â€œLabour is on course to lose the Angling Voteâ€
That is the conclusion that many are coming to in the aftermath of the recent decision by Jonathan Shaw to abandon previous government policy to protect the UKâ€™s important and valuable Recreational Bass Fishery.
With local fishermenâ€™s organisations protesting that reduced fish quotas for 2008 are likely to drive some smaller inshore boats out of business, it is becoming clearer why Jonathan Shaw, the newly appointed Fisheries Minister, has overturned previous Government promises and sacrificed the opportunity for building a first class UK saltwater sports fishery, providing many more business opportunities and livelihoods in the Recreational Sea Angling sector, by abandoning the previous Fishery Ministerâ€™s decision to increase the minimum landing size for bass.
Bass are a slow growing and late maturing species, capable of growing to over 20lbs, living some 25 years and capable of spawning up to 15 times.
But they are now harvested as baby fish at just 36cm (around just 1lb in weight) and before they have ever had the opportunity to spawn.
Bass have historically been a recreational species especially prized by anglers and second only to salmon in their status and value as a premier sportsfish.
The value of the Recreational Sea Fishery for bass is worth considerably more than the commercial fishery, supporting many businesses and livelihoods.
However, increased inshore netting, as well as the development of the controversial method of pair-trawling for spawning congregations, means that anglers now rarely encounter fish of the stamp and quality which anglers most prize.
The problem is that there is no commercial quota for bass, and only a meaningless 5 tonne per week per boat landing limit (an unimaginable number of fish) to â€˜restrictâ€™ catches.
The danger is that with falling quotas for other species, and no cap on the number of boats that can fish for bass, or the amount of gear that each boat can deploy, fishing effort on bass will increase significantly, as boats turn to bass to maintain their profits as the reduced quota for other species is used up.
It is now almost certain that bass of any size will soon become a much rarer catch for UK anglers and inshore fishermen alike.
No doubt Jonathan Shaw has followed the advice of his DEFRA fishery officials in the light of the problems of the inshore fishing fleet but unfamiliar with the opportunities and economic importance of the Recreational Sea Angling sector, it is likely that he has made a grave political and economic miscalculation which will cost his party dear when the Angling Vote is next cast at the polls.
John Leballeur, chairman of BASS said â€œwhat he has done by handing bass, the most valuable recreational species, to the commercial sector for unrestrained exploitation, is to tear up the assurances given in the past by the Labour Party that â€œAngling is safe in Labourâ€™s handsâ€, and ripped the heart from Labourâ€™s â€˜Angling Charterâ€™.
That is unless Jonathan Shaw has other plans to restore the damage that his decision has bought about.
But it would appear that time is not now on his side to gain the trust of Britainâ€™s millions of anglers, whether they fish for bass or notâ€.