Campaign to save the European bass heats up


THINGS are certainly hotting up in the battle to protect declining bass populations in Northern Europe from continued exploitation by the netsmen. Martin Salter reports.

With scientists at the widely respected International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) warning that bass stocks in northern Europe are now in deep trouble because of commercial overfishing the officials at the EU Commission have for once listened to anglers and conservationists and proposed that in 2017 there should be a complete ban on netting for bass. This is something we at the Angling Trust – the UK’s peak rec fishing body – have been seeking for a number of years as you can read here.

Not surprisingly angling groups across Europe have launched a national campaign, backed by the angling trade and some of the biggest names in the sport, to persuade EU Fisheries Ministers to adopt the Commission’s proposals to end damaging gill netting in favour of sustainable commercial hook and line and recreational fishing only.

Here in the UK angling TV presenters Matt Hayes and Henry Gilbey are amongst those urging Britain’s recreational sea anglers to back a national petition in support of the net ban. Over 10,000 British anglers have already logged on to the special Save Our Sea Bass campaign page to add their names to the petition and to lobby their MPs and the Fisheries Minister George Eustice ahead of the EU Council meeting on December 12th.

The campaign is also supported by the European Fishing Tackle Trade Association (EFFTA) and the Angling Trades Association. We’ve been working with our colleagues at the European Anglers Alliance to produce a short film entitled, Sea bass – Crisis, Value, Solution, about the long-term management of bass and the economic case for getting rid of the nets which you can watch here.

Despite the clear scientific advice issued by ICES in 2014 for an 80% cut in bass fishing mortality across the EU area, recorded bass landings by UK commercial vessels actually rose by 30% (from 772 tonnes to 1,004 tonnes). The current ICES advice is for a complete moratorium on all harvesting of bass.

There is no doubt that inshore gill-netting has played a significant part in the decline of bass stocks. For example, in 2014, UK gill netters landed 646 tonnes of bass – more than the ICES 2016 Northern Stock advice of 541 tonnes for whole of the EU.

EU scientists told us in April 2015: “The spawning stock biomass is declining towards the lowest historically observed level.” In 2016, we reached an all-time low for the spawning stock biomass: 7,320 tonnes and the estimate for 2017 is even worse at just 6,219 tonnes. The Commissions proposals, although seemingly tough, actually exceed the scientific advice for a sustainable catch limit and leave absolutely no scope whatsoever for netting to remain within the European bass fishery.

Political failure

It is clear that we are paying the price for the repeated failure of politicians and fishery managers to follow scientific advice on bass conservation measures. Last year’s disproportionate restrictions on anglers, which saw us reduced to a zero (Jan – June) then a one fish bag limit for the remaining six months of the year while commercial catch limits were actually increased, caused huge outrage leading to demonstrations outside the constituency office of George Eustice and condemnation in parliament. There is no doubt that last year’s measures were bad for bass, bad for coastal businesses and damaging to our sport.

The Charter Boat Sector was particularly badly hit by the anglers bag limits and a survey carried out by the Professional Boatman’s Association (PBA) showed that an estimated £2.87 million is likely to be lost by those charter boat businesses which take anglers to sea to fish recreationally for bass. These losses amount to more than 50 per cent of the total value of commercial bass landings in the UK, with individual charter skippers reporting an average of 22 fewer bookings and losing more than £8,000 in revenues.

It is economic madness to allow bass gill netting to continue for a moment longer. The figures show that a sustainable commercial hook and line fishery working alongside a rejuvenated recreational bass sector will deliver a far greater economic return whilst contributing to the recovery of the species. A real win win situation.

Recent studies in England have shown that a bass caught recreationally is worth up to 40 times that of the same fish taken by a netsmen and more generally, recreational sea angling in the UK is far more economically significant than the commercial fishing sector.

Sea Angling 2012, the study of Recreational Sea Angling (RSA) carried out for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows that:

  • There are 884,000 sea anglers in England who directly pump £1.23 billion p.a. into the economy (£2.1 billion including induced and indirect impacts)
  • 10,400 full time jobs are dependent on sea angling (23,600 jobs including induced and indirect impacts)

The VAT (Sales Tax) revenue which is collected from sea anglers dwarfs the entire value of all commercial fish landings in England yet RSA is consistently well down the list of government priorities when it comes to resource sharing and allocation. However, this could all be about to change if, at long last, we see an end to the dreadful gillnetting that has done so much damage to fish stocks, seabirds and cetaceans.

We are pushing hard to ensure that, at the EU Council meeting on December 12/13, all the European Fisheries Ministers – including Britain’s George Eustice – implement the Commission’s proposals in full, without any backsliding or watering-down as happened last year. For anyone interested in learning more the Angling Trust has set up a special bass campaign page with full briefings on all the issues.

There are some encouraging signs that our campaign is hitting home as at a recent debate on fisheries in the House of Commons a majority of those MPs who chose to highlight the bass issue clearly supported our position for a net free fishery.

It seems wherever we go in the world we have to face down commercial interests who don’t give a flying fig for science or conservation and are engaged in a self defeating race to land the last fish in the sea. These are battles we must win.

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.