The latest report from fisheries scientists has revealed that stocks of seabass around the UK and North European coast are now below the critical level at which recovery can be guaranteed.

Advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) for 2017 says: “ICES advises that when the precautionary approach is applied, there should be zero catch (commercial and recreational) in 2017.”

The Angling Trust and the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (BASS) warned UK and EU fisheries ministers last year that their failure to take heed of the scientific advice and begin radically reducing the commercial catch limits would eventually mean more pain in the long run as solutions proposed by ICES would get ever more draconian.

They made it clear that they have no expectation that EU ministers will implement in full the ICES advice with regard to bass as “no scientifically advised moratorium has ever been introduced by the EU Council in the history of the CFP.”

Both organisations have issued a joint statement setting out a call for all bass netting to cease and for bass to become a recreational and sustainable commercial hook and line species only. They want to see the introduction of a slot size for both hook and liners and anglers to allow the larger, most fecund individuals to be returned to contribute to stock recovery. Both the Angling Trust and BASS have made it clear that they see no case for further restrictions on recreational bass fishing given the strict bag limits that were introduced for anglers last year resulting in a zero take from January to June and a one fish per day limit for the remaining six months.

Martin Salter, National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust said: ” The politicians have only themselves to blame and their blatantly political decision taken last year, in contravention of clear scientific advice, to grant a four-month exemption and larger vessel catch limits to inshore gill netters and hook and liners from the proposed six month bass moratorium, which was unfair, irresponsible and inflicted further damage on already threatened bass stocks. Recreational bass fishing, which now has a tiny impact on bass fishing mortality, bore a disproportionate burden of last year’s catch restrictions and it is time that politicians finally grasped the nettle and end the unsustainable netting of this popular sporting fish before it is driven to extinction. ”

Both the Angling Trust and BASS are seeking an urgent meeting with UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice to discuss the government’s response to the ICES advice on seabass ahead of the European Council of Ministers meeting in December where the final decisions will be made.

Nigel Horsman from BASS said :”This is a sad day for bass stocks and for all those thousands of anglers who take so much pleasure from catching bass. We can only hope that our fishery managers and politicians learn from their mistakes and heed the lessons from other countries, such as the USA, who have faced similar situations. It is imperative that no risks are taken with the ability of the remaining bass stock to mount a recovery. But, provided we do that now, I am hopeful that bass stocks will recover. But we must also fix the underlying cause of the current problem which is commercial overfishing on a grand scale.”

David Curtis from the campaign group ‘Save Our Seabass’ added: “It is now confirmed that commercial fishing has put the very survival of the sea bass stock in jeopardy.  If the politicians do not now restrict the bass fishery to recreational angling and sustainable commercial hook & line fishing, we and future generations will hold them accountable for the disappearance of bass from our seas.”