Fishing and angling is an important industry in the UK economy and angling is enjoyed by many people across the UK. There are serious concerns about the decline in bass stocks across Europe.
This decline is largely the result of commercial overfishing over the last 30 years, rather than recreational sea angling. I therefore share concerns about the treatment of recreational anglers as a result of the measures agreed at EU level.
The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) recommended an 80% cut in bass mortality across the EU for 2015 but the measures introduced across the EU for 2015 reduced catches by only 36%. ICES had previously recommended a 36% cut for 2014 but this was not implemented; and bass landings by UK vessels rose by 30% in 2014. It is very disappointing that expert scientific advice was ignored.
For 2016, ICES has recommended a 90% cut, and some expect that its next advice, due in June 2016, will be to recommend a complete moratorium lasting several years. This is what happens when early warnings are not heeded. If drastic action is not taken urgently, the fish will simply not be there for people to catch.
The Government believe that the measures taken by the European Council represent steps in the right direction. I believe it was a stunningly bad deal and it is clear the current measures will not do enough to achieve the reductions in fishing mortality needed to allow the stock to recover to levels capable of sustainable use.
There was a debate in the House of Commons on February 11 about this issue. The motion noted that the EU restrictions on recreational bass fishing are unfair and fail to address the real threat to the future viability of UK sea bass stocks. It also called on the Government to make representations within the EU on the reconsideration of those restrictions. I supported the motion, which was agreed to without a vote.
The current approach will not achieve a sensible long-term policy and risks ignoring the lessons of previous stock collapses and forcing the introduction of a complete moratorium on all forms of bass fishing. Further action is therefore needed at EU level, not only to conserve sea bass stocks, but to restore them to sustainable levels. I am also concerned about the poor quality of UK commercial landing records and am pleased my Shadow Frontbench colleagues are pressing the Government to take national action to tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported landings.
I will continue to follow this issue closely and press the Government to do more to secure a sustainable future for sea bass and to take a firm position on this important issue within the EU.