Politicians from right across the political divide, including former Fisheries Ministers Richard Benyon (Con) and Ben Bradshaw (Lab), have thrown their weight behind the campaign for a complete ban on bass netting.
Across Northern Europe, sea bass stocks are in deep trouble because of commercial overfishing and the repeated failure of politicians and fishery managers to follow scientific advice and introduce the necessary conservation measures.
The Angling Trust and Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS) have pressed hard for a ban on bass netting and are campaigning in full support of the recent EU Commission’s proposals for 2017 for a sustainable and well managed recreational and commercial hook and line only bass fishery.
They have met with Fisheries Minister George Eustice and urged him to follow the science and not repeat the political fix of last year which saw anglers disproportionately restricted while commercial catch limits were actually increased.
A national petition backed by Angling TV presenters Henry Gilbey and Matt Hayes has attracted nearly 11,000 signatures in just a couple of weeks – well over the threshold needed to force a public response from the government.
Richard Benyon said:
“Scientists tell us that bass stocks are crashing in UK waters. The EU has said that there should only be a recreational and commercial hook and line bass fishery with a ban on all netting. We need this proposal to be upheld.
“I am proud to have been made a ‘bass champion’ by the Angling Trust. This amazing species could be part of a regeneration of coastal communities if a proper sporting fishery was allowed to thrive alongside robust conservation measures.”
Speaking in last week’s annual fisheries debate in the House of Commons, Ben Bradshaw said:
“I also hope that when the Minister goes to the Council in December, he will take a very tough line on bass. The state of bass around our waters is catastrophic, although that was completely avoidable. We have done far too little, too late.
“I cannot understand why we in this country do not adopt the policy that operates in the Republic of Ireland, where bass is treated solely as a recreational species. Many Members may not realise this, but if we look at the big picture, it is clear that recreational angling contributes more to our overall economy than the commercial catching sector.”
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust, said:
“We are delighted that Richard Benyon and Ben Bradshaw are backing the campaign to protect our threatened bass stocks from overfishing. In their time as our Fisheries Ministers, both Richard and Ben took this issue seriously and accepted that action was needed when others were content to turn a blind eye to the increasingly dire warnings from the scientists.”
Other MPs calling for bass conservation measures included Peter Aldous and Scott Mann from the Conservatives and Labour’s Shadow Fisheries Minister Sue Hayman.
Peter Aldous MP said:
“I want to ask the Minister to address the plight of sea bass. Last year’s disproportionate restrictions on anglers and increased commercial catch limits were bad for bass, bad for the charter boat fleet and bad for fishing.”
Scott Mann MP said:
“It is now time to act. I welcome the comments of the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and believe that now is the time to follow the science on bass. All indications point to stocks being at a critical level.
“I have been on the record before to ask for hook-and-line commercial and recreational bass fisheries, and I speak again for that today.”
Sue Hayman MP said:
“We must seek to preserve conservation measures established under EU law. The sustainability of fish stocks has to be a priority. I support the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) about sea bass. How can we have continued commercial netting of a stock that is below critical levels?”
The campaign has been coordinated by Angling Trust Campaigns Chief Martin Salter who led the delegation to the minister and organised extensive briefings for MPs ahead of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels next week.
Martin Salter said:
“It’s been great to see thousands of anglers from right across Britain taking the time and trouble to stand up for our threatened bass stocks by writing to their MPs and signing and sharing our petition. Such unity of purpose helps deliver a loud and clear message right into the heart of government and it is now abundantly clear that MPs are starting to take note of the powerful case we have made to end the damaging and unsustainable practice of gill netting for bass.”