Fishing Opportunities for 2024

On 6 December, Defra said the UK and EU have signed an agreement for 2024 fishing opportunities, but the agreement has not yet been published. What does this agreement mean for sea anglers?

Pollack: no restrictions on recreational fishing in 2024. Although the scientists says recreational fishers have a substantial impact on the pollack stock, Defra says the evidence base is very limited. The UK and EU will explore the potential for managing recreational pollack fishing via the Specialised Committee on Fisheries. A “bycatch TAC” (Total Allowable Catch) has been agreed for commercial fishers, rather than the zero TAC recommended by ICES.

Bass: no change to bass catch limits, however Defra noted poor recruitment is a challenging situation. Defra say they are following the ICES advice, which is recommending a 7.7% reduction in the bass stock, as being the best available science.

But shouldn’t fishery managers be asking the scientists “how can it be ok to reverse, in one year, the biomass gains of the last 3 years, when there is declining recruitment and we are supposed to be recovering the stock back up to a safe level?” World-class fisheries management involves questioning counter-intuitive advice, not simply accepting it at face value.

It’s the Fish, Stupid!

What’s the most important thing for fishery managers to do?  Make sure there are plenty of fish in the sea of course!

But in the bass fishery, the Government instead targets maximising the number of bass killed.  The result of this disastrous policy is a stock size just 30% of what it would be if there were no fishing.  Shocking, isn’t it? 70% of the bass stock has gone.

This policy makes no sense, even for a commercial fishery, since it is well-established that targeting a higher stock size would increase commercial fishing profits.  But when you consider the bass fishery is predominantly a recreational fishery1 that values an abundance of big bass, maximising the number of bass killed is downright nuts!

So surely the Government is planning to fix this with the shiny, new Bass Fishery Management Plan that is now in consultation?  Astonishingly, it isn’t!  It intends to keep maximising the number of bass killed and has suggested it will “seek to review and carry out new research to assess alternative harvest strategies for bass that prioritise societal and ecosystem benefits”.  Note the words “seek to review”.  So they aren’t even making a firm commitment to review this policy, let alone change it.  And guess what? They aren’t going to do anything in the short term, saying they will do this in the “medium to long term”, and we all know what that might mean – kick the can down the road until most people have forgotten about it and then kick it into the long grass.

It’s unacceptable that the Government isn’t making targeting a higher bass stock level a high priority for the Bass Fishery Management Plan.  If you agree, please go to our website and send an email to your MP asking him or her to contact the Fisheries Minister asking for a strong commitment to change this policy quickly.  Your email will be copied to the consultation mailbox, but please also go to the Government’s consultation webpage and submit a reply.

If we all act now, we and future generations will reap the benefits of a bigger and more resilient bass stock.

Note: 1 by bass put on British family plates, number of participants and economic value  

Bass Angling Conservation – at the heart of the political debate on the future of the bass fishery in Northern Europe.

A New Harvest Strategy for Bass

The Government’s Joint Fishery Statement included two key goals that are at the heart of world class fisheries management:

  1. Protect and improve our fish stocks; and
  2. Manage fish stocks to maximise the benefit to coastal communities.

So what bass stock level will maximise benefits to coastal communities?

One thing is certain, Maximum Sustainable Yield (“MSY”), which maximises only the tonnage of bass that is killed and sold, is not the answer.

  • MSY is recognised by scientists as being economically inferior to the principle of Maximum Economic Yield, so an MSY policy will not maximise benefits.
  • We have seen very clearly the result of using MSY for bass – a disastrous stock crash from which the stock is making a very slow recovery.  Coastal communities are still paying a heavy price for this mismanagement.

Defra has now shared its preliminary thinking on the Bass Fishery Management Plan (“FMP”) and we are very pleased to see that it includes the goal of maximising the benefits of bass fishing for local coastal communities.  However, that goal simply cannot be achieved without the right harvest strategy and Defra’s proposals on this front are far too timid.  They propose starting work in three years’ time (2026) on new research to assess alternative harvest strategies, with no plan for adoption or implementation.

