Angling and conservation groups are gearing up for a parliamentary debate this week (Wednesday) on the management of sea bass stocks ahead of a crucial meeting of the EU Fisheries Council in Brussels.
The debate has been called by Conservative MP George Hollingbery, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling, following the outcry over attempts by the European Commission to respond to the decline in bass numbers by limiting anglers to just one fish a day whilst proposing only minimal restrictions on the commercial fleet, who are responsible for more than three quarters of all bass mortalities.
The latest scientific advice issued by the International Council for the Exploitation of the Seas (ICES) in June 2014 recommends a staggering 80 per cent cut in landings of bass across the EU for 2015. This follows advice for a 36 per cent cut in 2013 which was not acted upon. The decline is the result of intensive overfishing, increasing fishing effort targeting the bass spawning aggregations and successive years of recruitment failure.
MPs will point out that Fisheries Ministers of both governments have been well aware of the parlous state of bass numbers around the inshore waters of England and Wales and the long overdue need to introduce measures to prevent a catastrophic stock collapse. The results from October’s Solent bass survey confirm five poor year classes in a row (2008 – 2012) and offers a bleak prospect for the future unless serious conservation measures are introduced.
The value to the economy of a European bass caught by sea anglers using rod and line is more than three times that of a fish caught and landed commercially, according to a study for the Blue Marine Foundation published today. The report also found that bass fishing by anglers also creates three times the number of jobs as commercial fishing, with a lower environmental impact than any commercial fishing method other than hook and line.
The research conducted by respected fisheries consultancy, MRAG, showed that anglers bass fishing in Sussex contributed to a total overall spend of £31.3 million through tackle, charter boats and hotels to catch bass in 2012 and created 353 full time jobs. In comparison, commercial sea bass landings in Sussex generated only £9.25 million and 111 full time jobs.
The conclusion drawn by the Blue Marine Foundation, which funded the study, and supported by the Angling Trust, is that it would be better both economically and environmentally if the commercial fleet converted to charter angling and rod and line fishing, making bass a recreational species as it is in Ireland.
David Mitchell, Marine Campaigns Manager for the Angling Trust and a contributor to the report, said:
“The results of this study prove once and for all that that recreational angling is the most economically valuable and least environmentally damaging way of fishing for bass – delivering over £31m and 350 jobs in Sussex alone! Looking at the per tonne of bass retained the final economic output could be as much as 75 times greater from recreational fishing than it is from commercial bass fishing. The EU Commission have proposed a disproportionate one fish per angler, per day, bag limit on recreational bass fishing but it’s clear from the evidence that recreational bass angling is by far the most sustainable and profitable method of fishing for bass.
It’s now time for policy makers at EU and UK level to make evidence-based policy to protect bass stocks and recognize that commercial bass fishing is a damaging and economically inefficient method of exploiting this species”.
George Hollingbery MP added:
“Bass numbers are in catastrophic decline around the coast of the UK and yet those in charge still continue to go for the path of least resistance; slamming recreational anglers while not dealing adequately with the primary source of the problem, the number of bass being taken in the nets of commercial fishing boats.
“Couple that with constant delay in increasing the minimum size of fish that can be landed legally and we have the perfect storm – unsustainable levels of harvesting of fish that are not even being allowed to reach breeding age before they are netted.”
Charles Clover, chairman of the Blue Marine Foundation which commissioned the study, said:
“The overwhelming economic, environmental and democratic logic of what the report says is that we should only be fishing for bass with hooks and not with nets, especially when stocks are on the verge of collapse.”
Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Biology at York University and a trustee of BLUE, said:
“It would make excellent economic sense to switch the sea bass fishery to hook and line fishing only.
“This transition would yield the biggest economic reward, it would reduce fishing pressure, solve the problem of overfishing and allow rebuilding of the stock to healthy levels.
It would eliminate most of the environmental impacts associated with the commercial net and trawl fisheries, including prevention of damage to sensitive near-shore bottom habitats and by-catch of dolphins and porpoises.”
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