• Sea Bass

    I share your concern about the serious decline in bass stocks across Europe, which I believe is largely the result of commercial overfishing over the last 30 years.

    The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) recommended an 80% cut in bass mortality across the EU for 2015. However, the measures introduced across the EU for 2015 reduced catches by only 36%. ICES had previously recommended a 36% cut for 2014 but this was not implemented; and bass landings by UK vessels rose by 30% in 2014. It is very disappointing that expert scientific advice was ignored. For 2016, ICES recommended a 90% cut, and it has now recommended a complete ban on catching bass for next year. I believe this is what happens when early warnings are not heeded. If drastic action is not taken urgently, I believe that the fish will simply not be there for people to catch in future.

    While the Government has taken the view that previous measures by the European Council represented steps in the right direction, I believe the European Commission’s proposals for 2016 were watered down by EU Fisheries Ministers. These measures were inadequate and it is clear they have not done enough to achieve the reductions in fishing mortality needed to allow the stock to recover to levels capable of the sustainable fishing of the species.

    Until we leave the EU, current arrangements for fisheries remain in place and, as you know, the EU Fisheries Council will next meet in December. The European Commission has now published its proposals for Atlantic and North Sea fish quotas in 2017 ahead of the meeting. The Commission has proposed a total commercial fishing ban on Atlantic sea bass from 2017, in order to prevent a collapse in fish stocks. A final decision on next year’s quotas will be taken by EU ministers at the meeting in December. Before the European Council’s proposals had been published, the UK Government said that its approach to the negotiations would include consideration of the scientific advice from ICES on bass for 2017 and would also take into account the current and long term interests of the recreational and commercial fishing sectors in relation to sea bass stocks.

    As you may be aware, there was a debate in the House of Commons on 11 February 2016 about this issue. The motion noted that the EU restrictions on recreational bass fishing had, up to that point, failed to address the real threat to the future viability of UK sea bass stocks. It also called on the Government to make representations within the EU on the reconsideration of those restrictions. I supported the motion, which was agreed to without a vote.

    Further action is clearly needed at EU level, not only to conserve sea bass stocks, but to restore them to sustainable levels. I remain about the poor quality of UK commercial landing records and am pleased my Shadow Frontbench colleagues have pressed the Government to take national action to tackle illegal, unregulated and unreported landings. Evidence shows that, when a sustainability stock strategy is put in place, fish stocks are revived and in the longer term, productivity is far higher.

    I am following this issue closely and will continue to press the Government to do more to secure a sustainable future for sea bass and to take a firm position on this important issue within the EU in December.