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Bag Limits for Anglers? (Updated 14 Dec 06)

Nov 09,2006 SACN

The possibility of the Government attaining powers to place bag limits on anglers was raised as part of the DEFRA consultation on proposals for a Marine Bill.

But it seems that the timescales involved are too long for some, and that both DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) are pushing for bag limits to be applied to anglers through the existing Sea Fisheries Committees.  

A letter that SACN has recieved from WAG states:

Representative from commercial and recreational sectors have expressed to the Minister the view that the biggest threat to bass stocks comes from the illegal sale of bass by non commercially-licensed fishing boats.

That is why we are encouraging Sea Fisheries Committees and the Environment Agency to introduce limits to the number of bass non commercially-licensed fishing boats can take and land.

We are also looking to cross warrant officers legally entitled to enforce.

This will, we consider, have a greater positive impact on stock levels than increasing the MLS, hence benefiting both sectors.

We also understand that the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees (ASFC) have written to each of the SFCs in England and Wales telling them that they have recieved a request from DEFRA asking for assistance from SFCs to introduce a bag limit for unlicensed bass fishing.

Anglers and angling organisations with a particular view on angling bag limits should waste no time in engaging with their local SFC on this issue (it would be a good idea to try and get along to the next SFC meeting), and to write expressing their views to DEFRA and WAG.

(See Engaging with Sea Fisheries Committees)

Within DEFRA, the Coastal Waters Policy Branch has been given specific responsibility for issues that affect Recreational Sea Angling.

The Head of the Coastal Waters Policy Branch is Trevor Hutchings 

They can be contacted by telephone on 0207 238 6000

Or in writing to:

Coastal Waters Policy Branch
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Area 7E, Whitehall Place West
3-8 Whitehall Place

Welsh anglers, and those who have an interest in fishing in Wales should contact the Department for Environment, Planning and Countryside, Fisheries Policy, Environment - Conservation and Management Division   

(Note: SACN's response to the proposals for Bag Limits on anglers in the Marine Bill proposals was:

Bag Limits have been introduced as part of a package of fish stock management measures for the benefit of Recreational Sea Anglers elsewhere in the world.

However, given that it is generally acknowledged that anglers have a minimal impact on fish stocks compared with the removal of fish by other exploiters, Angler Bag Limits simply on their own have no benefit, especially when the sole purpose is to make available a larger number of fish to others, or to protect the local markets of others from a perceived threat that some unlicensed rod and line fishermen may be selling their catch.

Bag Limits for a particular species could only be recommended to our members if they were part of a necessary package of conservation measures that would ultimately make more and bigger fish available to anglers, and fully take into account local issues, such as the need to maintain the viability of angling charter fleets etc.,

Bag Limits that are imposed on anglers should also be imposed on other ‘recreational/hobby’ (ie unlicensed) fishermen, using nets, spear guns etc

It would be ridiculous if an angler was only allowed to take (say) two bass, and then put out a net to take another 30 on the same tide ) 

*** 22 November 06 ***

A copy of this letter sent by DEFRA to the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees has been obtained by SACN:

Peter Winterbottom
Association of Sea Fisheries Committees
6 Ashmeadow Road
Via Carnforth
Lancs LA5 0AE

11 September 2006

Dear Peter,

I am writing to seek, through your office, the assistance of the Sea Fisheries Committees in the introduction of bag limits for bass.

You may be aware from the Ministerial announcement of 10 August on the increased minimum landing size for bass, that consideration is being given to further measures in relation to bass, including bag limit restrictions.

Prior to the launch of the consultation, we had already signposted our intention to consider the introduction of bag limits and, for example, we had included reference to this in the Marine Bill consultation document. Responses to the bass consultation highlighted the large degree of concern around the coast about unlicensed fishing activities and bass. Indeed, some SFCs drew attention to this in their responses to the consultation. In noting the summary of responses, Mr Bradshaw felt strongly that this situation needed to be addressed in advance of taking on national powers through a Marine Bill to regulate this activity (as explored below). He suggested that SFCs should be encouraged to consider seriously the introduction of bag limits within their Districts.

