Following our publication of the Warsash Inshore Fishermen’s Group’s  ‘Bass Open Letter’ in the 14 April issue, below is the analysis of the House of Commons debate they referred to.

The Analysis: House of Commons Debate on Recreational Sea Bass Fishing 11 Feb 2016

By the Warsash Inshore Fishermen’s Group

We hope our ‘analysis’ may go some way to addressing some of the ‘disparities’ mentioned at the beginning of our letter to the Minister. It is not an exhaustive analysis by any means but we have tried to highlight some of the significant comments (from our perspective) made by MPs in this debate, and have added our own comments.

The fact that the entire debate was essentially secured on the basis of the effect on Recreational Sea Angling (RSA) interests between a one-fish/three-fish bag limit speaks volumes. WE ARE GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, WE HAVE AN UNFAIR QUOTA SYSTEM AND BASS SPECIALISTS ARE BEING CAPPED. THE HOUSE SHOULD BE DEBATING THAT FACT OVER ANYTHING ELSE.

p1819 para5: Scott Mann MP North Cornwall. ‘I am here not just to speak for myself as a recreational angler but for the 900,000 recreational sea anglers in the UK.

Our Comment: This debate was about the RSA ban on taking bass for the table in the first six months as well as the wider issues mainly from an angler’s perspective. We can understand the grievances felt by bass anglers and have no wish to diminish them BUT, this figure is quite significant:

If all of the 900,000 took just one kilo of bass in any one year (a 2lb bass), that would equate to 900 tonnes of bass, more than the UK commercial landings.

But that, of course, is assuming all the RSAs are active and that they all fish for bass. So let’s say a conservative 10% of the 900,000 are actively removing just one 2lb bass (1kg) per year. Of course they may remove more than one fish, but let’s just say it’s one fish. That would equate to 90 tonnes removed. (Or approximately five times our local licensed landings for the year). This is a significant quantity even by the very conservative guess work of ours. Later when Mr Walker, MP incredulously queries the figure of RSAs’ 25% removal of bass (see p1830 of the Debate) – we have to wonder why he would query it when we are constantly being told by the RSA lobby just how many anglers there are?

On the one hand, the angling lobby is saying something like: ‘just look at how many of us there are, 900,000, and how important our numbers are for the economy’, while some are also saying: ‘yes, but we return bass as catch and release because we regard it as a sport fish and don’t damage the stock’, while still others are saying, ‘yes, but we want to take one home for the table but our takings are insignificant compared to the commercial fleet, (even though we keep telling you just how many of us there are)’.

p1 820 para4: Scott Mann. (MP North Cornwall)-  ‘ EU data shows bass fishing is in decline’.

Our Comment:

This is a generally accepted theme being widely propagated by scientists/lobby groups. It could be truer for some areas than for others. But there are some contradictions to this depending on areas. These contradictions are being largely ignored.

– Our experience in the Solent, was that 2013 and 2014 were two of the best years for a long time for bass. 2012 not so good and 2015 down a bit, but that’s what happens: good years and bad years.  Check the landings data.

– How come bass are being caught in larger numbers where they were not caught before? Re. fisherman Peter Caunter’s experience with bass as a bycatch in his sole nets:

http://nffo.org.uk/news/the-realities-of-bass-conservation.html

– Chris Bean’s point of view in Cornwall:  http://www.westbriton.co.uk/Iconic-small-fishing-boats-Cornwall-face/story-28626230-detail/story.html

– and how come that our local Solent catches have been relatively consistent for the past 30 years, with some years better than others?

Conclusion: It may or may not be in ‘decline’- we are not saying it isn’t in decline in some parts of the EU, or that measures should not be implemented for some fisheries, but it is difficult to estimate the total biomass and difficult to know its movements. It certainly appears bass are changing migration patterns. Is this because of global warming and/or changes in their food target species like mackerel/sprats/sandeels? Why isn’t this being focused upon by the anti-commercial lobby?

The Solent Bass survey is often used to illustrate a ‘decline’ in bass populations. Data obtained from the Solent Survey may show a ‘decline’ but how much does this survey depend upon the presence of pelagic fish like mackerel/sprats and the bass which follow them?

It is known that mackerel are on the move north. It is known that puffins are in decline because abundant mackerel further north are predating on sandeels, the primary food source for puffins. (The decline of the puffin is not linked to commercial fishing.) It is known that mackerel did not show up inshore early in the year and this was widely reported. We know (from experience) that bigger bass don’t show up in numbers in the Solent unless the whitebait/mackerel is there also. A local decline of bass may therefore not be due to ‘overfishing’ as is often claimed. The Solent bass survey could actually be unreliable because of these changes in available food.  

These are some of the details we feel should be factored in to this debate on the ‘decline’ of bass.

p1821 para 1: Scott Mann– ‘also aware that gillnetting and commercial fishing are still permitted in bass nursery areas.’

Our Comment: That is a fact, but he fails to expand on this statement. This is the kind of statement that is often used to argue that fishermen are catching bass with gillnets/trawls within bass nursery areas. In turn this could be used by ‘lobbyists’ as a pretext to put pressure on the authorities to shut those areas down to all fishing activity. This pressure is already being applied but the fullness of the facts are not in evidence.

