The Angling Trust and Save Our Sea Bass have ramped up pressure on the European Commission after new scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) revealed that bass mortality from sea anglers is much lower than estimated last year.

The two lobbying organisations have signed a joint letter – through the European Anglers Alliance (EAA) – addressed to European Commissioner for Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, demanding that the bag limit is reinstated as soon as possible. They have also been lobbying fisheries ministers and UK MPs.

In October 2017, ICES provided an estimate of sea bass mortality attributable to public sea angling of 1,627 tonnes, which resulted in the introduction of a complete ban on sea anglers taking a bass for the table in 2018.  This was while commercial hook and line and net fishermen could continue landing bass, effectively privatising the bass fishery. A proposed ban on anglers targeting bass in 2018 was overturned, following a 13,000 signature petition organised through the EAA.

In view of the restrictions already placed upon sea anglers over preceding years, the Angling Trust, Save our Sea Bass and European Anglers Alliance believed ICES estimates of angler-induced bass mortality to be far too high, and have been liaising with the scientists since October to arrive at an estimate that reflects the 1 fish bag limit, a 6-month fishing season and an increased Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS – Minimum Landing Size) of 42 cm.

ICES has used a revised methodology to come up with a figure that represents an 87% decrease in the estimated impact of recreational fishing in 2016 compared to the figures published last year. Scientists are now estimating recreational removals from 2016 were only 212t, compared to a previously estimated 1627t.

The Angling Trust is now calling on all anglers to get behind the campaign to re-establish a bag limit as soon as possible for the remainder of 2018.

Martin Salter, Head of Campaigns for the Angling Trust, said: “Members of the public wishing to take a bass they’ve caught home for dinner have suffered this year as a result of a massive overestimate by scientists about the impact they were having on bass. Now the truth has come out and it’s absolutely critical that anglers’ voices are heard by EU policy makers – we want to be able to keep bass for the table this year and we want it now! Get behind the campaign today and get bass justice now. Please use the hashtags #BackTheBagLimit and #BassJusticeNow and make sure you tag Commissioner Vella @KarmenuVella in your Tweets.”

Reg Phillips, Sea Angling Consultant for the Angling Trust, added: “One of the reasons why the public learn the art of sea angling is to have the skills to harvest free healthy food from the sea; to learn where, when and how to catch a suitable fish for the family table. In 2018 the public were denied that historical privilege; coastal communities denied much need income from anglers targeting bass because scientists miscalculated the RSA take from our public owned fisheries. Now thanks to the AT, BASS, SOSB and thousands of anglers, the scientists have accepted their massive error. As such the public should immediately be reinstated with a one fish bag limit until the end of 2018 and then assessed to increase the bag limit as bass stocks continue to recover to healthy numbers. Priority to harvest fish for the table within our public owned fisheries must always reside with the public. Despite the injustice of the bass restriction on the public, it was with great pride to witness anglers and charter skippers across the country honour their commitment to support bass conservation as they do many other species, which has gone unrecognised for decades.”

David Curtis, Director at Save our Sea Bass, concluded: “The massive downward revision of the estimate of bass mortality caused by sea anglers shows that we have been disproportionately hammered since 2016.  Not only was the removal of the bag limit a mistake, but the 1 fish bag limit was an inappropriate reduction in anglers’ share of bass fishing opportunities. At the same time, UK commercial hook & line landings have actually increased! The EU Commission must now reinstate a bag limit as quickly as possible and should give priority to sea anglers’ fishing opportunities, since we deliver the greatest social and economic benefits.”