame Excuses

Cornwall IFCA tried to suggest it is difficult for it to obtain the landing data, despite it sharing the same building as the MMO, and that a new data sharing agreement is needed.  Yet our findings are based on landing data freely available from the MMO to the public on request.  If we can access the data, why can’t Cornwall IFCA?

Cornwall IFCA made the excuse that between 2015 and 2018 its officers had some of their enforcement powers removed.  However, these powers were reinstated in August 2018, and net-caught bass landings in Cornwall were actually slightly higher in 2019 than in 2018.

Avoiding the question

A member of the public asked: “Does Cornwall IFCA accept that it has an urgent problem with net-caught bass landings and needs to investigate this further? Landings have plummeted in the rest of England as a result of measures to protect bass, but they have gone up in Cornwall.”

Instead of answering the question and admitting that bass landings going up in Cornwall, when they should be going down, is of course a problem, Cornwall IFCA instead said “Cornwall IFCA doesn’t hold any specific information on the stock within the six-mile limit to be able to assess whether these levels constitute an urgent problem.”  Now, Cornwall IFCA knows as well as we do that the bass stock is assessed at a Northern European level only and it is meaningless to talk about the stock at a Cornwall level.  So why try to suggest that it needs information about the stock in Cornwall in order to answer a simple question of whether bass landings going up in Cornwall is a problem, in the context of a coordinated Northern European effort to try to reduce bass landings?

Paltering – the art of deliberately misleading without lying

Cornwall IFCA told Committee members the Cornish landings of bass “didn’t exceed 40% of the permissible allocation for 2017, 2018 and 2019”.  The implication being that that if, on average, vessels are using only 40% of their catch limits, there is not a problem.

What Cornwall IFCA failed to tell Committee members is that catch limits are set taking into account many vessels make no use of their catch limit and most make very little use of their catch limits.  So an average utilisation rate of nearly 40% (37.65% in Mevagissey) is actually very high.  If all English bass netters and hook and liners were to use 40% of their catch limits, they would catch in excess of 1,500 tonnes of bass, whereas the entire estimated commercial bass catch for Northern Europe in 2020 by all fishing methods is only 1,200 tonnes.  If the rest of Europe followed the Mevagissey netters’ lead, the bass stock would be wiped out in no time.

It is also worth pointing out that averages can hide a multitude of sins, in this case hiding vessels that are landing catch after catch of bass – these vessels are obviously targeting bass.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Cornwall IFCA said “there was not a significant increase in reported landings from netting vessels between 2017 and 2018.”    So Cornwall IFCA thinks a 140% increase is not significant?!

Well, if you choose a tiny chart scale you might be able to get away with this.  We have highlighted the relevant part of Cornwall IFCA’s chart:

But if you use a more sensible scale you get this!

Mesh Sizes – rubbing salt into the wound

In 2019, Cornwall IFCA voted not to make an emergency byelaw to protect juvenile bass from netting – ignoring the legal advice of Fish Legal which said that an emergency byelaw would be lawful.  Now Cornwall IFCA tries to tell us “This would no longer be an option as it has already been deliberated”.   Perhaps Cornwall IFCA should read its own Constitution, which allows Committee motions to be reconsidered after 6 months.

But of course, Cornwall IFCA has no intention of reconsidering mesh sizes, once again using the EU as an excuse for doing nothing: “the updated EU technical measures has seen the introduction of a larger minimum size for fixed nets since the extraordinary meeting”.  Cornwall IFCA fails to mention the larger mesh size is still only 100mm, which will still kill juvenile bass.  So much for “World Class fisheries management” post Brexit.

Holistic Gobbledygook

Cornwall IFCA says bass netting should be looked at “in a holistic way across the entire district”.  We say: it is clear there is a specific problem right now with some fixed netters illegally targeting bass. We don’t need “holistic” solutions, we need targeted measures and enforcement action now to stop this illegal activity and rein-in bass landings that Cornwall IFCA has allowed to spiral out of control.

Kicking the Can Down the Road

Cornwall IFCA recommended to the Committee no new action to address the Cornish net-caught bass landings problem.  Instead warm noises were made about this being dealt with by the planned Netting Management Plan.

But Cornwall IFCA failed to mention that taking this approach would mean illegal targeting of bass by netters would continue for several years.   In March, Cornwall IFCA officers told Committee members “The net fisheries management plan is a large and complex project which will require a considerable lead-in time to allow for research and data gathering projects to be initiated.”

We fully expect this netting plan will move as slowly as the Salmonids byelaw that Cornwall IFCA started working on in 2016 and which still has no end-date in sight.

“Alternative Facts”

One Committee member told the Committee “The bass stocks are very healthy”. Really? Does this person know something that the expert fisheries scientists at ICES don’t?  ICES tell us that between 2016 and 2019 the bass stock was so low that the stock might not be able to regenerate itself, even with zero fishing pressure.  In 2020, the stock is estimated to recover a little bit above this level, but still to be in a highly precarious state.  Much to our surprise, no-one corrected the Committee member on this important point.  It is frightening that we have a Committee member who votes on bass management in Cornwall, but is ignorant of the state of the bass stock.

The same Committee member also told the meeting: “figures from the MMO don’t identify how many bass are caught with nets”.   A surprising claim, given that Cornwall IFCA had just provided Committee members with a report discussing the MMO data on bass landings by fixed netters in Cornwall and Mevagissey.

Sea anglers in Cornwall are complaining that they aren’t catching any bass because relentless inshore netting is removing all the bass.   But this Committee member had another take on it: “several of our fishermen are saying that our coastline is now loaded with seals that chase bass and the bass stay away from the shore a bit – I don’t know how true that is”.   Hmmmm.

Conclusion

Thankfully Cornwall IFCA Committee members decided they wanted to take action to stop the illegal targeting by some netters.  We hope that at the Committee meeting on 17 December, Committee members will consider how this should be done.   Our suggestion would be percentage of catch restriction for netters, so that their landings cannot contain more than 30% bass.  This would allow netters to land genuine bass bycatch, but would stop the illegal targeting and repeated landings with 90% or 100% bass.

 

You can watch a recording of the Committee meeting here:

https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/councillors-and-democracy/webcasts#archived