To a bass angler without the whole story, Mr Mann’s comment may sound shocking. However, The Southampton Water – part of the Solent fishery and a bass nursery area – has also been a mullet fishery for many years, as is Poole Harbour (also a bass nursery area), with a low incidence of bass by-catch. The fisheries management (SIFCA) have never regarded it as a problem as far as bass by-catch is concerned. It is wrong for MPs, who may not know about fishing, to start suggesting there is a problem where none exists. Mullet is an important seasonal fishery for inshore fishermen. Likewise, sole nets are also used within our bass nursery areas with virtually nil historical by-catch of bass for the mesh sizes/net types we use. Again, our local fisheries management have never regarded this as a problem, as far as we are aware. There is no reason (other than pressure from ‘stakeholder’ ‘imaginings’) why they should suddenly start to do so. 

Mr Mann returns to this point later on p1824 para 5- ‘and will it [DEFRA] consider a complete ban on gillnetting in nursery areas?

Again, no attempt made to differentiate between other forms of gillnetting which are already permitted within nursery areas for different species of fish. People can easily get the wrong idea. We have had people with fishing rods ashore shouting and swearing at us while we are mullet fishing, because they are assuming we are fishing for bass.

p1822 para 4 Scott Mann- ‘If our fishing boats have to go outside the six-mile limit to catch fish that surely shows that the fish are not actually within that limit and that fish stocks have been depleted over the years.’

Melanie Onn (MP Great Grimsby) made the previous statement and was talking about deep sea trawlers. But here Mr Mann decides to use that to suggest that inshore grounds are depleted. The suggestion is that they are depleted by commercial fishing. This makes no sense as far as bass are concerned because A) it is a highly mobile species. B) we have been fishing well enough for the past 30 years with (as previously mentioned) 2013/14 being very good years. In addition we personally cannot, and do not, go beyond the six-mile limit as some of us are are small, undecked inshore vessels.

In the same paragraph, Mr Mann makes a comment about the irrationality of the six-month RSA ban on taking bass. We agree it is irrational (that’s the EU for you) but also find it interesting that bass angling anti-commercial protagonists have, for years, made great play on the fact that they often catch and release bass, and can do so for the rest of the year. Indeed, many of the angling DVDs available nearly always show this catch and release practice; it is the cornerstone of their ‘sports fish’ designation. So, if most bass anglers catch and release, what is the problem? A one-bag limit (for the rest of the year) would still allow anglers to catch (and release) as many fish as they wish, thus fulfilling their recreation/pleasure purpose.

We would say that a 3-bag limit is a fair one but must also point out that with an unlicensed angling boat of 5-6 anglers, this would mean more than half a box (min size) – 2 boxes (larger size) of bass could be removed from the fishery per party per day – whether for consumption or illegal sale (never touched upon in the Debate). In an unregulated, un-licensed, non-safety aligned recreational fishery.

This is comparable to a modest to good day’s catch for one, small, registered and licensed fishing vessel, using methods such as the type we operate. What also needs to be stated is that for our small fishing community, 50% of the registered vessels are truly inshore vessels in that they are unable to operate far off shore for safety reasons, type of vessel. Whereas some modern, high-tech angling boats are able to do this and target a wide range of fishing marks and return at speed to safety should the weather conditions become unfavourable. In other words, they can be well-placed to fish effectively for bass at offshore marks by the line-caught method with the kind of catches mentioned above.

There is a widespread general assumption within angling circles that every small commercial boat MUST be taking huge quantities of bass. At least one of our local boats has only caught the monthly allocated quota of 1000kg in an entire year while a few others have 2-3 times that (for the entire year). What should be remembered is that the average inshore fisherman does not need a huge quantity of bass to keep going, due to usually favourable market prices.

Furthermore, should some bass anglers be successful in their efforts to re-allocate bass for entirely recreational purposes (aided and abetted by the Government ‘dodgy dossier’ 2012 report on sea angling/net benefits) it would aid, facilitate and encourage the illegal, criminal exploitation of bass for sale by unregistered/unlicensed individuals. It is well known this is already taking place but was not mentioned in this Commons Debate.

p1823 para2-6 Scott Mann: makes the case for the economic argument:

Our Comment:

There were a lot of figures quoted in this part of the debate that we have yet to see critiqued by the commercial lobby – maybe it already has, but if so, was not evidenced in this Commons Debate. That RSA for bass brings in more money than commercial bass fishing is, in the opinion of many within the commercial sector, a bogus argument with highly questionable economic figures, factoring in things like ‘hotel rooms and the price of a scone done in the right way’ (Kevin Foster MP, Torbay). It is also an irrelevant one, considering that the licensed fleet is empowered and mandated by Government to catch fish for human consumption within the limits of the scientific evidence (some of which is uncertain in our opinion). This mandate is consistently ignored by the pro-RSA lobby which has apparently been so successful in persuading MPs to consider the re-allocation of bass for solely recreational purposes.

p1824 Scott Mann: quotes from a letter from a West Country tour guide (it is not clear if this is a charter boat skipper or not) who is complaining about the lack of bookings apparently due to the ban on taking bass (presumably in the first six months of the year.)

Our Comment: We state again, that the complete angling moratorium (no bass for the first six months) is a heavy-handed one, but wonder why bookings would be ‘down’ when bass ‘sports fish’ anglers are supposed to be champions of catch and release? Yes they will ‘have to return fish in front of a commercial liner’ but that same liner is registered and mandated to retain fish.

Mr Mann then quotes from Henry Gilbey, TV fisherman and bass guide, who says that bass fishing isn’t good enough in south-east Cornwall and he has to spend time in Ireland. (We can’t comment on the Cornish fishery but restate again that 2013/14 were good years in the Solent – good/bad years come and go).

