Fish Legal challenges commercial bass netters over interpretation of laws

Bass are being deliberately targeted by commercial nets, say Fish Legal.

Photo: Shutterstock/Jesus Cobaleda

The number of shore nets and bass-catch data from the north-east fishery area has triggered Fish Legal to challenge DEFRA over the North-Eastern Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority (NEIFCA) issuing of net licences.

Earlier in the year, Fish Legal learned that despite national law only allowing five nets to operate, a NEIFCA byelaw allows each netter to use three nets, but NEIFCA argues that these are simply three sections of one net.

Now Fish Legal has seen the monthly catch data from October 2021 to April 2022 which shows that bass was never less than 74% of the total catch in any month; and in four of those months bass was between 90% and 100% of the total catch. One permit holder caught nothing but bass. The law only allows bass to be landed as bycatch and not as a target species.

Key catch, or bycatch?

Fish Legal solicitor, Justin Neal, explained, “The explanation by NEIFCA seems to be little more than a device to get around the national law restrictions and allow more netting to take place.

“Bass is evidently the key catch from this fishery, and it is therefore not credible to argue that bass is bycatch. If a net is set in areas where little but bass is being caught, the obvious likelihood is that you would catch bass.

” It doesn’t look like NEIFCA will take action to rewrite their byelaw to bring it in line with national law. Therefore, Defra needs to intervene to send a message that IFCAs are required to uphold the law and it is not acceptable to allow shore netters to flout it”.

Fish Legal requires Defra to respond by the end of this month (July), with a full and clear response on how it intends to deal with the current legal breaches by NEIFCA.