Since this event, the European Commission have published a proposal for bass management measures in 2017. If adopted, only recreational fisheries and commercial hook and line will be allowed to target Northern Sea Bass, though there is still no move to introduce a plan for Southern Bass.
“We are happy about the proposal’s direction and most of the details. The biggest surprise may be the ban on bass fishing with nets. This alone would bring a robust reduction in the total of commercial bass catches, increase the protection of juvenile bass, and make control and enforcement easier.”
Recreational fisheries are often key to the social and economic prosperity of coastal regions. They support many sectors beyond fishing, including accommodation, hospitality and transport. In England alone, they are responsible for a spend of over £1.2 million, and support 10,400 jobs, figures which are even higher when their indirect impact is taken into account.
However, anglers are often overlooked when implementing fisheries policy, particularly in the case of sea bass. As a result, they often bear a disproportionate amount of the measures brought in to protect stocks.
Although the European Commission and Parliament introduced measures to significantly reduce the catch of bass in all fisheries, the Council of Ministers, which is comprised of national representatives, watered down these proposals, exempting commercial fisheries using hooks and lines and set gillnets, which account for 48% of total sea bass landings in 2015.
Of course, this did not stop countries implementing their own legislation to protect sea bass. Ireland, which is seen as having one of the better long-term management plans, put a ban on commercial bass fishing, and reduced anglers to 2 catches a day, meeting a minimum size requirement.
However, as neighbouring countries failed to take similar action, sea bass stocks are now at a dangerous level, with stocks below the level at which recovery can be guaranteed. The International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has advised a complete moratorium in 2017 as a precautionary approach.
This is an outcome no-one wishes to see. But, if action isn’t taken, we may miss our only opportunity to save sea bass stocks and those fisheries which rely on them. But it is essential to get the balance right between commercial and recreational fishers, taking account of the real responsibilities for over-fishing and the full economic and social implications involved.