We can’t claim to know much about the Irish bass fishery except that the Irish bass angling experience is often held up as being a success by a wide range of commentators, and was referred to many times in this Commons Debate. But there are some anglers who are saying the opposite: that it is in decline.

http://www.anirishanglersworld.com/index.php/bass-fishing/irish-bass-fishery-policy-a-case-for-innovative-action-and-individual-responsibility/ 

Therefore, this could indicate that if a cessation in commercial fishing in Irish waters was supposed to have a positive long-term effect for the stock, (but that isn’t actually happening) what else can be concluded? Very difficult to know. The author of the article above seems to think there must be some undisclosed source of removal (maybe illegal). Although this can’t be discounted, it may also be unprovable. Perhaps the simple truth is that the fish are on the move and are more mobile than was originally assumed. We suggest that anglers have not yet grasped the fact of the high degree of mobility of bass. 

p1825/p1826 Mr Geoffrey Cox(MP West Devon) speaks up for the inshore fleet and explains the problem with the restrictive quotas and reminds the House that if bass is taken away from the inshore fleet there will not be enough fish for the inshore fleet to catch (because of crippling quotas).

Maria Caulfield (MP Lewes) mentions that the bass ban ‘is pitting RSA against the under-10m fleet’.

Our Comment: That is so, and the reason why we are critiquing this House of Commons Debate.

p1828 Mrs Madelaine Moon (Bridgend. Lab)

(There are some comments made here by Mrs Moon that are confusing and patently incorrect which must be critiqued and corrected.)

… says she ‘knows an ecological disaster when she sees one’ (because she lives with an ecologist).

Later, Mrs Moon says:

‘those outside this place (House of Commons) who have never had the joy of seeing a gillnet should be made aware that it leads to the violation of the EU fish-size regulations by allowing the catch of undersized fish, which are then thrown overboard dead. They do not help conserve fish stocks, because the undersized fish-the next generation of fish – are thrown back dead… yet the regulation is endorsed and supported by this Government.

She then says, in relation to the bass regulations endorsed by the Government‘I may not be an angler, but I know nonsense when I hear it…’

Our Comment. Well sorry Mrs Moon, we may not be a MP in the House of Commons, but we know nonsense when we hear it.

Firstly, she talks about ‘gillnets catching undersized fish which are then thrown back dead’. In the case of the local drift net fishery where a specific mesh size is tailored to catch a bass of above or equal to the minimum landing size, there are virtually no discarded undersized fish. Period. It is highly selective. In the case of bottom-set nets targeting bass (with the correct mesh size to operate legally): no discarded undersized bass. Some incidence of by-catch of fish like dogfish for example but highly selective for the target species. So the question arises: Where are you getting this rubbish information from, and why are you repeating it in the House of Commons – on record – in a misleading fashion?

Furthermore, where are the MPs who should/could question your rubbish statements in public? Or don’t they know either?

This kind of thing is a good example of erroneous notions about commercial fishing which will then be propagated and then used to put inshore fishermen out of operation. It cannot go by without being checked. We are being affected by this kind of propagated error.

Further Comments; We can only assume that Mrs Moon is getting mixed up with discards arising from trawling – not gillnetting – if so, she needs to re-familiarise herself with the facts of gillnetting instead of mixing things up, in common with many members of the general public who have accepted these propagated errors without question.

p1830 para 4: Mr Charles Walker (MP Broxbourne):

Complains that the six-month ban is not as good as it appears and that there is a four-month derogation for gillnets (fixed nets, inshore boats) ie Jan April, May, June. States that each boat will still be able to take 1.3 tonnes a month.

Our comment:

His implication is of course that this is way too much.

How will this four-month derogation really play out for us here in the Solent fishery?

In January we don’t catch bass in the Solent. In Feb/March there is a complete ban. In April and half of May we could have done some drift fishing with nets if the tide/weather allow – but are no longer able to do this because of the drift-net ban for bass. In the last part of May/June there would not usually be much drift netting because of the appearance of the ‘May water’ and associated ‘fire’ or phosphorescence (which renders the drift nets useless at night). There is no effective netting after this ‘fire’ appears until the cooler autumn months.

So we are left with ‘fixed nets’ in April/May; but because of the increase in MLS we would have to replace these at considerable cost – but wonder whether this will be economically feasible due to the constant meddling with this fishery, with another increase in MLS still being lobbied for.

As we have already pointed out to Suella Fernandez MP, who spoke on our behalf, the use of fixed nets is limited in the Solent because of strong tides and severe potential seaweed problems. We would not be successful with fixed nets much after the end of May for bass. In other words we only have April and May and that’s it.

So when the MP Mr Charles Walker states we will be allowed to take 1.3 tonnes a month, he is correct – but the opportunity of doing so, for even just two months in the first six months of the year, for us is now severely restricted.

As we have taken pains to point out to Miss Fernandez, ‘the devil is in the detail’ and because fishermen are generally, and understandably, secretive about their hard-won methods, the way that legislation is affecting some fishermen is not being gauged properly, because people do not understand how we work.

Instead, sweeping generalisations, backed up with, (in some cases), half-baked, erroneous notions, repeatedly propagated by misinformed individuals, are leading to rules and regulations which are putting some fishermen in certain areas out of operation.

p1830 Mrs Sheryll Murray MP East Cornwall reminds the house that RSAs take 25% of the total stock caught.

But this is challenged by Mr Walker who says:

‘only in the strange world of the EU could a few thousand blokes with fishing rods (well, a hundred thousand blokes…) account for 255 or 30% of the total bass taken… what a load of rubbish that is.’

