When we talk about the impact of fisheries policy in Europe, it’s natural for us to automatically think of the influence it has on smaller scale fishing in our coastal towns, or the huge trawlers that head out into the deep sea. It’s important to remember, though, that fisheries policy also has a great impact not only on those who fish for food, but also those who fish for fun. And the contribution such fishers make to our economy is also important, with an estimated 1 million recreational Sea Bass anglers spending in excess of €100 million a year in western Europe’s coastal communities.
It was British recreational anglers that first alerted me back in September of the crisis we have concerning our bass stocks. It seems that the stocks are under threat in the waters closest to the UK: the English Channel, the Southern North Sea, the Irish Sea and the Celtic Sea. This is largely due to the fact that since the 1970s the fishing industry has preferred bass as an alternative to catching other depleted inshore fish stocks in these seas, leading to the rise in popularity of the species as a gourmet table fish. Unfortunately, given the combination of slow growth and late maturity of Sea Bass, the species is very vulnerable to over exploitation and localised depletion — which is exactly what we are seeing now.
I am very pleased to hear that the European Commission this week has announced emergency measures to alleviate the threat to the conservation of Sea Bass in our waters. What this means in practice is that during the spawning months for the species this year (January to May), it will be prohibited to catch Sea Bass in the known key spawning areas.
It certainly is a bold step for the European Commission, on a matter that has not been without its opponents from the larger industrial players. Such reactive emergency measures really should serve as a reminder that Sea Bass is without a doubt a species of fish on which we need to improve the level of scientific knowledge of stocks, to improve the quality of future pre-emptive evidence-based policy-making.