The relationships between stock size and socio-economic benefits for coastal communities are complex and it will take scientists several years from 2026 to investigate these and propose an optimised harvest strategy.  It will then take years for future Governments to adopt and implement the harvest strategy and more years again for the fish stock to grow to the optimal size.  At that rate, we will be stuck with the failed MSY approach well into the 2030’s and probably not achieve the optimal stock size until 10 or 15 years after that.  Are we really prepared to fail on a key goal for the bass fishery and coastal communities for the next twenty years or more?  If so, what is the point of the Bass FMP?

We can do better than this by following the enlightened lead of fishery managers in Queensland, Australia.  They are aiming for a final target of 60% of the unfished stock size (as a proxy for Maximum Economic Yield) by 2027, with an interim target of 40-50% of the unfished stock size as a stepping-stone.

We should do the same.  We know that Maximum Economic Yield gives better economic benefits than MSY, so we should aim now for Maximum Economic Yield while the scientists work on providing an optimised harvest strategy within the next 3 years.

So we are asking Defra to be more ambitious in the draft Bass FMP and to recognise the need for concrete, rapid actions:

  • State firmly that we will move from MSY as soon as possible in order to achieve the goal of maximising benefits for coastal communities.
  • Set an interim goal of a bass stock size of 40-50% of the unfished stock size and ask the scientists to provide an interim harvest strategy to achieve this.
  • Ask the scientists to start working now on understanding the relationships between stock size and socio-economic benefits for coastal communities.
  • Set a date within the next 3 years for adopting a final harvest strategy aimed at maximising benefits for coastal communities.

Let’s put the Bass FMP firmly on track to deliver:

  • a more resilient bass stock that can cope with bad years when fewer young fish survive to maturity.
  • a higher Catch Per Unit of Effort for commercial fishers (so less fuel and time expended) and recreational fishers (fewer “blanks” and more bass per session).
  • higher commercial yields per fish (since the average fish size will be bigger).
  • more of the very big fish that recreational fishers love to catch.

Maximise Benefits to Coastal Communities from the Bass Fisheries Management Plan

Our government has said it wants the UK’s fisheries to be “world class” and is bringing in Fishery Management Plans (“FMP”) to help achieve this.     The Bass FMP is a frontrunner FMP and is particularly interesting because the major stakeholder by participation and socio-economic value generated is recreational fishing, not commercial fishing. 

To deliver a world class bass fishery, we need the right goal.  What should that goal be?  In 2004, the government Cabinet Office published a paper called “Net Benefits”, which included the recommendation that  “The overarching aim of fisheries management should be ‘to maximise the return to the UK of the sustainable use of fisheries resources and protection of the marine environment’ and stated the government has a responsibility to manage marine activities “to ensure the best value is made of the UK’s marine resources and biodiversity is preserved”.

Looking at best practice overseas, in 2016 the Government of Queensland, Australia, said it will “Adopt harvest strategies that have the flexibility to maximise benefits, for both the community and the ecosystem” and also said “Our limited fisheries resources should be shared and allocated in a way that provides the greatest economic value, while ensuring ongoing sustainability and greater resilience.”

Our fisheries belong to all of us, and isn’t it blindingly obvious that they should be managed to deliver the best long-term benefits to our society as a whole?   Yet currently our government is managing the bass fishery primarily to deliver the maximum tonnage of bass that can be killed and has paid little or no attention to the question of how to get “best value” from the bass fishery.  This must change. The Bass FMP must have as its overarching goal the maximisation of benefits for our coastal communities.

Help Stop Industrial Fishing For Sandeels

Here is an amazing opportunity to improve the North Sea ecosystem: the UK government is consulting on options to stop industrial fishing for sandeels in UK waters in the North Sea.

The industrial fishing for sandeels has been damaging the ecosystem by removing food desperately needed fish and birds (especially Puffins and Kittiwake).

Please respond to the consultation and select option1, to stop sandeel fishing in the whole of UK waters in the North Sea.

Visit the consultation

And please share this consultation link to your friends and family.