Our Comment: see our opening comment at the beginning re: 900,000 sea anglers.

We are a small community of five or six licensed fishermen who are greatly outnumbered by angling boats now. We estimate that at a weekend last winter, during a good run of cod (for which we had a few kilos of quota and therefore could not catch much by law), there were dozens of day-angling boats who were catching kilos of cod and landing it without any restrictions (or checking by the authorities) in boats that are not registered and do not have to comply with safety specifications. Whether for the table or illegal sale they are still removing a quota fish from the fishery which is supposed to be under conservation.

We have already explained above that the average catch of a charter boat could match that or exceed a small, inshore licenced vessel. Therefore Mr Walker should reflect on this observation and listen to Mrs Murray who has also been in the fortunate position of having been married to a commercial fisherman and would know this is correct.

page 1830 para 11 (Charles Walker)

‘Let us be clear about this. The value of a bass on the dock is about £3.50 (three pounds fifty). The value of that same bass to recreational angling is worth about £100. It is worth 28 times more to RSA, than it is dead on the slab, going to market. 

Our Comment: since Mr Walker had made a previous reference to 1300 fish per 1.3 tonnes then is he referring to a 1kg bass? If so, his estimation of a 1kg bass fetching £3.50 is way off line since at the market we use we could get up to £10 kilo for his ‘fish on the dock’. A larger fish of 2-3kg, line-caught, could easily get 10 times what he’s quoting. Furthermore, a local restaurateur with a 4-5lb bass could get 8 portions per fish at £20 per portion, equating to a mark-up for him of £160. (He would of course have to subtract the cost of buying the bass from a registered, licensed fisherman)

But still, the figures we quote and Mr Walker’s bizarre figure of a £100 per fish from RSA is an irrelevance, since we are mandated to catch fish for the table whatever price we get.

p1831 Charles Walker: goes on to say that the real prize is to phase-out commercial bass fishing and replace it with a wholly recreational one, in line with Ireland, the US striped bass fishery and the recent Isle of Man. He reiterates and agrees with what was said by the MP for West Devon, Mr Cox, who pointed out that there are few fish in the sea left in the sea for commercial fishermen to target – (but Mr Cox was talking about limited quotas that prevent more fishing once they have been quickly filled) – Mr Walker states again that ‘… as I was saying there are very few fish left in the sea for inshore commercial fishermen to target, and once they have finished with bass, there will be nothing left. So here is an opportunity: let us create a recreational sea bass fishery that is the envy of the western world’.

Our Comment: He doesn’t clarify whether he means quotas or not. We assume his implication is that everything is fished out and that the same thing is happening to bass, but he doesn’t mention the paltry 4% allocated quota for the entire inshore fleet or the fact that DEFRA is shrinking the fleet by licence capping to fit this ridiculously small available quota, or that inshore fishermen are going out of business because of it. He just uses that statement to plug the RSA agenda, yet again, with no regard to the consequences for the inshore fleet.

Mr Walker then compares the £71 million value for RSA bass fishing in Ireland with the entire UK commercial catch value (£7m) but does not mention all the other downstream contributions to the economy that commercial inshore fishing boats bring. Again a purely economic comparison.

p1832 Mr Walker ‘Let us not make this a row between recreational fishermen and inshore fishermen.

Our Comment: As we stated in our letter, some elements of RSA lobby are attempting to appropriate bass for their own exclusive use – not all anglers agree with what is happening. (And some commercial fishermen started out as anglers). The problem is that a hard core are still apparently not satisfied with the EU bass fishing restrictions that have been put in place, and have lobbied so hard that they have also been put out by the EU measures.

Mr Walker: para 4

‘without threatening jobs, we could start to think collectively about creating a new opportunity for what remains of our inshore fleet to thrive and prosper, and about having a sustainable fishery and not one that is here today, gone tomorrow? As my Hon. Friend for Torridge/West Devon made clear, many fisheries around his coast have been here today and gone tomorrow, and they are now in the last chance saloon’.

Our Comment:

The point that Mr Cox was correctly making was that the fishermen in his constituency are unable to catch more because of crippling quotas, not that there are no fish in the sea to be caught. They are in the ‘last chance saloon’ because of that system (while French boats fish merrily away off the 12-mile limit for haddock that UK boats are not permitted to catch once the paltry quota has been filled).

To suggest that a solution to this (other than creating a fairer quota system and preventing boats from going out of business because of the policy of licence capping) is to re-allocate fish for solely recreational purposes, is bizarre. Our situation is not the same as the US bass fishery or Ireland’s.

Mrs Sheryll Murray: Rightly points out that some commercial boats rely on bass and explains that it is costly for them to replace gear (new net sizes) and that banning drift netting is unfair because they rely on this in a seasonal fishery.

Our Comments: Absolutely correct, as we have explained above, in our case it is only a matter of a few weeks in the spring (which has now been taken away from us) meaning some of the smaller boats will have to wait for half the year before earning a proper wage.

Maria Caulfield, MP Lewes. Supports Mrs Murray in her statement and mentions the fact about the Newhaven fishermen being severely caught out by investing in drift nets just before a ban was announced without warning.

Our Comments: We pointed this out to the Minister in our attached letter. We also are unable to plan ahead because we do not know what will happen next and there will probably be no warning, as per usual.

In conclusion. We recognise that some of the EU restrictions on bass could hopefully improve the stock, and welcome this, but we resist the repeated attempts by some individuals to re-allocate bass for only recreational purposes using in some cases (not all, please understand) false information and entrenched, propagated errors.

