Eastern IFCA will not implement an Emergency Bass Byelaw

After consideration of the potential impacts on fishers versus the potential benefits on bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) stocks, Eastern IFCA has decided that an emergency byelaw for the protection of bass would not be proportionate. As such, no emergency byelaw will be implemented.

Why did Eastern IFCA consider an Emergency Byelaw?

Bass stocks are in a poor state and European Regulations have been implemented which aim to reduce bass fishing mortality. A stated aim of the European measures is to provide protection to spawning aggregations which is reflected in a prohibition of hook and line fishing activity (the only means by which bass can be targeted in 2017) during the ‘typical’ spawning period, February and March.

Bass have been found in spawning condition within Eastern IFCA’s district during May and evidence indicates that bass spawning aggregations occur between March and June in the Southern North Sea. As such, the introduction of an Emergency Byelaw was considered which would prohibit hook and line fishing during this period for the protection of these spawning aggregations.

At the 27th EIFCA Meeting (15th February 2017) Members agreed in principle to implement an Emergency Byelaw to protect spawning aggregations of bass, pending a consultation with fishers and the production of an impact assessment to inform a final decision. See Action Item 18 (Bass Management Measures – pages 121 to 127) for more information.

Why did Eastern IFCA decide not to implement an Emergency Bass Byelaw?

Before making a final decision on whether to introduce an Emergency Bass Byelaw, Eastern IFCA sought further evidence and undertook a ‘cost versus benefit’ analysis to determine whether such a byelaw would have a beneficial effect and what the impact would be on the fishing industry.

Eastern IFCA consulted with fishers to obtain information which could be used to investigate the impacts of the measures on the fishing industry. Using this information in addition to other available data, it was concluded that the impacts (costs) on the fishers would be disproportionate and the beneficial effects of the byelaw are unlikely to outweigh these costs. This is primarily a reflection of following:

  • The low levels of bass fishing mortality contrasted by the high economic importance of bass landings to fishers which contributes a significant proportion of annual income;
  • Hook and line fishing is unlikely to have a significant impact on the bass stocks resultant of relatively low fishing mortality which is evidenced by historical landings data. This reflects the inefficiency of the gears used in the Eastern region (demersal long-lines);
  • New advice has indicated that bass will enter the district primarily to feed but leave to spawn. Many commercial fishers also indicated that they would fish outside of the six-nautical-mile boundary or in neighbouring IFCA districts. As such, any reduction in fishing mortality (on the Southern North Sea stock) would be limited given that the same fish would be targeted outside of the Eastern IFCA district;
  • New advice has indicated that the ‘later’ spawning period is not unique to the EIFCA district, which undermines the rationale that there is a distinct driver which applies within the district to justify additional burdens on fishers within the district.

The Impact Assessment and recommendation (report) can be viewed by clicking here .

Future bass management within the Eastern IFCA District

Bass stocks are in a poor state and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advice is that a precautionary approach is taken to managing the fishery. This is also reflected by increasingly stricter European Regulations on fishing opportunities for bass.

Eastern IFCA has considered the risks to bass fisheries (within the District) within the Strategic Assessment 2017-18 (to be published on the Eastern IFCA website after next Authority Meeting). The assessment concludes that the risk to bass fisheries is mitigated by European and national measures (apart from the protection of spawning aggregations which has now also been investigated). Current mitigation includes the restrictions in Council Regulation (EU) 2017/127 (article 9) and development of new Bass Nursery Areas.

As such, Eastern IFCA will not be considering further management measures for bass at this time. Eastern IFCA will continue to contribute towards the national implementation of new Bass Nursery Areas and to enforce European measures for the protection of bass. For guidance on European bass measures (including recreational and commercial fishing) please visit the bass fishing guidance published by the Marine Management Organisation.

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