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Fisheries Minister blasted for making false claims and caving into commercial fishing

Fisheries Minister blasted for making false claims and caving into commercial fishing

The Fisheries Minister, George Eustice has been strongly criticised for caving into pressure from commercial fishing interests and supporting exemptions to the EU bass fishing moratorium for the highly damaging bass gill net fishery. Eustice is also coming under severe scrutiny for making false claims over the impacts on threatened stocks as a result of decisions which he supported at the EU last month.

The ban, supported by Eustice, and imposed by the EU saw the recreational bass sector – worth over £200million – banned from keeping any bass for personal consumption during the first six months of 2016. Additionally, during the second six months, bag limits from anglers will be reduced from three fish to one.

Furthermore to the recreational angling ban, the EU ban proposed that gill net fishery was to be closed for six months. This will now only be closed for two months – February and March. The fishery is responsible for over half of all bass landings.

A petition, containing over 14,000 signatures, sent to the government has received an official response, angering anglers still further. The response claims that the Minister and Defra officials have not “watered down” the six-month ban because drift netting – which Defra says is responsible for 90% of all bass caught with nets – will cease during the period. In reality, data published by the Minister’s own department disproves this claim.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO), a government organisation, has published landings data for 2014; this shows that netting constitutes 62% of all commercial bass catches, with drift netting being responsible for 20% – equivalent to just one-third of all netting – not the 90%, as Mr Eustice has claimed.

Indeed, previous analysis of bass fisheries (CEFAS, 2010) shows that only 11 tonnes out of 719 total bass landings were listed as being from drift nets.

Bass campaigner and Conservation officer for the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers, Malcolm Gilbert, has spoken out against Mr Eustice’s claims, saying: “The claims made by the minister about the impact of the wholly unjustifiable exemptions that he negotiated for bass gill netting have been unravelled by the government’s own figures. Far from being ‘low impact’ fixed gill nets are the most damaging form of commercial fishing and have contributed to the crash in bass stocks.”

“George Eustice has even boasted about these measures having very little effect and he certainly made sure of that by supporting a monthly catch increase from one tonne to 1.3 tonnes per vessel and ensuring that the EU moratorium only applied to them in February and March – the two months when they hardly catch bass in any case.”

“Cornish sea anglers, along with anglers across the country, are angry and dismayed that George Eustice has supported new legislation prohibiting them from taking any bass for the first six months of 2016 whilst at the same time allowing and even increasing the amount that commercial gill netting vessels can take during four of those same six months. Even non-anglers consider the erosion of the public right to catch a fish for their supper, a right that has existed since Magna Carta, to be indefensible.”

Martin Salter, National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust, also dismissed the claims from the government, commenting: : “In the face of yet more worrying advice from the scientists about declining bass stocks we were braced for further measures and could have lived with a slight reduction in anglers' bag limits if it wasn't for the ludicrous exemption granted to the gill netters who, far from being 'low impact' as the minister claims, are actually responsible for nearly half of all UK bass landings.”

"The fact that the government is now playing fast and loose with the facts will only further alienate thousands of anglers who do the least harm to fish stocks and who deliver the highest economic benefit to their local communities. Without any justification, sea anglers have been hardest hit whilst the least sustainable forms of harvesting have been given the green light to kill more bass. All this at a time when we are supposed to be conserving and rebuilding a threatened stock.”

“I've never seen sea anglers so angry and when government ministers start making false, and easily disproved claims, they are hardly likely to be placated any time soon.”

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