EU legal minimum sizes for fish species do not apply to recreational fishing after the EU reviewed the Common Fishery Policy’s Technical Conservation Regulation which came into force last week.

The new regulation sets, among other things, the legal minimum landing sizes (minimum conservation reference sizes) and minimum mesh sizes for nets for a broad range of fisheries/fish species, including bass.

EU policy makers decided that the decision to apply minimum sizes to recreational fishing in the future lies with the EU Commission through regional agreement with EU countries – something that will not happen immediately.

As a result, the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs) in England have taken steps to ensure sufficient protection remains in place for immature and juvenile marine species. Some IFCAs have introduced emergency bylaws which are now in place and apply the existing EU minimum sizes to recreational fishing within 0-6 miles, within which the IFCAs manage fisheries. Other IFCAs, where emergency bylaw legislation could not be used, are reviewing the position in accordance with local priorities, intelligence reports received, and known risks for stocks targeted by recreational fishing.

The Angling Trust has always supported minimum sizes as a tool to conserve immature and juvenile species. The Trust’s voluntary minimum retention sizes, agreed with other sea angling organisations to ‘give fish a chance’, are set above most legally enforceable minimum sizes at the minimum size at which any species can have the opportunity to spawn at least once before capture. As a result, the Trust is working with the Association of IFCAs to find a long-term solution to the situation created by the EU.

David Mitchell, Head of Marine at the Angling Trust, said: “Anglers have been strong supporters of minimum sizes as simple and common-sense measures to protect juvenile fish and the future of our fisheries. Where there is now no legally enforceable minimum size that applies to recreational angling we encourage all members of the public fishing recreationally to adhere to our recommended retention sizes, or at the least the EU minimum conservation reference sizes. We will be looking to Defra to provide a permanent solution to this through the introduction of national legislation that protects immature and juvenile fish species. We will also be consulting recreational anglers on any proposals to change minimum legal sizes.”

The Angling Trust, through the European Anglers Alliance (EAA), has written to the EU Fisheries Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, highlighting the issue.

Jan Kappel, Secretary General of EAA, wrote: “We urge the Commission to make use of delegated acts to bring the minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) for all relevant species in line with scientific evidence for first spawning size as a minimum. This includes the MCRS for the Mediterranean Sea, where MCRS are ridiculously low.”

EAA will also be seeking an explanation for why minimum sizes were excluded from applying to recreational fishing. Although an EU legislation change, the issue is only impacting the UK as it is the only EU member which does not have minimum sizes for recreational fishing written into its own national legislation – instead having relied directly on the EU’s Technical Conservation Regulation.

The Angling Trust is encouraging all anglers to check with their local IFCA to see if emergency bylaws have been introduced and to help provide evidence to support an emergency bylaw where immature of juvenile stocks are at risk.