Bass Requires Action not Overreaction

23rd November 2015 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The Federation writes to the Minister on the need for a proportionate response to bass management.

Bass Requires Action not Overreaction
Photo courtesy of Seafish

Dear Minister

We would make four points as we move towards the December Council and critically important decisions on bass.

1. The emerging scientific advice on bass indicates that successive below-average year classes and an overall fishing mortality that is too high, requires remedial action.

2. Landings statistics make plain that a very large number of fishermen, using a range of gears, depend on bass for a significant part of their annual income.

3. The history of the CFP is littered with examples where clumsy measures have made things worse rather than better

4. The Commission's Proposal, which amounts in effect to a moratorium on bass, is driven by the legally binding but wholly arbitrary requirement to reach MSY by 2016 or 2020 at the latest.

Against this background we consider that it is important that the UK takes a measured and proportionate position at the December Council.

A moratorium would have devastating social and economic consequences. The science on bass gives cause for concern; but it does not justify overreaction. Catch limits, an increased minimum conservation reference size and bag limits have been in place for under a year; it takes time for the effect of measures to work through.

Against this difficult background, we urge you to position the UK to:

1. Reject the Commission's proposal

2. Support proportionate step-wise measures - but only after the efficacy of those measures that have already been put in place have been properly evaluated

4. Recognise the multi-faceted dimension of the bass fishery and therefore the need for measures tailored to the specifics of each fishery

5. Take account of the potential for unintended consequences, not least the scope to generate a significant discard problem where none existed

On this latter point, it is important to learn the lessons of the recent past, where ministers have not infrequently agreed eye-catching blanket measures that deliver much less than hoped for. The obvious example is North Sea cod, ministers' actions resulted in a dramatic increase in discards, which can only have impeded recovery. A more intelligent and effective approach only emerged later. We think that this is an important lesson that has significance for bass.

The most important step to be taken in the present circumstances is to establish an effective dialogue between fishermen who rely on bass for their livelihoods, fisheries scientists and fisheries administrators as to what measures would work and which not work in their fleet sector. Because of the complexity of the bass fishery it is metier specific measures that are required and the old discredited blanket knee-jerk carries a risk of making things worse.

Tony Delahunty

NFFO Chairman