Cornwall IFCA faces legal challenge over refusal to halt illegal commercial fishing of juvenile bass

Fish Legal report 12th April 2019: Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority has been threatened with judicial review following a decision not to introduce a new emergency byelaw which would have protected juvenile bass from commercial fishing nets.

The IFCA has been given formal notice by Fish Legal, acting on behalf of its member the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS), following concerns at the lack of regulation of bass exploitation.

Juvenile bass trapped in a fishing net.
Credit: David Curtis

Over recent years, scientific advice published annually by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has repeatedly shown bass stock at a dangerously low level as the result of commercial over-fishing, successive years of very low numbers of young fish reaching maturity and a lack of coordinated control measures.

In 2015, the European Commission increased the minimum landing size for bass from 36cm to 42cm, allowing female bass the opportunity to spawn before capture. At the time, the Commission said: “Allowing catching and landing of sea bass at a size of less than 42cm seriously harms the reproductive capacity of this stock, contributing significantly to the overall fishing mortality, and causes a serious threat to the conservation of the sea bass stock.”

In June 2018, the ICES assessment stated that bass spawning stock biomassbiomass The amount of living matter. This is therefore a different measure to numbers of organisms. So, for example, there is much more biomass in 1 elephant than there is in 1000 fleas and there may be more biomass in 100 large cod than you would find in 150 small (because of over fishing) cod. had fallen further and was “below critical level”, making it more important than ever to protect juvenile bass.

Last December, the Cornwall IFCA was told by a representative of the Marine Management Organisation that its officers had witnessed multiple landings of undersized bass from the St Ives Bay zone within the IFCA’s District. At the same meeting, a proposal was made to introduce an emergency byelaw to increase net mesh size to 108mm to avoid undersized bass being caught by commercial fishermen.

In February, the Cornwall IFCA met again to consider passing the emergency byelaw but following advice from Defra that such a byelaw “could be subject to challenge”, the IFCA committee decided not to go-ahead with the byelaw.

Fish Legal believes that Cornwall IFCA did not properly consider the issues fully and should have introduced the increased mesh size to force boat owners to protect juvenile bass.

Fish Legal also argues that, under European regulations, there is an urgent need to take measures for the minimum catch size to be respected and that need continues with the current threat to bass population through unlawful netting and landing of undersized bass.

Furthermore, Fish Legal believes the Cornwall IFCA Committee was ‘misdirected’ by its Chief Officer regarding the workload implications of introducing an emergency byelaw.

David Curtis, a Committee member of BASS, said: “In February, sea anglers were dismayed when the Cornwall IFCA decided not to take urgent action to stop the slaughter of juvenile bass in its district. The IFCA argued that it was “foreseeable” that, three years after the increase to a 42cm Minimum Conservation Reference Size, commercial fishermen would still be using nets with too small a mesh size and therefore it could not introduce an emergency byelaw. BASS believes Cornwall IFCA did not consider the matter properly and therefore its decision was unlawful.

“BASS is deeply grateful to Fish Legal for helping us give formal notice of a proposed claim for judicial review. We hope Cornwall IFCA will reconsider its decision and provide the urgent protection that these juvenile bass need.”


Source: Fish Legal news release, 12th April 2019. For further details see

Fish Legal report, 7th May 2019.

Last month, Fish Legal reported that the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) had been threatened with legal action for deciding to reject a proposal for a new emergency byelaw which would have protected juvenile bass from commercial fishing nets.

The scientific advice is that that bass stock is at a dangerously low level as the result of commercial overfishing and successive years of very low numbers of young fish reaching maturity. This is aggravated by a lack of coordinated control measures.

In February, the Cornwall IFCA threw out the suggested emergency byelaw on legal advice from Defra that it “could be subject to challenge”.

However, the IFCA is now claiming that it did not approve the byelaw because the situation is not “urgent” (as required by the legislation) and it refuses to disclose the full Defra legal advice despite the considerable public interest.

Cornwall IFCA is also claiming that it “had not been made directly aware of the landings of undersize bass due to small nets with a small mesh size” and that it could not get further information from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) due to “data protection issues”.

“As a result, Cornwall IFCA does not have any direct evidence to indicate that mesh sizes were the cause of the landing of undersize bass.”