In preparing for the Bill, we have been examining the legal powers available to set bag limits. Our conclusion is that the Sea Fish Conservation Act 1967, specifically section 6, does not give the Secretary of State sufficient powers to set a bag limit. In addition, we have already established that the Act is severely restricted in how it applies to activities from the shore. A bag limit may be possible through a licence condition but this would obviously not address a problem stemming from unlicensed activity.

It appears therefore that at present, only SFCs have the powers (under section 5 of the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act 1966) to set bag limits to apply to unlicensed activity, whether taking place from the shore or from a vessel. We have also noted that some SFCs already have bag limit byelaws in place (albeit in relation only to shellfish).

In line with the Minister’s wishes, we would like to encourage SFCs to consider the introduction of bag limit restrictions in relation to bass. It is accepted that resourcing a byelaw is difficult, but it does appear from the volume of correspondence that there is a real problem to be addressed and that this applies irrespective of the minimum landing size. I am also aware that a number of Committees already have in mind further measures on bass, but have been waiting the outcome of our consultation before proceeding with these. Although the appropriate limit may vary according to local circumstances, we would be happy to offer advice drawing up the framework for a common byelaw if there is some support for this initiative among the Chief Fishery Officers.

I understand that you have kindly agreed to someone from our team coming down to speak to the Committees' Chief Officers and possibly Chairman during the afternoon of 20 September after the formal Association meeting has ended. We would be happy to discuss this further at that meeting. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any queries about this.

Best wishes

Anthony Hynes
Coastal Waters Policy

*** 24 Nov 06 ***

SACN has sent the following letter to the Fisheries Minister, Ben Bradshaw.

We are alarmed to learn that DEFRA, through the Association of Sea Fisheries Committees, are asking Sea Fisheries Committees to consider imposing bag limits on all non-licensed bass fishing.

Whilst we appreciate that there may be a perceived enforcement problem in some areas, and that bass caught by unlicensed vessels is finding its way onto a local black-market, we cannot accept that any measures to reduce this enforcement problem are in any way to be regarded as a conservation measure.

Bass is currently a non-quota stock, so licensed fishermen are able to remove as much fish as needed to supply market needs (subject to a 5 tonne weekly limit per vessel, which is rarely applicable to catches, particularly the catches of inshore boats).

Should the black-market supply of non-farmed bass be reduced or eliminated, the demand will still be there, and will certainly be filled by the licensed catching sector gearing up to supply the gap in market demand. (There is no limit on the number of nets that can be deployed, how often, or how long the nets are left to fish, and no figures available for the number of boats deploying such netting, and the total netting effort • how can anyone talk of ‘management’ of the bass fishery!)

In fact bona fide anglers, used to taking what they need for themselves and their families as a long established ancient right, if limited in the fulfilling of that need in future, will perhaps create an ever greater market demand. 

From a conservation perspective, nothing at all will have been gained, other than to transfer mortality upon bass stocks from unlicensed suppliers to licensed suppliers (not necessarily illegal suppliers either. Both netsmen and ‘commercial’ rod and line fishermen do not need a licence if fish are being taken without the need to use a powered vessel, providing that it is under 10 metres • ie seine-netting or fishing with rod and line from the shore).

(It should be noted that we regard anyone who fishes with the intention of selling their catch as fishing for commerce, not recreation, and therefore when using rod and line, a commercial rod and line fisherman rather than a Recreational Sea Angler who will only take fish for their own use and not for sale).

Sea Fisheries Committees should only use their powers to conserve local resources in response to local conditions.

Clearly, there is no conservation objective attainable by introducing bag limits on non-licensed fishermen on a non-quota stock (unless further measures are also taken to cap licensed fishing).

And because the suggestion is coming from DEFRA, clearly this is not in response to local conditions or needs.

The imposition of bag limits on their own would only serve to protect the market and the market price of licensed fishermen, and as they would apply to bona fide Recreational Sea Anglers who do not sell their catch, and who would not benefit in any way from such a measure, they would be of a highly discriminatory nature, and probably illegal.

