Parliamentary debate on Recreational Sea Bass Fishing

Tue, 03/01/2016 - 05:00
Parliamentary debate on Recreational Sea Bass Fishing

On Thursday 11th February Jon Cruddas MP for Dagenham & Rainham took part in the parliamentary debate concerning Recreational Sea Bass Fishing. The full transcript of the debate can be found by clicking HERE

See below for Jon's contribution.

It is a great pleasure to follow Scott Mann, who made a brilliant speech, and I congratulate him on securing this debate. I also welcome him to the all-party group on angling, which is chaired by Mr Walker. I look forward to some pleasant days out.

I am a terrible fisherman, so restraints such as the 42 cm landing size, the one-fish-per-day limit, or the moratorium will not affect me because I do not actually catch anything. However, I have great affection for the recreational angling community, and this is a great opportunity to debate the issue. I do not think we have discussed recreational fishing since December 2014, whenGeorge Hollingbery secured an Adjournment debate on bass fishing. After that debate we were optimistic about the future direction of travel of Government policy, but I am afraid we stand here today pretty disappointed about where we have got to.

Angling is one of the highest participant recreational sports across Havering, Barking and Dagenham, and in the country at large. If we joined conversations in recreational angling chatrooms, and talked to people from the Angling Trustand the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society, we would quickly appreciate the concerns across the country. Anglers are desperate to help to rebuild bass stocks in a fair, efficient and proportionate way, and we were looking forward to making real progress at the December Council of Ministers meeting.

The basic problem now is that the recreational angler feels singled out and that EU fishing Ministers have unfairly targeted them in the new six-month moratorium. That moratorium risks criminalising thousands of law-abiding people, and it will be difficult to enforce without the active support of angling clubs, anglers and the Angling Trust.

Evidence suggests that charter boat bookings are already down, which will impact on tourism revenues and potentially put some operators out of business. Anglers fishing from April to June will have to return all their bass, yet a commercial boat can come alongside and catch and kill the same fish. Ministers have boasted that these supposed conservation measures will have little effect on commercial inshore bass fishing, while also claiming that they have secured a good deal for bass stocks. Those statements cannot both be true. We therefore need to find out what the actual Government position is.

DEFRA's own "Sea Angling 2012" report shows that there are 884,000 sea anglers in England, who directly pump some £1.23 billion per annum into our economy. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall mentioned, bass are the most popular recreational species, and bass angling is worth some £200 million in England alone. Let us cut to the chase: for the past decade and a half, recreational sea anglers have been led to believe that their most popular sporting fish would be managed sustainably and be acknowledged as a valued recreational species. Why is that? It is because politicians of all parties have told them so.

In 2002, the Prime Minister's strategy unit commissioned a report on the benefits of recreational sea angling. That report, "Net Benefits", was eventually published in 2004, and it said:

"Fisheries management policy should recognise that sea angling may?provide a better return on the use of some resources than commercial exploitation."

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on "Net Benefits" said:

"We support the re-designation of certain species for recreational use and recognise the benefits that this can bring from both a conservation and economic point of view."

In the 2014 debate, the hon. Member for Meon Valley, who is now a Minister, concluded his speech by saying this:

"does the Minister agree that the development of sea bass fishing as a recreational activity is the best long-term solution to both the ecological and the economic sustainability of the fishery, as proved by the Irish sea bass experience, the striped bass fishery of the north-east coast of the US and many other examples?"?[Hansard, 3 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 119WH.]

Today, we ask the same question: what is the Government's policy? We ask that as the derogations drive policy in the opposite direction to that argued for by the hon. Gentleman and the Government report in 2004.

Do not get me wrong, I am not attempting to make a party political point about this. For example, under the last Labour Government, the then Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw, tried to increase the minimum landing size to 42 cm, but he was replaced by a new Minister who caved in to the commercial lobbying and annulled the statutory instrument that would have delivered this important conservation measure. My right hon. Friend was actively supported in those attempts to introduce that minimum landing size by the then Member for Reading, West, who, sadly, is no longer an MP, even though he is very much active in the Angling Trust and continues to lobby on behalf of recreational anglers.

There is a recurring theme throughout the past 20 years, whereby the ecological case has been consistently put by the recreational side, backed up by Government reports and all-party groups, and this has been accompanied by limited actions of Governments of various persuasions, given pressures from the commercial side. Here we are again today making the same points and trying to give voice to the recreational angling community.

In Ireland, bass has been designated a recreational species since 1990, delivering an estimated ?71 million to the Irish economy annually and supporting more than 1,200 jobs. Ireland is also in the EU. The Isle of Man is about to embark on a similar policy. As well as highlighting the ridiculous anomalies with the current situation and the unfair treatment of recreational anglers, this debate today is really about trying to find out the longer-term thinking of the Government, so we do not have to return to this question again and again, whoever is in power.