The MMO, however, are on record as having drawn the Committee’s attention to the use of nets that catch undersized fish.

Cornwall IFCA has also suggested that “determination of net mesh size is not a matter resolved by an emergency byelaw but by education, consultation and if necessary, a byelaw developed under section 155 of MaCAA”.

David Curtis of Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society said: “Cornwall IFCA’s continuing failure to protect juvenile bass is damaging its reputation as a conservation authority. Over 150 anglers have written to the IFCA in recent weeks asking it to reconsider its decision not to introduce an emergency byelaw. But instead of putting the fish first and putting the matter back to its Committee, Cornwall IFCA seemingly prefers to waste taxpayers’ hard-earned money on legal action.”

Justin Neal, solicitor at Fish Legal said: “This is an unfortunate position for the Cornwall IFCA to be in as it clearly has the ability to use its powers to prevent the ongoing problem of under-sized bass netting. The simplest way to resolve the current impasse and possibility of legal action would be for its Committee to reconsider the proposal, this time with a full discussion of the issues.”


Source: Fish Legal news release, 7th May 2019. For further details, see


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22 Responses to “Cornwall IFCA faces legal challenge over refusal to halt illegal commercial fishing of juvenile bass”

Comment posted on 7th June 2019

Scientific advice re mesh sizes.
14 years, yes 14 years ago, And still CIFCA are resisting, unbelievable!
Please remove conservation from your title and replace with exploitation.

Comment posted on 6th June 2019

The CIFCA Committee made the decision not to proceed with an emergency byelaw based on the Chief Officer’s summary of some legal advice that Defra obtained. It now transpires that the Committee members weren’t even shown the full legal advice.

Fish Legal have explained that there is at least one alternative interpretation of the law that would have allowed CIFCA to make an emergency byelaw. But CIFCA is refusing to release the Defra legal advice, even to its own Committee members, which means the Committee members are now unable to properly consider if they made the right decision and should reconsider the issue.

What a disgrace! There is nothing top secret or sensitive about the legal advice – why are CIFCA officers hiding it, even from Committee members! And why are they fighting this rather than trying to find a way to do what is right for a threatened bass stock, give it immediate protection from netting of juvenile bass.

a summary of legal asupposedly based on legal advice that was inadequate because it did not consider that there are alternative ways of interpreting the “foreseeability” test, ways that Fish legal have put forward.

Kevin W
Comment posted on 4th June 2019

Come in on Cornwall IFCA. Even Cornwall Y.M.C.A could see that this would be a sensible step to take. There is simply no reason why any responsible and professional body would not see that increasing mesh size makes sense for the long term future of bass, anglers and commercials. Please do the right think and act now.

Geoff Hancock
Comment posted on 4th June 2019

There always seems to be someone else or another procedure that can be blamed rather than taking an otherwise sensible course of action such as increasing mesh size commensurate with allowing fish to breed before they are prosecuted. Who is standing up for the species in Cornwall? It seems CIFCA are either hiding behind an excuse or simply not undertaking their duties competently, either way taking what appears to be an easy route by doing nothing.

Richard S
Comment posted on 31st May 2019

Seems to be the typical joined up thinking so prevalent these days. Introduce a law to increase the mcrs to protect a species under threat, then refuse to introduce an increase in mesh size that will stop netters catching under size fish and throwing them back dead. If they want to be seen as a conservation authority they need to do the blazingly obvious and increase mesh size to match mcrs.

Comment posted on 31st May 2019

When will CIFCA actually live up to their title and begin to administer and police MEANINGFUL CONSERVATION measures regarding the current and WHOLLY INADEQUATE net mesh sizes?
I find it unbelievable that CIFCA can be SO NAIVE as to trust all Commercial near shore netters to spend money on new nets in order to fish more sustainably.
Why would they voluntarily spend more money in order to catch less fish when they know that the IFCA’S and MMO are unlikely to follow through with any prosecutions!!
CIFCA need to increase minimum mesh sizes in line with the current Bass MCRS of 42cm.
They need to make it Black &White with No Grey areas so that everyone knows where they stand.
Bring in an emergency bye-law NOW and DO NOT waste another four years.
Talk about stating the bleeding obvious!!!