Warsash Inshore Fishermen’s Group

March, 2016.

 

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Following our publication of the Warsash Inshore Fishermen’s Group’s  ‘Bass Open Letter’ in the 14 April issue, below is the analysis of the House of Commons debate they referred to. The Analysis: House of Commons Debate on Recreational Sea Bass Fishing 11 Feb 2016 By the Warsash Inshore Fishermen’s Group We hope our ‘analysis’ may go some way to addressing some of the ‘disparities’ mentioned at the beginning of our letter to the Minister. It is not an exhaustive analysis by any means but we have tried to highlight some of the significant comments (from our perspective) made by MPs in this debate, and have added our own comments. The fact that the entire debate was essentially secured on the basis of the effect on Recreational Sea Angling (RSA) interests between a one-fish/three-fish bag limit speaks volumes. WE ARE GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, WE HAVE AN UNFAIR QUOTA SYSTEM AND BASS SPECIALISTS ARE BEING CAPPED. THE HOUSE SHOULD BE DEBATING THAT FACT OVER ANYTHING ELSE. p1819 para5: Scott Mann MP North Cornwall. ‘I am here not just to speak for myself as a recreational angler but for the 900,000 recreational sea anglers in the UK. Our Comment: This debate was about the RSA ban on taking bass for the table in the first six months as well as the wider issues mainly from an angler’s perspective. We can understand the grievances felt by bass anglers and have no wish to diminish them BUT, this figure is quite significant: If all of the 900,000 took just one kilo of bass in any one year (a 2lb bass), that would equate to 900 tonnes of bass, more than the UK commercial landings. But that, of course, is assuming all the RSAs are active and that they all fish for bass. So let’s say a conservative 10% of the 900,000 are actively removing just one 2lb bass (1kg) per year. Of course they may remove more than one fish, but let’s just say it’s one fish. That would equate to 90 tonnes removed. (Or approximately five times our local licensed landings for the year). This is a significant quantity even by the very conservative guess work of ours. Later when Mr Walker, MP incredulously queries the figure of RSAs’ 25% removal of bass (see p1830 of the Debate) – we have to wonder why he would query it when we are constantly being told by the RSA lobby just how many anglers there are? On the one hand, the angling lobby is saying something like: ‘just look at how many of us there are, 900,000, and how important our numbers are for the economy’, while some are also saying: ‘yes, but we return bass as catch and release because we regard it as a sport fish and don’t damage the stock’, while still others are saying, ‘yes, but we want to take one home for the table but our takings are insignificant compared to the commercial fleet, (even though we keep telling you just how many of us there are)’. p1 820 para4: Scott Mann. (MP North Cornwall)-  ‘ EU data shows bass fishing is in decline’. Our Comment: This is a generally accepted theme being widely propagated by scientists/lobby groups. It could be truer for some areas than for others. But there are some contradictions to this depending on areas. These contradictions are being largely ignored. – Our experience in the Solent, was that 2013 and 2014 were two of the best years for a long time for bass. 2012 not so good and 2015 down a bit, but that’s what happens: good years and bad years.  Check the landings data. – How come bass are being caught in larger numbers where they were not caught before? Re. fisherman Peter Caunter’s experience with bass as a bycatch in his sole nets: http://nffo.org.uk/news/the-realities-of-bass-conservation.html – Chris Bean’s point of view in Cornwall:  http://www.westbriton.co.uk/Iconic-small-fishing-boats-Cornwall-face/story-28626230-detail/story.html – and how come that our local Solent catches have been relatively consistent for the past 30 years, with some years better than others? Conclusion: It may or may not be in ‘decline’- we are not saying it isn’t in decline in some parts of the EU, or that measures should not be implemented for some fisheries, but it is difficult to estimate the total biomass and difficult to know its movements. It certainly appears bass are changing migration patterns. Is this because of global warming and/or changes in their food target species like mackerel/sprats/sandeels? Why isn’t this being focused upon by the anti-commercial lobby? The Solent Bass survey is often used to illustrate a ‘decline’ in bass populations. Data obtained from the Solent Survey may show a ‘decline’ but how much does this survey depend upon the presence of pelagic fish like mackerel/sprats and the bass which follow them? It is known that mackerel are on the move north. It is known that puffins are in decline because abundant mackerel further north are predating on sandeels, the primary food source for puffins. (The decline of the puffin is not linked to commercial fishing.) It is known that mackerel did not show up inshore early in the year and this was widely reported. We know (from experience) that bigger bass don’t show up in numbers in the Solent unless the whitebait/mackerel is there also. A local decline of bass may therefore not be due to ‘overfishing’ as is often claimed. The Solent bass survey could actually be unreliable because of these changes in available food.   These are some of the details we feel should be factored in to this debate on the ‘decline’ of bass. p1821 para 1: Scott Mann– ‘also aware that gillnetting and commercial fishing are still permitted in bass nursery areas.’ Our Comment: That is a fact, but he fails to expand on this statement. This is the kind of statement that is often used to argue that fishermen are catching bass with gillnets/trawls within bass nursery areas. In turn this could be used by ‘lobbyists’ as a pretext to put pressure on the authorities to shut those areas down to all fishing activity. This pressure is already being applied but the fullness of the facts are not in evidence. To a bass angler without the whole story, Mr Mann’s comment may sound shocking. However, The Southampton Water – part of the Solent fishery and a bass nursery area – has also been a mullet fishery for many years, as is Poole Harbour (also a bass nursery area), with a low incidence of bass by-catch. The fisheries management (SIFCA) have never regarded it as a problem as far as bass by-catch is concerned. It is wrong for MPs, who may not know about fishing, to start suggesting there is a problem where none exists. Mullet is an important seasonal fishery for inshore fishermen. Likewise, sole nets are also used within our bass nursery areas with virtually nil historical by-catch of bass for the mesh sizes/net types we use. Again, our local fisheries management have never regarded this as a problem, as far as we are aware. There is no reason (other than pressure from ‘stakeholder’ ‘imaginings’) why they should suddenly start to do so.  