An open letter to the Angling Trust and Angling Trades Association

Messrs Mitchell and Werner of the Angling Trust/Trades Association says that it is untrue that the RSA lobby is trying to shut down commercial bass fishing. (Fishing News, 5 October, 2017, ‘Angling Trust and Angling Trades Association refute Ian Gilbert claims’).

I will try to explain why many commercial fishermen would not agree with them and why fisherman Gilbert’s statement is actually a reasonable one.

Mr Mitchell’s claim that the Angling Trust is working with commercial hook and line associations may be true, but there are good reasons why licensed fishermen should still be wary of the lobby’s hidden agendas. There is also a history of interventions by the angling lobby in commercial fishing matters: that is another reason why Skipper Gilbert’s claim is justified.

The problem is that your lobby’s continuous interventions have lead commercial fishermen to the conclusion that they are effectively being managed ‘by proxy’ by the angling sector. The result is a loss of trust between licensed fishers and your lobby and with DEFRA. This is not helped by MP’s like Benyon and Bradshaw who have effectively stated that bass should be given to the RSA.

This perception is made even worse when it is considered that your lobby- however well- meaning it regards itself to be- has no certification in law except the ‘stakeholder’ status title. Even so, DEFRA appear to be listening to your lobby and implementing bass measures which show an uncanny correspondence to the 2004 Bass Management Plan submitted by your new partner society BASS. This plan was even commissioned by DEFRA themselves.

Only recently, lead BASS campaigner Nigel Horsman let slip and stated now would be a good time to take the commercials out of the equation entirely.

So, you see Mr Mitchell, this agenda to re-allocate to RSA is never far away. Your lobby never holds back from using the bass stock situation to push their other agenda based on re-allocation of the species to RSA ‘sport’ designation at every opportunity.

There are some serious ‘smoke and mirrors’ going on here, which is what happens when lobby groups employ spin and re-marketing methods to re-landscape the status quo. They cannot help themselves. They are trying to ‘re-market’ bass as a ‘sports fish’, and there is another reason why commercial bass line –fishermen such as myself should be wary of their agenda, despite the lobby’s claims that they are promoting a hook and line commercial fishery as well as promoting RSA.

In BASS’s ‘Bass Management Plan’ a number of measures were suggested: one is a ‘slot-size’ for bass. If this happens, then commercial line caught fisheries will become un-viable. Your sneaky RSA lobby PR men know this, but they have lulled hook and liners into a false sense of security. In fact, we may currently be living in a fool’s paradise. Who knows what they are cooking up with DEFRA behind the scenes in the updated plan your Angling Trust claims to be working on? Commercial bass line fishers beware: it will just be a matter of time before the angling lobby spin doctors start whispering this one in the ears of the policy makers.

Even small registered boats like mine-running economically on low rev diesels and with modest catches- will not be able to make line caught bass fishing viable if a slot-size is adopted; we will have to return 80% of the catch! Mr Mitchell, you and your clever new associates at BASS are playing a stealthful waiting game – you must think we are stupid, but we know what is going on. Your attempt to say in your reply to Skipper Gilbert that your lobby is not trying to shut down our commercial fishery is not very convincing.

Regarding netting: there is clear evidence of intervention by the lobby to take nets out of the equation (which is part of the lobby’s dogma and has been for years). Instead of promoting simple quotas and net limitations, they always wanted them out of the equation completely, hence the Trusts intervention in the fixed net stipulation 2016 and the resultant ‘unavoidable by-catch’ clause we now have.

And guess what? DEFRA did exactly what the Angling Trust wanted, with no consultation whatsoever and no compensation measures. In fact, you are expecting commercial fishermen to make way for your RSA agenda (and supposed conservation benefits) for free and pay with their licences and livelihoods.

This leads to the first ‘Elephant- in- the- Room’ of the angling lobby. It concerns juvenile bass capture by RSA and associated mortality.

