HC Deb 27 July 1988 vol 138 cc298-9W
Miss Emma Nicholson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has yet reached any decision on measures for the long-term management and conservation of the Bass fishery following his proposals announced on 29 February,Official Report, columns 476–77; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Donald Thompson

On 29 February 1988, at column476, my right hon. Friend the then Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, announced that he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales planned to introduce measures for the long-term management and conservation of the bass fishery. The proposed measures, on which comments from interested parties were invited by 31 May, provided for an increase from 1 January 1989 in the national minimum landing size for bass from 32 to 36 cm; a prohibition from 1 January 1990 on the use of gill and other specified nets with a mesh size between 60 and 99 mm; and the establishment of some 24 nursery areas in inshore waters where restrictions on certain forms of fishing would protect juvenile bass stocks.

After careful consideration of the many responses to these proposals, we have decided to proceed with these measures subject to certain changes to take account of points that have arisen out of the consultations with interested parties. We shall soon be introducing regulations to increase the national minimum landing size for bass throughout Great Britain from 32 to 36 cm and to prohibit the carriage of bass under 36 cm by British vessels but delaying the operation of these measures until 1 January 1990 to coincide with the introduction of mesh size controls and to allow fishermen a further year in which to adjust their fishing practices. The prohibition from the same date on the use of gill and other specified nets will now be limited to those nets with a mesh size between 65 and 89 mm to limit the impact of this measure on the fishery for other species such as grey mullet, sole, red mullet, herring and other pelagic species. The restrictions will apply to nets used by British fishing vessels within British fishery limits, south of lines of latitude drawn through Donna Nook in Lincolnshire and Haverigg Point in Cumbria. Within this area there will also be a ban on the carriage of such nets unless properly lashed and stowed in such a way that they cannot readily be used. An exception will, however, be made for the carriage use of attended drift nets, beach seines and ring nets along the south coast within the three-mile limit between Rame Head in Cornwall and Beachy Head in Sussex. The mesh size controls will not apply to the waters off Scotland, north-east England, Cumbria and Northern Ireland where the numbers of bass taken are negligible.

The principle of establishing nursery areas has met with much support but it is clear from the response that we have received that further consideration has to be given to the extent of these areas and the restrictions on fishing to operate within them. We have therefore asked officials to undertake further and detailed consultations with local interests before decisions on establishing individual nursery areas are taken.

The measures outlined above, and those we envisage for nursery areas, are designed to safeguard the bass fishery by protecting juvenile bass. While we are aware of the concerns over the exploitation of adult bass in the offshore fishery, we have no evidence at present to support the introduction of conservation or management controls. This, however, is a matter that we are continuing to keep under review. Finally, as announced last February, we shall be seeking a corresponding increase in the EC minimum landing size for bass.