We would suggest that a much more equitable way of dealing with any black-market in bass, and at the same time providing a genuine conservation tool that could be used to cap commercial effort if needed, would be the introduction of carcass-tagging for bass, as described in the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Societies Bass Management Plan (see http://ukbass.com/bassmanagementplan/bmp/index.html ).  Putting the risk onto the buyers, and therefore taking away the market, is a much more effective way of attaining compliance than difficult and costly attempts at enforcement on suppliers.

Perhaps more rigorous enforcement of existing legislation such as prosecuting the illegal sale of bass caught from unlicensed powered vessels, and of the new Buyers and Sellers Legislation would obviate the need for any further measures (if they are difficult to enforce, the enforcement of unpopular bag limits is likely to be a nightmare!)

*** 14 Dec 06 ***

Infromation supplied to the Kent & Essex Sea Fisheries Committee for their consideration:

Bag Limits for Bass

Proposals for an SFC Byelaw
Some Issues that need to be Considered

14 December 2006

Establishing the need for bag limits

DEFRA, in considering the Bass Management Plan (BMP) (http://ukbass.com/bassmanagementplan/bmp/index.html) have, suggested a number of other measures to complement an increase in the mls for bass.

Although the Bass Management Plan (BMP) has a greater range of suggested measures, DEFRA have stated that “These may include bag limits for recreational sea anglers, near shore netting restrictions, closed areas and/or seasons and further gear restrictions”

- Conservation Need

The intention of introducing bag limits in the BMP was to develop the Recreational Bass Fishery, and to provide a more valuable and robust stock structure for the catching sector, by introducing a complementary package of measures that would ensure more and bigger bass for all stakeholders.

Bag limits in particular were envisaged as part of a package that would cap the total catch of bass, the cap would apply to both licensed and unlicensed fishermen and to Recreational Sea Anglers.

Bag limits introduced as a standalone measure, with no cap on the total catch, will not achieve this, or deliver any net conservation benefit.

- Reducing ‘Illegal’ Sales

In Wales in particular there is a suggestion that a significant proportion of the total catch is comprised of sales of bass made by unlicensed fishermen.

In many quarters, the assumption has been made that these are illegal sales.

However, although it is illegal to sell fish caught from an unlicensed unregistered powered vessel, or a vessel over 10 metres in length, anyone catching fish from the shore, or from a small unpowered vessel (e.g. oar or sail powered, warped etc), can legally sell any quantity of fish that they catch without the need for quota, or registration under the buyers and sellers legislation etc, whether the catches are made by net or by rod or line.

- The Extent of the ‘Problem’       

Although in some areas in particular the problem is imagined to be significant, there is little real evidence to support that assertion.

- Back-Pocket Sales

The situation is further complicated by ‘back-pocket’ sales made by licensed fishermen in some areas.

These are sales of fish legitimately caught by licensed fishermen, but instead of ‘going through the books’, a much higher profit per fish is attained by selling a few fish for cash ‘at the back-door’, thus avoiding payment of tax etc.

By representing themselves as ‘anglers’, questions of the applicability of buyers and sellers legislation can be avoided.

Such sales can comprise a fair portion of the perceived problem, yet would not be affected by the imposition of bag limits on unlicensed fishermen.

This problem needs to be address in tandem with the issue of unlicensed sales if anything meaningful is to be achieved.

- Would there be any conservation benefit?

Even if the volume of sales by unlicensed is reduced, the market demand still exists.

Bass are a non-quota species (though subject to a meaningless 5 tonne per week, or 20 tonne per month, landing limit).

Without any meaningful total cap on the total catch, or reduction of market demand, mortality would simply transfer from the unlicensed sector to the licensed sector, without any conservation benefit at all.

Why are the SFCs being asked to undertake the imposition of bag limits?

Upon closer examination, DEFRA have found that they are unable to introduce bag limits by means of a statutory instrument and have requested that the SFCs step in to enable bag limits to be introduced by means of ‘local’ byelaws.

Who Pays the Costs?

If such byelaws are introduced, there is likely to be a considerable cost involved, not only in processing the byelaw through the various stages of advertisement, consultation and implementation, but ongoing enforcement and monitoring its effectiveness to ascertain whether or not such enforcement continues to be practicable and worthwhile.

