Catch limits have been introduced for anglers as part of attempts to halt the decline of bass stocks.
Ministers at Europe’s Fisheries Council agreed to impose a maximum of landing three bass a day for recreational sea anglers.
The limit is designed to complement an emergency measure brought in by the European Commission in February which bars pelagic trawlers from targeting bass during the January to April breeding season.
However, ministers failed to reach agreement on other measures designed to limit the impact on stocks by commercial fishermen.
The main proposals for which agreement has yet to be reached are seasonal and temporary closures, monthly limits on the landings made by individual fishing vessels, and a new minimum landing size.
Bass have suffered a steep decline and fisheries scientists have called for landings to be reduced by 80 per cent. They are concerned at a sharp rise in mortality since 2010 and an accompanying fall in the size of the breeding stock.
In announcing the bag limits for anglers the European Commission said in a statement: “Sea bass is a very valuable fish, on which many fishermen, especially small fishing enterprises, depend. With over 1.3m recreational anglers in France and another 800,000 in the UK, many thousands of jobs also depend on recreational fishing.
“Recent scientific analyses have reinforced previous concerns about the state of the stock and advised urgently to reduce fishing by 80 per cent. We are witnessing a rapid decline of sea bass that risks leading to a collapse if no action is taken.”
David Mitchell, of the Angling Trust, said the introduction of “bag limits” for recreational anglers would be seen as unfair if ministers fail to bring in further measures to restrict commercial fishers. The emergency ban on pelagic trawling ends on April 30.
“Anglers will only support restrictions on their own fishing if corresponding limits are placed on the commercial catches along with measures to give greater protection to juvenile fish,” he said.
He said the other measures “should have happened at the same time” as the bag limits were introduced and he hopes at least some of them will be agreed within weeks. The Angling Trust is now hoping to make bass an election issue and is encouraging members to demand Parliamentary candidates pledge their support for “a fair, balanced and proportionate” package.
Similarly, the fishing industry is deeply suspicious of the angling lobby and contests both the need and the practicalities of reducing landings by as much as 80 per cent.
In a statement the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) said: “We reject opportunistic moves by some in the recreational sector (clothed in conservationist disguise) to reserve the whole bass fishery for recreational use.”
Annual catches of sea bass are estimated to be 5,600 tonnes in Europe with recreational anglers accounting for 1,500 tonnes. If scientists’ demands for an 80 per cent reduction were followed, the total European catch would be about 1,155 tonnes.
The precise size of the total catch, however, is disputed, with some in the sector suggesting the real figure may be much higher than official statistics suggest. One of the factors contributing to undercounting is an exemption in regulations which allows commercial fishermen to sell up to 30kg of their bass catches without recording them.
Charles Clover, chairman of the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “This bitty implementation of policy is far from ideal – first a ban on pair trawling, then restriction of the number of fish anglers can catch. What is needed is a proper science-based management plan for bass covering all fishing methods which doesn’t allow any free riders or unfair advantage between them. It needs to be seen to be fair.
“In the light of the Ministers failure to agree, I hope we will see new emergency measures from the European Commission covering the forms of netting that have not yet been addressed. If not, national measures will need to be a priority for an incoming British government if there is to be any bass left.”