Comment posted on 31st May 2019

So CIFCA by not applying a bylaw due to fear of a legal challenge you’ve now find yourselves facing legal action!!!! How many more immature bass have died during this time? and how many will be before your proposed section 155 of MaCAA would come into force in several years time. Disgraceful mismanagement of threatened Bass stocks.

Jim Wiltshire
Comment posted on 30th May 2019

We are trying to protect future stocks of a slow growing and overfished species of fish. Part of this protection was the introduction of a new size limit that should allow female bass to spawn once. It is beyond comprehension that nets with mesh sizes that take fish below this size are still in use and that there is no urgency to address this!

Francis Parfrement
Comment posted on 30th May 2019

it’s clear that, in failing to increase mesh sizes, juvenile bass will continue to be caught. Worse, this is happening at a time when stocks are at a precarious level and creates an emergency situation.Fishers who have done the right thing and increased mesh sizes are seeing their good work being undone.

Steve P
Comment posted on 30th May 2019

If CIFCA is aware of numerous undersized bass being caught and it has the powers to fix the problem – then fix it.
Shying away from taking decisions / introducing emergency byelaws because of the remote possibility of a legal challenge will never get anything positive done.

Dave S
Comment posted on 15th May 2019

No excuses. Cornwall IFCA is supporting an illegal fishery. Criminal!!

Alan Baker
Comment posted on 14th May 2019

Small mesh equals small fish equals undersized fish. Come on chaps. Get real. Please.

R M Newcombe
Comment posted on 14th May 2019

Come on CIFCA do your job. Remember what happened to our mackerel back in the 1970’s!

Robin Bradley
Comment posted on 14th May 2019

CIFCA’s decision not to make an emergency bylaw to increase minimum mesh sizes was a mistake. Their decision to refuse to revisit this, in the light of current thinking, demonstrates that they have lost sight of the fundamental issues here, opting to get bogged down in administrative minutiae rather than addressing an urgent conservation issue.

Marilyn G
Comment posted on 13th May 2019

Please increase the mesh sizes and help stop killing juvenile bass.
Those responsible for the decision should be ashamed of themselves.

T Spires
Comment posted on 13th May 2019

Shameful dereliction of duty.

If I performed this poorly in my work I’d be shown the door. Why are they allowed to get away with it? They’re, at best, unfit for purpose…

Steve R
Comment posted on 13th May 2019

Come on Cornwall IFCA what ever are you thinking? Do what’s right for bass and the dwindling stocks, compliant and honest fishermen and our children and their children. INCREASE the mesh size. Sea bass belong to the public and are for all to enjoy for years to come. I’m thinkinking the C in IFCA stands for Commercial and not CONSERVATION. Do the job you’re paid to do by the Tax payer. SHAME ON YOU.

John m
Comment posted on 13th May 2019

In the present climate of heightened awareness of the damage humans are responsible for its scandalous that net sizes haven’t been increased and those that are responsible for the decision should hang their heads in shame

Jon W
Comment posted on 13th May 2019

It is foreseeable that small mesh sized nets will catch small fish, so baffled why ‘conservation’ action hasn’t been taken, it really does open the door wide for those who wish to catch and sell undersized fish, and it is a shame that this has an impact on those honest fishermen who voluntarily use larger mesh sizes.

Diarmuid D
Comment posted on 12th May 2019

Agreed what a waste of money. Why can’t the IFCA just do the right thing? Why is the IFCA wasting taxpayers money going to court? Small sized nets are going to catch and kill small fish. Fishermen have to throw back undersized dead fish. Increase the net size so that it doesn’t catch and kill undersized fish, it’s a no brainer!!
IFCA – Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, I think they need to drop the “C”, seems to be a real lack of Conservation going on.

Michael B
Comment posted on 11th May 2019

Unbelievable waste of money , given the state of social care services and mental health, lets spend money fighting the case to support illegal targeting of undersize Bass. Shame on CIFCA.

David W
Comment posted on 11th May 2019

Given that bass stocks are below the point at which they will struggle to regenerate this lack of action by CIFCA seems inexplicable.
The only people to benefit from CIFCAs refusal to introduce an emergency bylaw to extend the range of prohibited meshes will be those netters illegally targeting undersized bass. In the meantime compliant fishermen who depend on the species will suffer. This simply defies logic.

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