If the SFC goes along with DEFRA’s request, it should ensure that ongoing funding is supplied by DEFRA to cover the likely considerable costs of implementation and ongoing enforcement, and to meet the costs of any legal challenges.

Should the SFC be doing this?

The strength of SFCs is their suitability to dealing with locally identified issues, to a large extent independent of government.

The committee needs to seriously consider the implications of being driven by DEFRA on this, not least the amount of time, effort and resources that will need to be diverted to the introduction and maintenance of a ‘local’ byelaw which has arisen not due to any defined local need, but to support a DEFRA policy.

By imposing what is a restriction on the ancient ‘right to fish’, backed by Magna Carta, and a measure that appears to have no conservation benefit, but is clearly discriminatory, there is every chance that once the byelaw is in place, there will be a robust legal challenge.

Although similar byelaws have been introduced regarding the taking of lobsters by unlicensed ‘hobby fishermen’ these have not been subject to legal challenge by the Recreational Sea Angling lobby, which has experience of dealing with proposed bait digging bans on similar grounds in the past.

Therefore it is important that expert legal advice is obtained (hopefully at DEFRA’s expense!) before the committee goes too far down this road.


Before implementing a bag limit byelaw, the committee needs to fully understand the value of the Recreational Sea Fishery within the district, and how such a measure is likely to impact upon the development of the Recreational Sea Fishery, and on the businesses and dependent livelihoods dependent upon the RSA sector within the district.

Also what enforcement of this byelaw on Recreational Sea Anglers will mean to the resourcing of other commitments that require enforcement and the impact on other fisheries of a failure to be able to maintain an adequate level of enforcement across the board.


If the measures are to be worthwhile, they will require enforcement action and a programme of continual monitoring to ensure that they remain effective.

Putting a byelaw onto the books that is either ineffective, or cannot be enforced, and is widely acknowledged as such, can only lead to more difficulties with the committee’s ability to manage its responsibilities in the future.

The committee needs to be confident that it understands the reasons for introducing the byelaw, the ongoing costs and responsibility for future management and the criteria needed to judge whether it is worthwhile and will continue to be worthwhile. 


Representatives of the RSA sector that were contacted appear to hold a common view that the bag limit proposals being suggested are like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut and not addressing the root of the problem of ‘black bass’, which is the catering trade's willingness to buy fish from individuals, and the ‘commercial sector's’ propensity to sell fish at the back door. (The ‘commercial sector’ including anyone selling fish, licensed or not).

These activities are ALREADY encompassed by the buyers and sellers SI, albeit in an unsatisfactory manner!

If funding is found to progress the bag limit issue it seems that a more efficient use of such funds would be through the introduction of carcass tagging to licensed and registered fishermen.

A description of such a scheme is provided within the BASS Management Plan within a more holistic management approach to achieving best value from the resource.

In addition, the view has been put forward from some RSA representatives contacted that it may be far easier and more cost effective for SFC officers and other enforcement agency officers to visit restaurants, pubs and fishmongers in order to check freezers and fish slabs (together with checking of carcass tags at point of capture, markets etc) rather than tramping along miles of sea shore in search of anglers who might have caught a bass or two and be well within the proposed bag limit.

If additional powers are needed for such an activity then this should be the focus for progression.

Concerns by the RSA Sector

There are currently no effective restraints on the numbers/weight of bass that can be retained by either commercial or recreational users of the public bass resource.

In many other parts of the world, bag limits do apply to recreational anglers BUT ONLY as one management measure amongst a suite of measures designed to deliver the 'best value' on a sustainable basis from a public natural resource.

Those who are advocating bag limits on recreational anglers in the UK may benefit from taking a closer look at why and how bag limits/slot limits are applied in other countries.
Recent MLS changes are to apply to ALL stakeholders, however, the RSA sector would object in principle against the introduction of bag limits on their sector whilst the commercial sector could take whatever they could catch without appropriate limitations, such that the perceived benefits to stock provided through the limitation on anglers could be rapidly absorbed by increasing and uncontrolled commercial effort!

