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Fish Legal threatens judicial review over Cornwall IFCA’s failure to save undersized bass from commercial fishing nets


Netting - Baby bass in net - Credit David Curtis x550px

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

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.

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 overfishing, 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 biomass 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.”

Contact: Fish Legal†- Eastwood House |†6 Rainbow Street†| Leominster |†HR6 8DQ |†Tel: 01568 620447

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