Increases to the bass catch limits for 2022 agreed between the UK and EU before Christmas will be available to EU fishers immediately, but not to UK fishermen until mid-year, reports Tim Oliver.

Whilst EU vessels – some operating up to six miles off the UK coast – will be able to land the increased limits with immediate effect, UK vessels will continue with the existing restrictions for several more months, before the UK legislation can follow the EU example.

The delay has angered the industry, and opens up the bigger question of whether there will be similar delays in the future when fisheries regulations are changed.

The NFFO has written to fisheries minister Victoria Prentis to express its exasperation and frustration at the delay, and the fact that it will not apply to EU vessels, and to ask for an explanation. Chief executive Barrie Deas told Fishing News that he and his federation colleagues could ‘hardly believe our ears’ when they were told.

In the NFFO letter, he tells the minister: “The explanation that a new statutory instrument is required, and that this form of legislation takes time, is a poor excuse and does not sit well with the government’s assertion that independent coastal state status will allow the UK to deliver a more agile and effective fisheries policy than the CFP.”

He points out that for the period British fishermen are denied access to the higher catch limits, they will continue be forced to discard valuable bass caught as an unavoidable bycatch.

“The changes to the bycatch limits, by providing vessels with more flexibility, were expressly made to address this unacceptable by-product of the bass regulations.”

He asks the minister to ‘take every step available to you to fast-forward the legal process’. “It does not bode well for the future if every adjustment to the UK rules is stalled, whilst European vessels operating on our doorstep enjoy a significant advantage.”

Barrie Deas said the ‘$64,000 question’ was whether this kind of delay would affect future changes to the regulations.

He told Fishing News: “It is frustrating for us not to have access to the increased limits while people fishing just outside the six from the EU have got access – but the bigger question is what this means for our fishing policy going forward. If this is going to be repeated, it needs to be fixed.”

He said the federation had understood that decisions made by the joint Specialised Committee on Fisheries would be binding – but the bass delay opens up ‘a huge question mark of whether this is going to be repeated all the way down the line, and take five to six months where changes to the rules are being made’.

He said he could not understand the length of the delay, when uncontroversial statutory instruments could normally pass through the parliamentary system quickly if there were no objections when they were laid.

“When this emerged, we could hardly believe our ears when we heard there was going to be this long delay, and that’s why we decided to escalate the issue and get some clarity.

“The bass changes are part of the agreed record of the UK-EU and would apply for a year because potentially this comes round again – we don’t have access to the increase for 12 months. There’s question after question.”

NUTFA co-director Jerry Percy said the delay was ‘a complete nonsense’ and contradicted discrimination policy.

“We’re told they can’t introduce any regulations that discriminate between UK and EU vessels, and in the same breath Defra are telling us we can’t benefit from the new bass allowance because the system is too slow – if they got their finger out they could probably do it very quickly – yet our European colleagues can benefit straightaway,” he told Fishing News.

“The reality is that we’ll be fishing alongside European boats where the introduction of regulations is discriminatory. It’s yet another fundamental nonsense, and it adds insult to injury in terms of Defra failing to introduce any effective catch limits on non-quota species for all the European vessels fishing in our waters.”

Calling the foreign fly-shooters an ‘existential threat’, he said: “I still can’t get over the huge number of very powerful fly-shooters that have got no effective catch limits and no monitoring. They can catch and retain far more bass than we can.

“Defra’s stock answer will be: ‘Oh, joint fisheries statement, Fisheries Act, joint management plans, etc’ – but the way things are going, there won’t be any fish left to manage – and Boris Johnson promised us ‘world-leading fisheries management’.

“It goes from the sublime to the bloody ridiculous – you couldn’t make it up.”

A photograph taken from a video and published in the Daily Telegraph and the Independent last week allegedly shows a crewman cutting open the codend on a Dutch-owned fly-shooter to release a huge catch of bass well in excess of the catch limit.

The Telegraph quoted marine biologist Dr Ian Hendy at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Sciences as estimating that the video shows 10t of bass.

Agreed bass limits for 2022

Hooks and line: up to 5.95t from 5.7t per year per vessel

Fixed gill-nets: up to 1.5t from 1.4t per year per vessel

Trawl/beam trawl: 760kg per two months, up from 360kg per month, within 5% per trip limit

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here


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