It is manifestly unfair that a huge number of bona fide Recreational Sea Anglers, legally taking fish for their own consumption, should be criminalised in an effort to crack down on the activities of a minority of people fishing with the intention of selling fish (not necessarily illegally).  Punishing the innocent in a (probably futile) attempt to restrict the activities of the guilty. 


Before considering imposition of a limit to the 'right to fish', it may well be sensible to quantify in some way the scale of the 'problem', and how much the measures are likely to reduce the 'problem'.
So far all we have is anecdotal allegations, confused perhaps by the difficulty to recognise what part of the back door trade comes from:
a) Illegal sales  - Fish caught using unlicensed powered vessels or vessels over 10 metres.
b) Legal sales of fish caught that can be legally sold by unlicensed fishermen (from the shore etc)
c) Back-pocket sales by licensed fishermen or others.

Until the scale and circumstances of the problem is properly assessed, and the right measures to address all of the problems identified, there is a risk of sinking into an expensive mire of legally unenforceable measures which will not fully tackle all or any of the perceived problem(s).

If the intention is to improve the conservation of bass, then a system, such as carcass tagging, which puts a cap on the total catch of bass, is needed to supplement bag limits, along with other conservation measures such as a review and expansion of bass nursery areas, close seasons etc should be introduced at the same time.

If the intention is to reduce the sale of back door bass, especially illegal sales, then more rigorous enforcement of existing regulations, and especially those aimed at reducing back pocket sales would seem to be a far more effective solution than introducing additional legislation that is likely to be difficult and expensive to enforce.

Whereas most anglers would undoubtedly accept a conservation package, including bag-limits that will manifestly lead to an improved Recreational Fishery (as well as delivering long term benefits to the catching sector) bag-limits applied inequitably, for no clear conservation benefit, are likely to be largely ineffective and lead to other problems of enforcement and co-operation by anglers with fishery management objectives.

From document issued to members of the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee • 22nd April 1983 following receipt of a letter from the Ministry:


Bye-laws which may be regarded as unreasonable are those which inter alia impinge inequitably on the common law rights to take fish from the sea and are partial and unequal in their operation as between different interests.


Bye-laws which openly discriminate between ‘full-time’, ‘part-time’ and ‘hobby’ fishermen may give rise to considerable difficulties: Minister’s present policy is that the law should not be used merely to exclude a particular category of fishermen from a fishery.


Hobby Fishing - This term has sometimes been used to cover both unlicensed netting and Recreational Sea Angling, but is more often used to describe unlicensed fishing excluding RSA.  The needs, attitudes and circumstances of both these ‘sectors’ are very different and therefore using the term ‘hobby fishing’ to encompass both should be avoided.  I.e. instead use ‘hobby fishing and Recreational Sea Angling’ instead.

Recreational Sea Angler • Should only be used to describe those who fish purely for recreation and who take fish only for their personal needs.  Anyone who fishes with the intention of selling their catch is fishing for commerce, not recreation, and are better described as ‘unlicensed commercial rod and line fishermen’. 


Related news

» Bass Carcass Tagging - An Alternative to Bag Limits?
by Plugger posted on Nov 16,2006
» Buyers and Sellers Legislation - Does it Apply?
by Leon posted on Oct 04,2006
» ESFJC Meets RSA - Report
by SACN posted on Apr 05,2007
» Bag Limits for Cornwall (Updated 13 Feb 07)
by SACN posted on Feb 10,2007
» Unlicensed Commercial Rod and Line Fisherman Gets £1,000 Fine
by SACN posted on Apr 16,2007

