The fisheries minister (Jonathan Shaw) today described on BBC Breakfast as “heartbreaking” that EU rules were forcing fishermen catching cod in the North Sea to throw them back dead.

Richard Ferré, chairman of the National Federation of Sea Anglers, said today that a month ago Mr. Shaw himself in a scarcely publicised move, committed an equally heartbreaking act telling fishermen that they were free to go on slaughtering in the sea and then selling, huge numbers of small “plate size” immature bass.

“It is ironic that at the first sign that cod stocks may be recovering the first thing the minister wants to do is to take more fish out of the sea,” he said.

“The same philosophy no doubt guided his decision to allow the bass slaughter to continue.  In the longer term such actions threaten fishstocks and the livelihoods of commercial fishermen and the 19,000 people employed in the sea angling industry.”

The bass fishermen are now allowed to kill are only 36cm (14 inches) long and not big enough to spawn.

“He completely reversed a decision by his predecessor (Ben Bradshaw) who after months of deliberation had agreed to protect baby bass from overfishing and raise the landing size to 40cm (nearly 16 inches), ” said Mr. Ferré.  “It was part of a plan to raise the size to 45cm (nearly 18 inches) by 2010 by which time the fish caught would all have spawned.”

It was to have been part of a programme to regenerate bass stocks, allowing them to grow much bigger and develop valuable fisheries for both commercial fishermen and sea anglers.  The recreational sea angling industry is worth £1 billion a year and there are a million sea anglers.

But Mr. Shaw said he could not back the measure because the brunt would have been borne by the inshore fishing fleet ‘”given its current pressures and the present healthy state of the stock.”

His short sighted action has been condemned by the government’s own parliamentary spokesman on angling (Martin Salter MP) who said he had seen nothing to suggest, as the minister did, that raising the size limit would have a “significant impact” on commercial fishermen.  Mr. Salter added that the survival of any species was dependent on its ability to breed at least once.

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