A number of constituents have recently contacted me regarding sea bass stocks. Sea bass is an important commercial fish species but overfishing over the last 30 years has seen a serious decline in stocks across Europe.
While the Government has taken the view that previous measures by the European Council took steps in the right direction, Labour believes that the European Commission’s proposals for 2016 were watered down by EU Fisheries Ministers. These measures were inadequate and they have not done enough to achieve the reductions in fishing mortality needed to allow the stock to recover to levels suitable for the sustainable fishing of the species.
Until we leave the EU, current arrangements for fisheries remain in place and 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 some of you recall, 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 also to restore them to sustainable levels. 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 wrote to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about this issue and have now received the below response from George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.