Mr Mann returns to this point later on p1824 para 5- ‘and will it [DEFRA] consider a complete ban on gillnetting in nursery areas? Again, no attempt made to differentiate between other forms of gillnetting which are already permitted within nursery areas for different species of fish. People can easily get the wrong idea. We have had people with fishing rods ashore shouting and swearing at us while we are mullet fishing, because they are assuming we are fishing for bass. p1822 para 4 Scott Mann- ‘If our fishing boats have to go outside the six-mile limit to catch fish that surely shows that the fish are not actually within that limit and that fish stocks have been depleted over the years.’ Melanie Onn (MP Great Grimsby) made the previous statement and was talking about deep sea trawlers. But here Mr Mann decides to use that to suggest that inshore grounds are depleted. The suggestion is that they are depleted by commercial fishing. This makes no sense as far as bass are concerned because A) it is a highly mobile species. B) we have been fishing well enough for the past 30 years with (as previously mentioned) 2013/14 being very good years. In addition we personally cannot, and do not, go beyond the six-mile limit as some of us are are small, undecked inshore vessels. In the same paragraph, Mr Mann makes a comment about the irrationality of the six-month RSA ban on taking bass. We agree it is irrational (that’s the EU for you) but also find it interesting that bass angling anti-commercial protagonists have, for years, made great play on the fact that they often catch and release bass, and can do so for the rest of the year. Indeed, many of the angling DVDs available nearly always show this catch and release practice; it is the cornerstone of their ‘sports fish’ designation. So, if most bass anglers catch and release, what is the problem? A one-bag limit (for the rest of the year) would still allow anglers to catch (and release) as many fish as they wish, thus fulfilling their recreation/pleasure purpose. We would say that a 3-bag limit is a fair one but must also point out that with an unlicensed angling boat of 5-6 anglers, this would mean more than half a box (min size) – 2 boxes (larger size) of bass could be removed from the fishery per party per day – whether for consumption or illegal sale (never touched upon in the Debate). In an unregulated, un-licensed, non-safety aligned recreational fishery. This is comparable to a modest to good day’s catch for one, small, registered and licensed fishing vessel, using methods such as the type we operate. What also needs to be stated is that for our small fishing community, 50% of the registered vessels are truly inshore vessels in that they are unable to operate far off shore for safety reasons, type of vessel. Whereas some modern, high-tech angling boats are able to do this and target a wide range of fishing marks and return at speed to safety should the weather conditions become unfavourable. In other words, they can be well-placed to fish effectively for bass at offshore marks by the line-caught method with the kind of catches mentioned above. There is a widespread general assumption within angling circles that every small commercial boat MUST be taking huge quantities of bass. At least one of our local boats has only caught the monthly allocated quota of 1000kg in an entire year while a few others have 2-3 times that (for the entire year). What should be remembered is that the average inshore fisherman does not need a huge quantity of bass to keep going, due to usually favourable market prices. Furthermore, should some bass anglers be successful in their efforts to re-allocate bass for entirely recreational purposes (aided and abetted by the Government ‘dodgy dossier’ 2012 report on sea angling/net benefits) it would aid, facilitate and encourage the illegal, criminal exploitation of bass for sale by unregistered/unlicensed individuals. It is well known this is already taking place but was not mentioned in this Commons Debate. p1823 para2-6 Scott Mann: makes the case for the economic argument: Our Comment: There were a lot of figures quoted in this part of the debate that we have yet to see critiqued by the commercial lobby – maybe it already has, but if so, was not evidenced in this Commons Debate. That RSA for bass brings in more money than commercial bass fishing is, in the opinion of many within the commercial sector, a bogus argument with highly questionable economic figures, factoring in things like ‘hotel rooms and the price of a scone done in the right way’ (Kevin Foster MP, Torbay). It is also an irrelevant one, considering that the licensed fleet is empowered and mandated by Government to catch fish for human consumption within the limits of the scientific evidence (some of which is uncertain in our opinion). This mandate is consistently ignored by the pro-RSA lobby which has apparently been so successful in persuading MPs to consider the re-allocation of bass for solely recreational purposes. p1824 Scott Mann: quotes from a letter from a West Country tour guide (it is not clear if this is a charter boat skipper or not) who is complaining about the lack of bookings apparently due to the ban on taking bass (presumably in the first six months of the year.) Our Comment: We state again, that the complete angling moratorium (no bass for the first six months) is a heavy-handed one, but wonder why bookings would be ‘down’ when bass ‘sports fish’ anglers are supposed to be champions of catch and release? Yes they will ‘have to return fish in front of a commercial liner’ but that same liner is registered and mandated to retain fish. Mr Mann then quotes from Henry Gilbey, TV fisherman and bass guide, who says that bass fishing isn’t good enough in south-east Cornwall and he has to spend time in Ireland. (We can’t comment on the Cornish fishery but restate again that 2013/14 were good years in the Solent – good/bad years come and go). We can’t claim to know much about the Irish bass fishery except that the Irish bass angling experience is often held up as being a success by a wide range of commentators, and was referred to many times in this Commons Debate. But there are some anglers