Consider this: In the small- scale gillnet fishery of encirclement, there is virtually NO JUVENILE BY CATCH, PERIOD. But, if there are 50 anglers on a beach, catching say, 4 bass a session (some juvenile as is common with small hooks they use) that equates to 200 bass. Apply the ICES figure of 20 % post hooking mortality and you have 50 bass which are going to die. Now along comes one of the Warsash mullet ring netters with his one bin of net going around in a circle with appropriate selected mesh size. How many juveniles will he catch? Answer: None. 100% size selective. If you don’t believe me Mr Mitchell, just speak with our IFCA, who we have been cooperating with on this matter; a detailed report is now available.

I am not saying that there is not a problem with some forms of gillnetting and bycatch and reduced size selectivity in fixed nets set in tide, I am simply trying to show that your lobby’s dogmatic approach to netting has damaged the reputation of small scale fishers for ever because of the lazy, dishonest claim about juvenile bass capture by some of your associates (in the Mullet Club for example) and the resulting public back-lash against nets in the estuaries.

You and your colleagues are responsible for this state of affairs and no one has contested you. You have avoided (so far) having a spotlight shone on your own activity, where juvenile bass mortality is technically also a significant problem. And yet we are the ones being shouted at from the beach by your internet-brainwashed followers while out mullet netting. It should be the other way around.

The lobby routinely accuse commercial fishermen of not accepting ‘the evidence’- so now I am asking you to accept the evidence regarding post hooking mortality in RSA. This is your angling lobby’s first, big ‘elephant in the room’ and yet you have so far avoided a public discussion about this or any form of contestment on this by DEFRA, SEAFISH, the IFCA’s or even the NFFO. Why?

Now for the  RSA lobby’s second ‘Elephant-in-the-Room’: Sports fish designation.

Your Trust has openly joined forces with BASS and their baggage of a hard-line objective of re-allocation to a sport fishery. But let’s look at this activity in the cold light of objective reason.

This ‘sport’ fishery would largely usurp the commercial capture of fish for food (the basic reason for my licence) and replace it with a highly questionable activity which, in some countries, is already banned.

I’m sorry if this upsets some people as it is a taboo subject, but this is the inconvenient truth your lobby tries to hide from the public: Some Governments already regard your ‘sport’ activity and ‘catch and release’ as the repeat and systematic mistreatment of fish for the thrill of it; ‘our sport’ as BASS like to frame it. These Governments regard it as an unacceptable activity, unless fishing for the pot, and have banned it on that basis. (Germany and Switzerland)

You may claim that this type of sport fishery was implemented in the US striped bass fishery with conservation benefits. That may be so, but just because it has not been contested in the USA, does not mean the mis-treatment argument is in-valid.

In commercial fishing, I know that a fish is going to die, and that I will be responsible for that fishes death. Whether by hook or net, the result is the same. But, the big difference is: (as with animal farming), there is a clear, food supply objective to it. This is not the case with angling for ‘fun’ or ‘sport’, even if it is ‘economically’ justified by a thousand DEFRA Sea Angling Reports and their MP and scientific backers.

Would the Government endorse the catch and release- (with supersize hooks on the ends of rope)-lambs and pigs by members of the public in Britains fields? All for sport, because it is a ‘benefit for the economy’ (all those pig-anglers spending lots of money on rope, hooks, hotels and coffee and cake)? No.

Remember Mr Mitchell: some countries already take a very dim view of catch and release on the grounds I have just mentioned unless the fish is caught for the pot. Your angling lobby is pretending this issue does not exist- but unless you have the guts to face it, the second ‘elephant’ may come back to bite you in the future, if UK public opinion turns against catch and release/sport angling for thrills. Of course, by then your lobby will have succeeded in disbanding commercial bass fishing entirely and will start to claim they need to have a licence to sell their catch….

