Marine Management Organisation publishes rules of catching of Bass

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has published guidance, 30th December 2016 on the rules governing the catching of sea bass. These rules read as follows (note: rules are for 2016, but also apply to 2017):

If you are a commercial or recreational fisherman for bass you will need to comply with the new rules for:

  • where you can catch bass
  • when you can catch bass
  • how many bass you can catch
  • minimum size you can keep

 
Until the regulation fixing the fishing opportunities for 2017 (the “TAC and Quota Regulation”) comes into force, the 2016 measures shall continue to apply. Therefore from 1st January 2017, where the guidance states “2016” this shall be read as “2017”.


1. What rules apply to commercial fisherman

The rules apply if you are a commercial fishermen and you:

  • target bass or catch them as a by-catch
  • use one of the regulated fishing gears
  • operate in the North Sea, Channel, South West Approaches, West of Ireland, Celtic Sea or Irish Sea

 

2. Where commercial bass fishing is permanently closed
You must not catch, retain (keep), tranship (transfer fish from one vessel to another while at sea) or land bass from the following areas.

Sea area

International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) division

South West Approaches

ICES VIIb, VIIc, VIIj and VIIk

Irish or Celtic Sea

Outside the 12 nautical mile limit of ICES VIIg and VIIa


3. When you can fish commercially and how much bass you can keep

From 1st January 2016 to 30th June 2016 you may only use certain fishing methods to fish for or retain bass as a by-catch. The quantity of bass you can keep is subject to limits and these are described in the table below.

You may only retain bass during February and March if fishing with demersal trawls and seines when up to 1 per cent of the catch retained on board at any time may be bass. You may not keep any bass caught using other fishing methods in these months; it must be discarded.

Sea Area

ICES Division

Demersal trawls and seines

Fixed Nets, Hooks and lines

All other gear types (including drift nets)

North Sea

IVb, IVc

Up to 1% bass by-catch

1,300kg bass per vessel per month except February and March

All bass catches prohibited

Channel

VIId, VIIe

Up to 1% bass by-catch

1,300kg bass per vessel per month except February and March

All bass catches prohibited

Celtic Sea

VIIf, VIIg*

Up to 1% bass by-catch

1,300kg bass per vessel per month except February and March

All bass catches prohibited

Irish Sea

VIIa*

Up to 1% bass by-catch

1,300kg bass per vessel per month except February and March

All bass catches prohibited

South West Approaches

VIIh

Up to 1% bass by-catch

1,300kg bass per vessel per month except February and March

All bass catches prohibited

* Inside 12nm limit only

From 1st July 2016 to 31st December 2016 you may fish for bass subject to catch limits. Depending on the subject to the limits in the table below.

Commercial fishing restrictions map 1st January 2016 to 30th June 2016.


3.2 1st July 2016 to 31st December 2016 (inclusive)

Sea Area

ICES Division

Demersal trawls and seines

Fixed Nets, Hooks and lines

All other gear types (including drift nets)

North Sea

IVb, IVc

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

1,300kg bass per vessel per month

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

Channel

VIId, VIIe

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

1,300kg bass per vessel per month

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

Celtic Sea

VIIf, VIIg*

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

1,300kg bass per vessel per month

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

Irish Sea

VIIa*

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

1,300kg bass per vessel per month

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

South West Approaches

VIIh

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

1,300kg bass per vessel per month

1,000kg bass per vessel per month

* Inside 12nm limit only

All bass that you catch from each area will count towards your monthly total catch limit. If you fish in more than one area, you must combine the catches and the total quantity of bass retained must not exceed the monthly limit.

If you use different gear during a calendar month then the lowest catch limit for that fishing gear applies. For example, if you use fixed gill nets and a demersal trawl during July, the maximum permitted catch for your vessel is 1,000kg.

The catch limit applies to a single vessel – you can’t transfer it between vessels.


4. Bass and the landing obligation

This applies to commercial fisheries. Bass is subject to catch limits and therefore the landing obligation (“discards ban”) applies.

If you target pelagic fisheries with pelagic gear then you must land all the bass caught unless you are operating in an area where commercial fishing for bass is prohibited, in which case you may not keep any bass caught; it must be discarded.

Further information on the pelagic landing obligation.
The demersal landing obligation is being gradually brought in. The demersal landing obligation does not currently apply to bass in 2016. It will apply to bass in all fisheries no later than 2019.


5. Capped Licences

If you have a capped licence you are subject to the prohibitions, by-catch restrictions and the monthly bass catch limits outlined above.


6. Recreational fishing for bass

If you are a recreational fisherman in the North Sea and Western waters you are subject to the limitations below:

Sea Area

ICES Division

1st January 2016 to 30th June 2016

1st July 2016 to 31st December

North Sea

IVb, IVc

Catch and release only

1 bass per fisherman per day

East Channel

VIId, VIIe

Catch and release only

1 bass per fisherman per day

Celtic Sea

VIIf, VIIg

Catch and release only

1 bass per fisherman per day

Irish Sea

VIIa

Catch and release only

1 bass per fisherman per day

South West Approaches

VIIh

Catch and release only

1 bass per fisherman per day

West of Ireland

VIIj, VIIk

1 bass per fisherman per day

1 bass per fisherman per day

This applies whether you are fishing from a vessel or from the shore.


7. Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS)

The MCRS for bass is 42cm.

You must not retain, tranship, land, transport, store, sell, display or offer for sale specimens below the MCRS, but must return them immediately to the sea.

The landing obligation may require you to land all the bass caught during fishing operations.


8. If you break the law

You can be fined or prosecuted if you don’t follow the rules.

Read the Marine Management Organisation’s (MMO) compliance and enforcement strategy.


Penalties

You can be given a penalty if you admit or are found guilty of an offence.

A court may:

  • give you an unlimited fine
  • order the confiscation of your fish or give you a fine to the value of the fish
  • order the confiscation of your fishing gear

The MMO may offer you an administrative penalty up to a maximum of £10,000 instead of going to court. Read the financial administrative penalties for fisheries offences for more information.


9. Further Information

Council Regulation (EU) 2016/72 of 22 January 2016 fixing for 2016 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Union waters and, for Union fishing vessels, in certain non-Union waters, and amending Regulation (EU) 2015/104

 

Source: Marine Management Organisation Statement, published 30th December 2016. For further details, see www.gov.uk/government/publications/bass-fishing-catch-limits-closures-and-minimum-size/bass-fishing-catch-limits-closures-and-minimum-size

 

MARINET observes: There are a number of problems with this new management regime established by the UK/EU governments, and enforced in UK seas by the Marine Management Organisation beyond 12 nautical miles and by the regional Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities inside 12 nautical miles. These are:

● Rules and regulations need to be enforced before they have any meaning. Are they?

If we examine the record on enforcement of CFP fishing regulations we find that the record is woefully slack and depressing. ClientEarth has written a recent report on this subject. We quote from this report:

“The number of infringements reported by different Member States varies massively. In England and France, almost 20% of boats inspected at sea were breaching the law, while the number in Ireland and Poland was 3.2% and 2.6% respectively.

Prosecutions are rare and fines are low.

So far this year [2016], the English Marine Management Organisation has brought two successful prosecutions in front of the courts, resulting in fines of £500 each.

In France, data on fines or other penalties (like suspension or withdrawal of fishing licences) is not transparent and almost 90% of criminal prosecutions are settled out of court. In Ireland, the average fine is €1,450 (£1,242) and in parts of Poland it is as low as €288 (£258), even for “serious” infringements.

Authorities can also penalise fishers breaking the law using a point system. For each serious infringement, the offender receives a number of penalty points; once certain thresholds are reached, its fishing licence can be suspended or revoked.

However, Poland has never issued any points, Ireland’s system is on hold pending two court cases, France has no record of issuing penalty points — though it claimed orally that it had — and England has no evidence of points being given.”

So what confidence can we have that these regulations mean what they say ? Very little, it would seem.

● In those areas where fishing is still allowed — the majority of the area where sea bass inhabit — we note that when the fishing limit (quota) is reached fishing does not have to stop, and the surplus is simply discarded back to sea, presumably dead. How does this conserve the stock?

Apart from the fact that the EU/UK Governments have not yet introduced the much vaunted triumph of “discard ban” for sea bass, this means that fishermen can simply go on fishing and collect only the largest fish whilst throwing the rest away. Is this a conservation measure?

● When does a female sea bass reach sexual maturity (adulthood) and thus become part of the breeding stock ? Bass can live to 30 years of age and, in common with other fish species, every time an adult doubles in size with age so does its reproductive capacity (production of eggs) also double. This means the oldest fish in a stock are the most important from the reproductive perspective of a stock. The answer to the earlier question is that a female reaches sexual maturity between 5 to 8 years (36-46 cm in length) and, for note, a male attains sexual maturity between 2 to 4 years.

Therefore the minimum catch size is most important. If the fish are caught before sexual maturity, or only shortly after, then the breeding stock will contain few older adults, always be under reproductive stress and, from an economic point of view, never contain the largest fish which are the most economically valuable.

The minimum catch size set by the UK/EU governments is 42 cm. The female reaches sexual maturity between 36-46 cm (5 to 8 years). Therefore as can be seen, some females are being caught before they reach sexual maturity under present fishing rules, and for those who have attained sexual maturity they are likely to survive for only one year of adulthood before being caught. Consequently the breeding stock is remaining under severe stress, and its ability to rebuild is constantly being undermined. Is this “conservation” in practice?

One would imagine that the advice from scientists to government would point out this elementary fact about reproductive stress, and recommend that the minimum landing size be lifted to well in excess of 46 cm (so that adults can survive at least for 5 to 10 years as sexually mature adults). But do they? The minimum landing size was set at 42 cm in 2016, appears to be unaltered in 2017, and when the EU scientific body (Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, known as STECF) issued advice to the EU in July 2014 (45th Plenary Report, p.51 forward) on how to manage the sea bass stocks, the Committee never referred to the question of sexual maturity and minimum landing size (and the consequential need to adjust net sizes) at any time in their report! Are these “experts” credible fisheries scientists?

● Finally one must ask why the Marine Management Organisation is publishing its advice on the rules for catching sea bass in 2016 on 30th December 2016 and why, when the EU issues its decisions for the 2017 rules for catching sea bass on 13th December 2016 the MMO cannot update its advice for 2017 on 30th December 2016. Is this the mark of a credible regulator?

 


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