For over a year, Fish Legal has been pressing Defra and North Eastern Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority (NEIFCA) to sort out the loophole in their byelaw which allows up to three times more shore nets to land bass than allowed under national law. Now Defra has written to Fish Legal, after the threat of legal action, to say that NEIFCA have introduced a Voluntary Code of Conduct which restricts the number of lengths of shore nets to one per permit holder.
Despite national law only allowing 5 nets in total for the North East area, the NEIFCA byelaw allows 3 nets each for five permit holders which means up to 15 nets in operation, targeting bass in areas where they congregate. NEIFCA initially tried to argue these were simply three sections of one net. However, this voluntary code – which Defra says will be checked for compliance – should now align the number of shore nets in NEIFCA district with national bass laws.
The Voluntary Code of Conduct also requires that sea bass bycatch levels are minimised as far as practical – which is welcome, as the last batch of data obtained by FL showed that bass was never less than 74% of the total catch in any month and in four of the months bass was between 90% and 100% of the total catch (one permit holder caught nothing but bass, even though the law only allows bass to be landed as bycatch and not as a target species).
Fish Legal Solicitor, Justin Neal, said “This isn’t a perfect outcome as it is a voluntary code – but if it works it will stop the overfishing for bass. We now have Defra involved and, should the NEIFCA fail to monitor catch and properly regulate the fishery according to national law, we will consider judicial review proceedings against Defra for failing to use its powers properly. We will be watching closely.”