The Angling Trust wrote to the Fisheries Minister, Mark Spencer, on behalf of our members this week to urge government to provide reassurances that recreational fishing for pollack will not be banned following the latest ICES advice.
The Angling Trust remain deeply concerned about the latest ICES advice for pollack, the recommendation to set a zero TAC in 2024 and the potential consequences this will have for recreational sea angling.
Pollack is a recreationally important species, particularly for the charter boat sector, and brings significant socio-economic value to coastal communities. Many charter boats in the English Channel depend on pollack to support their businesses. A total ban on pollack fishing would put many charter boats out of business, particularly during this financially difficult time with the current cost-of-living crisis.
Given the ICES advice, pollack will likely be a hot topic amidst this year’s bilateral discussions of fishing opportunities with the European Union. These negotiations are not open for public consultation and are due to be completed in December 2023.
The Angling Trust’s understanding is that the ICES assessment is highly uncertain, with no inclusion of recreational fishing data included within the assessment. It is our firm view that it is inappropriate to consider management for the recreational fishery based on this data. This is not about ignoring the science, but ensuring the science is adequate to take proportionate management decisions that affect real people. Our members are deeply concerned about their livelihoods and mental health in the coming year and how they may be impacted by the current uncertain ICES advice.
The Angling Trust also believes that introducing a bycatch-only fishery for the commercial sector would be problematic and put increased pressure on other recreationally important species like bass, cod and skates and rays. We are urging Defra to avoid this approach where possible – unless it is fully enforced, and any bycatch landed is cost-neutral. No one should make a profit from bycaught fish as this undermines fisheries management.
Pollack has recently been downgraded in the Marine Conservation Society Good Fish Guide to a red-listed “Fish to Avoid”. The Angling Trust recognise the need for effective fisheries management to recover fish stocks and many anglers are concerned about the status of pollack. Currently, the minimum conservation reference size (MCRS) for pollack is 30cm. Given that the majority of pollack are immature at this size, many anglers support an increase to 45cm or 50cm to give pollack a chance to spawn.
However, we strongly believe that restricting angling would be disproportionate, futile and unfair in comparison with dealing with far more destructive and high-volume forms of fishing like wreck netting and bottom-trawling. Illegal and unreported fishing also must be addressed. We argue that these other forms of fishing are having a far larger impact on the state of the pollack stock in the English Channel and must be looked at by government first. As outlined in the Fisheries Act (2020) and Joint Fisheries Statement, government must be prioritising environmentally friendly forms of fishing like commercial rod-and-line and recreational angling.
Implementing restrictions on recreational fishing for pollack would make a mockery of Defra’s commitments to recreational angling and coastal communities. The Angling Trust will lobby Defra hard at any given opportunity to defend anglers from any recreational restrictions that may arise from this year’s UK-EU bilateral discussions.
The Angling Trust remain committed to fighting for fish, fishing and the environment. We share the government’s ambition for “World-Class Fisheries” and thriving coastal communities, but the Angling Trust will continue to push government for recognition of the socio-economic value of angling, for investment into our sector and against unnecessary restrictions on our sport.
As recreational sea anglers, it’s essential to stay informed and engaged in matters that directly impact the health of our ocean and the future of our sport. The Angling Trust is committed to fighting for fish, fishing and the environment.