The warning from the Angling Trust comes as the European Commission begins negotiations with member states on the measures still needed to halt the catastrophic decline in European bass, which have fallen to their lowest ever recorded level.
A plea from scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) for reductions of more than 80% in Northern European landings of bass to enable stocks to recover triggered the European Commission into taking emergency action earlier this year.
It introduced a winter ban on pair trawling, restrictions on commercial catches, plus new minimum landing sizes and a three-fish bag limit for anglers, but admitted the measures didn’t go far enough and urged member states to take further action in their own territorial waters.
With Ireland retaining its ban on commercial bass fishing and the Isle of Man looking to follow suit, the Angling Trust will be pressing the UK government and other EU countries not to “water down” any new measures, which are expected to offer very few opportunities for large scale commercial catches of bass in 2016.
“The current ICES advice for 2016 that all bass landings should be limited to an annual figure of 541 tonnes is likely to be exceeded by the commercial sector in just a few weeks,” said Martin Salter, of the Angling Trust. “It clearly demonstrates that a far more radical approach is required.
“It took a five year moratorium on all forms of bass fishing in the USA coastal waters and the establishment of a recreational-only fishery in Ireland to secure a stock recovery.
“The UK needs to learn from these hard lessons. At the moment it seems that only the Isle of Man is listening and taking appropriate action.”
Earlier this month, Salter and the Trust’s Marine Campaigns Manager David Mitchell gave a keynote presentation on the battle for bass conservation at the Institute of Fisheries Management‘s (IFM) Annual Conference, highlighting the long campaign fought by bass anglers, conservationists and the Trust to protect the iconic fish.
Mitchell said: “There’s no doubt that 2015 was a landmark year for the European bass. Stocks were observed to decline to their lowest ever recorded levels, rare EU emergency conservation measures were invoked as a result and a species that had received scant attention from fishery managers and policy makers suddenly shot up the political agenda.
“But we still need far greater protection for juvenile fish in our inshore nursery areas and a move away from netting towards a more sustainable line caught fishery.”
Two weeks ago (October 12), the Fisheries Directorate on the Isle of Man launched a public consultation on its proposal to change the legislation covering sea bass to include:
- A ban on all commercial bass fishing within 12 miles of the island’s coast;
- A new minimum landing size of 50cms (compared to 42cms in the EU);
- A maximum landing size of 60cms (to allow big breeders to survive);
- A catch limit of one fish per angler.
Comments are invited by November 23 and the full document can be found here.
The Angling Trust is currently working with the IFM, the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS) and other partners on a review of inshore netting rules, bass nursery areas and estuarine conservation measures.