who are saying the opposite: that it is in decline. http://www.anirishanglersworld.com/index.php/bass-fishing/irish-bass-fishery-policy-a-case-for-innovative-action-and-individual-responsibility/  Therefore, this could indicate that if a cessation in commercial fishing in Irish waters was supposed to have a positive long-term effect for the stock, (but that isn’t actually happening) what else can be concluded? Very difficult to know. The author of the article above seems to think there must be some undisclosed source of removal (maybe illegal). Although this can’t be discounted, it may also be unprovable. Perhaps the simple truth is that the fish are on the move and are more mobile than was originally assumed. We suggest that anglers have not yet grasped the fact of the high degree of mobility of bass.  p1825/p1826 Mr Geoffrey Cox(MP West Devon) speaks up for the inshore fleet and explains the problem with the restrictive quotas and reminds the House that if bass is taken away from the inshore fleet there will not be enough fish for the inshore fleet to catch (because of crippling quotas). Maria Caulfield (MP Lewes) mentions that the bass ban ‘is pitting RSA against the under-10m fleet’. Our Comment: That is so, and the reason why we are critiquing this House of Commons Debate. p1828 Mrs Madelaine Moon (Bridgend. Lab) (There are some comments made here by Mrs Moon that are confusing and patently incorrect which must be critiqued and corrected.) … says she ‘knows an ecological disaster when she sees one’ (because she lives with an ecologist). Later, Mrs Moon says: ‘those outside this place (House of Commons) who have never had the joy of seeing a gillnet should be made aware that it leads to the violation of the EU fish-size regulations by allowing the catch of undersized fish, which are then thrown overboard dead. They do not help conserve fish stocks, because the undersized fish-the next generation of fish – are thrown back dead… yet the regulation is endorsed and supported by this Government. She then says, in relation to the bass regulations endorsed by the Government‘I may not be an angler, but I know nonsense when I hear it…’ Our Comment. Well sorry Mrs Moon, we may not be a MP in the House of Commons, but we know nonsense when we hear it. Firstly, she talks about ‘gillnets catching undersized fish which are then thrown back dead’. In the case of the local drift net fishery where a specific mesh size is tailored to catch a bass of above or equal to the minimum landing size, there are virtually no discarded undersized fish. Period. It is highly selective. In the case of bottom-set nets targeting bass (with the correct mesh size to operate legally): no discarded undersized bass. Some incidence of by-catch of fish like dogfish for example but highly selective for the target species. So the question arises: Where are you getting this rubbish information from, and why are you repeating it in the House of Commons – on record – in a misleading fashion? Furthermore, where are the MPs who should/could question your rubbish statements in public? Or don’t they know either? This kind of thing is a good example of erroneous notions about commercial fishing which will then be propagated and then used to put inshore fishermen out of operation. It cannot go by without being checked. We are being affected by this kind of propagated error. Further Comments; We can only assume that Mrs Moon is getting mixed up with discards arising from trawling – not gillnetting – if so, she needs to re-familiarise herself with the facts of gillnetting instead of mixing things up, in common with many members of the general public who have accepted these propagated errors without question. p1830 para 4: Mr Charles Walker (MP Broxbourne): Complains that the six-month ban is not as good as it appears and that there is a four-month derogation for gillnets (fixed nets, inshore boats) ie Jan April, May, June. States that each boat will still be able to take 1.3 tonnes a month. Our comment: His implication is of course that this is way too much. How will this four-month derogation really play out for us here in the Solent fishery? In January we don’t catch bass in the Solent. In Feb/March there is a complete ban. In April and half of May we could have done some drift fishing with nets if the tide/weather allow – but are no longer able to do this because of the drift-net ban for bass. In the last part of May/June there would not usually be much drift netting because of the appearance of the ‘May water’ and associated ‘fire’ or phosphorescence (which renders the drift nets useless at night). There is no effective netting after this ‘fire’ appears until the cooler autumn months. So we are left with ‘fixed nets’ in April/May; but because of the increase in MLS we would have to replace these at considerable cost – but wonder whether this will be economically feasible due to the constant meddling with this fishery, with another increase in MLS still being lobbied for. As we have already pointed out to Suella Fernandez MP, who spoke on our behalf, the use of fixed nets is limited in the Solent because of strong tides and severe potential seaweed problems. We would not be successful with fixed nets much after the end of May for bass. In other words we only have April and May and that’s it. So when the MP Mr Charles Walker states we will be allowed to take 1.3 tonnes a month, he is correct – but the opportunity of doing so, for even just two months in the first six months of the year, for us is now severely restricted. As we have taken pains to point out to Miss Fernandez, ‘the devil is in the detail’ and because fishermen are generally, and understandably, secretive about their hard-won methods, the way that legislation is affecting some fishermen is not being gauged properly, because people do not understand how we work. Instead, sweeping generalisations, backed up with, (in some cases), half-baked, erroneous notions, repeatedly propagated by misinformed individuals, are leading to rules and regulations which are putting some fishermen in certain areas out of operation. p1830 Mrs Sheryll Murray MP East Cornwall reminds the house that RSAs take 25% of the total stock caught. But this is challenged by Mr Walker who says: ‘only in the strange world of the EU could a few thousand blokes with fishing rods (well, a hundred thousand blokes…) account for 255 or 30% of the total bass taken… what a load of rubbish that is.’ Our Comment: see our opening comment at the beginning re: 900,000 sea anglers. We are a small community of five or six licensed fishermen who are greatly outnumbered by angling boats now. We estimate that at a weekend last winter, during a good run of cod (for which we had a few kilos of quota and therefore could not catch much by law), there were dozens of day-angling boats who were catching kilos of cod and landing it without any restrictions (or checking by the authorities) in boats that are not registered and do not have to comply with safety specifications. Whether for the table or illegal sale they are still removing a quota fish from the fishery which is supposed to be under conservation. We have already explained above that the average catch of a charter boat could match that or exceed a small, inshore licenced vessel. Therefore Mr Walker should reflect on this observation and listen to Mrs Murray who has also been in the fortunate position of having been married to a commercial fisherman and would know this is correct. page 1830 para 11 (Charles Walker) ‘Let us be clear about this. The value of a bass on the dock is about £3.50 (three pounds fifty). The value of that same bass to recreational angling is worth about £100. It is worth 28 times more to RSA, than it is dead on the slab, going to market.  Our Comment: since Mr Walker had made a previous reference to 1300 fish per 1.3 tonnes then is he referring to a 1kg bass? If so, his estimation of a 1kg bass fetching £3.50 is way off line since at the market we use we could get up to £10 kilo for his ‘fish on the dock’. A larger fish of 2-3kg, line-caught, could easily get 10 times what he’s quoting. Furthermore, a local restaurateur with a 4-5lb bass could get 8 portions per fish at £20 per portion, equating to a mark-up for him of £160. (He would of course have to subtract the cost of buying the bass from a registered, licensed fisherman) But still, the figures we quote and Mr Walker’s bizarre figure of a £100 per fish from RSA is an irrelevance, since we are mandated to catch fish for the table whatever price we get. p1831 Charles Walker: goes on to say that the real prize is to phase-out commercial bass fishing and replace it with a wholly recreational one, in line with Ireland, the US striped bass fishery and the recent Isle of Man. He reiterates and agrees with what was said by the MP for West Devon, Mr Cox, who pointed out that there are few fish in the sea left in the sea for commercial fishermen to target – (but Mr Cox was talking about limited quotas that prevent more fishing once they have been quickly filled) – Mr Walker states again that ‘… as I was saying there are very few fish left in the sea for inshore commercial fishermen to target, and once they have finished with bass, there will be nothing left. So here is an opportunity: let us create a recreational sea bass fishery that is the envy of the western world’. Our Comment: He doesn’t clarify whether he means quotas or not. We assume his implication is that everything is fished out and that the same thing is happening to bass, but he doesn’t mention the paltry 4% allocated quota for the entire inshore fleet or the fact that DEFRA is shrinking the fleet by licence capping to fit this ridiculously small available quota, or that inshore fishermen are going out of business because of it. He just uses that statement to plug the RSA agenda, yet again, with no regard to the consequences for the inshore fleet. Mr Walker then compares the £71 million value for RSA bass fishing in Ireland with the entire UK commercial catch value (£7m) but does not mention all the other downstream contributions to the economy that commercial inshore fishing boats bring. Again a purely economic comparison. p1832 Mr Walker ‘Let us not make this a row between recreational fishermen and inshore fishermen. Our Comment: As we stated in our letter, some elements of RSA lobby are attempting to appropriate bass for their own exclusive use – not all anglers agree with what is happening. (And some commercial fishermen started out as anglers). The problem is that a hard core are still apparently not satisfied with the EU bass fishing restrictions that have been put in place, and have lobbied so hard that they have also been put out by the EU measures. Mr Walker: para 4 ‘without threatening jobs, we could start to think collectively about creating a new opportunity for what remains of our inshore fleet to thrive and prosper, and about having a sustainable fishery and not one that is here today, gone tomorrow? As my Hon. Friend for Torridge/West Devon made clear, many fisheries around his coast have been here today and gone tomorrow, and they are now in the last chance saloon’. Our Comment: The point that Mr Cox was correctly making was that the fishermen in his constituency are unable to catch more because of crippling quotas, not that there are no fish in the sea to be caught. They are in the ‘last chance saloon’ because of that system (while French boats fish merrily away off the 12-mile limit for haddock that UK boats are not permitted to catch once the paltry quota has been filled). To suggest that a solution to this (other than creating a fairer quota system and preventing boats from going out of business because of the policy of licence capping) is to re-allocate fish for solely recreational purposes, is bizarre. Our situation is not the same as the US bass fishery or Ireland’s. Mrs Sheryll Murray: Rightly points out that some commercial boats rely on bass and explains that it is costly for them to replace gear (new net sizes) and that banning drift netting is unfair because they rely on this in a seasonal fishery. Our Comments: Absolutely correct, as we have explained above, in our case it is only a matter of a few weeks in the spring (which has now been taken away from us) meaning some of the smaller boats will have to wait for half the year before earning a proper wage. Maria Caulfield, MP Lewes. Supports Mrs Murray in her statement and mentions the fact about the Newhaven fishermen being severely caught out by investing in drift nets just before a ban was announced without warning. Our Comments: We pointed this out to the Minister in our attached letter. We also are unable to plan ahead because we do not know what will happen next and there will probably be no warning, as per usual. In conclusion. We recognise that some of the EU restrictions on bass could hopefully improve the stock, and welcome this, but we resist the repeated attempts by some individuals to re-allocate bass for only recreational purposes using in some cases (not all, please understand) false information and entrenched, propagated errors. Warsash Inshore Fishermen’s Group March, 2016.  

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