But wait! BASS have already suggested this in their 2004 Bass Management Plan! Commercial fishermen should be aware of this and start joining the dots. The RSA lobby actually want to be able to sell their own catch! It’s in the same report that DEFRA commissioned, quietly waiting in the wings for the slick angling PR men to roll out when the time is right.

How ironic. Now are you beginning to understand Mr Mitchell why commercial fishermen think your lobby are trying to close down our legal fishing? Is it any wonder that commercial fishers like Skipper Gilbert are sick to the back teeth with your lobby’s interventions.

Worse still is the fact that MP’s appear to be bending over backwards to endorse your agenda over the commercial supply of wild fish for food and putting licenced fishermen out of operation for the priviledge of promoting RSA for ‘sport’! You really could not make this stuff up! Only in Britain eh?

Now for the third ‘elephant-in-the-room’..the biggest one of all.

In order to justify the re-designation of fisheries to RSA over commercial supply, DEFRA will have to undermine the very licence system, which commercial fishers are legally certified under to catch fish for food. This ‘elephant in the room’ is legally the most significant. If implemented it would make a mockery of the entire system of commercial licencing.

Our licensing should give us a certain legal standing under British Law to supply fish for food. In order to carry out that ‘instruction’ we are required to be administered to from no less than seven authorities: DEFRA, MMO, IFCA’s, SeaFish, MCA, Fish Industry Training Associations, and the British Registry of Shipping. We are certified and certificated to fish under British Law.

This third ‘elephant-in-the-room’ is what that the angling lobby pretends is not there. They do not have this degree of certified endorsement and yet they freely attempt to undermine ours, using economic arguments and continually invoking article 17 of the EU CFP.

So, the ‘three elephants of the angling lobby’ are there for all to see: juvenile bass hooking mortality (compared to net mesh size selectivity), morality of sport fishing for thrills/fun (catch and release) and undermining the licence system for commercial fishing supply of wild fish for food. (by claiming RSA is economically more superior). All served up with a good dose of PR lobby spin doctoring, economics and good old stonewalling from the Authorities.

I submit that your lobby and DEFRA never openly discuss any of the three ‘elephants’ because they are afraid that the public may begin to cotton-on to what is really going on.

Ironically, your new associate BASS’s latest YouTube video is entitled, ‘Eating an elephant..more quickly’ (the elephant presumably being commercial fishing interests). Well, here are three for you to eat, all at once Mr Mitchell.

It would appear that your lobby are wilfully colluding with DEFRA to create a direction of travel for the bass fishery which undermines and makes a mockery of the very same system of commercial licensing that DEFRA have previously ordained in law under the commercial British Registry of Shipping Act and which we (commercial fishers) must legally abide with. If this collusion can be proved, then DEFRA will be laying themselves open to legal action by licensed fishermen on a large scale.

Your lobby has given DEFRA a massive, potential ‘conflict of interests’-issue headache.

All of this could have easily been avoided if your lobby had just campaigned for straightforward, reasonable management measures for stock replenishment, and had the patience to see the results, for all of us to benefit from.

But they did not: they have compounded the situation with economic, sport re-allocation ‘parity’ arguments backed by DEFRA and Blue Marine and caused a rift between recreational anglers and commercial fishermen like myself and Mr Gilbert.

That is the whole problem with your obsessive angling lobby Mr Mitchell: you never know when to stop. After your recent intervention in the un-avoidable by-catch net stipulation, the latest is the suggestion of a one tonne catch limit for bass per year from SOS Bass. You even ‘acquired’ the individual vessel catch records to justify your suggestion! How long will it be before that ‘slot size’ I mentioned earlier rears its head?

With all that in mind, I suggest that Mr Gilbert’s claims are reasonably justified and that the angling lobby and DEFRA/MMO are now sitting on a powder keg of potential litigation that may well be about to explode in their faces. All it needs now, is for some brave commercial fishermen to light the fuse…


Steve Matthews, skipper ‘Sandie Ann’

Warsash, Solent, Hants.

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