comment Comments (3 posted) 
  • I would strongly make the point that should a bag limit be introduced under SFC byelaw which impacts anglers, then to enforce this effectively, the SFC manpower resource will either need to be significantly increased (highly unlikely under current government budget limits on local authorities) or the small amount of resource they currently have will be diverted away from the effective policing of current byelaws on commercial activities which have the biggest potential to impact the inshore fishery resource. What this will mean if a bag limit byelaw requires government political profile, is that checking an angler on a deserted surf beach or estuary at night in case he might have a fish over the bag limit will divert attention from a scalloper or an oversize trawler fishing inshore contrary to SFC byelaw. I would ask the question which would cause the biggest impact on the fishery? The credibility of the SFC as an enforcement agency would rapidly decline if it were shown that their resource and effectiveness was being diverted from offences having the biggest potential for impact on the inshore fishery, to those where the impact was relatively insignificant – a departure from a risk based approach. If limited resource was diverted away from effective policing of commercial inshore activity then it would be reasonable to assume that more illegal commercial activity (non bass) would take place which would have a far greater impact on the inshore fishery resource which in turn would have a far bigger impact on those commercial fishermen who wanted to work within the rules. A few commercial bass men might catch a few more bass but given that SFC byelaws relate to protection of a diverse fishery then overtime it would be the commercial fishermen who would suffer the most from a diverted SFC policing resource. Where an SFC maintains an inshore patrol vessel you need a minimum number of qualified officers to take it to sea under Health & Safety. If the manpower resource is tight and SFC officers are being pushed into policing a bass bag limit byelaw then they can expect to be out at night a lot more than now looking for bass anglers and with legislation like the working time directive in force, will find that their ability to man and use their patrol vessel may be compromised and so forth. By giving SFC officers powers to check tagged bass on the slab, restaurants, pubs etc, their small amount of resource would be far more effectively used as they could couple inspections aimed at undersized fish etc with tagged bass inspections. What would be more effective with a small resource – 3 hours for three anglers on an estuary at night or 20 establishment checks in 3 hours in a coastal town who sell bass on the menu ? Make the establishments fear that they will get caught and punished for having non tagged bass and those who wish to sell bass illegally will have less and less places to go. Anglers and unlicenced sellers of bass can evade detection and make the collection of evidence to a criminal standard almost impossible for SFC officers – especially at night. An establishment cannot run away nor can its freezers and as with salmonid buyer beware legislation the establishment will be guilty of an offence unless it can prove that the bass in its freezers are farm produced (receipts) or are tagged indicating the name or licence of the seller. A bag limit byelaw for bass is flawed as a stand alone measure (ok as per BMP suggestion as part of a package of measures including catch limitations for bass on licenced commercials) and will not only not conserve or improve bass stocks but will have potential implications on SFC’s for effective policing of all the other byelaws with a likely longer term detrimental impact on the inshore fishery which is already under severe pressure.
(Posted on December 16, 2006, 3:27 pm Bassmate)

  • Please forgive my ignorance here as I don't understand much about bass. But isn't the buyers and sellers law appropriate here ?
(Posted on December 14, 2006, 8:56 pm Glenn Kilpatrick)

  • The fact is that, for species where their is no quota, black fish landings are not a problem for RSA. Whether the market is being supplied legally or illegally makes no difference to the amount of non-quota fish that the market is taking. It merely means that bona fide licensed fishermen have a greater problem selling into an already well supplied market, and get a lower price for their product. Carwyn Jones seems to think that if the black market for bass is stopped that those fish will not then be taken out of the sea, so regards it as a conservation measure. However the market will still be there. By choking off the black market supply it will merely mean that it will be bona fide licensed fishermen supplying that market with those fish rather than unlicensed commercial fishermen (rod and liners as well as netters). So it's really about protecting the market and market price of licensed fishermen, rather than about conservation. And anglers will not benefit from that. Yet in order to protect that market, the intention is to take away the rights of bona fide Recreational Sea Anglers, because the perception is that will make supply to the black market more easy to enforce. If a cap was to be placed on the effort on bass then perhaps a cap on the Recreational catch would be acceptable. But the current bag limit proposals make no mention of a limit on total effort, licensed fishermen will still be able to put out as much netting as they possibly can, leave it in the water for as long as is practical, fish for as many hours as they can manage. And when the black market is quashed, and the price of fish goes up, there is no way that the supply of fish will fall, rather the licensed catching sector will gear up to take up the slack. And that is why the carcass tagging idea is preferable. It not only makes life difficult for those who supply black fish, but it enables a cap to be placed on total effort, increasing the market price and meaning that bona fide licensed fishermen will actually be able to fish less for the same level of income. Not only protecting the market and price of bona fide licensed fishermen, but delivering conservation benefits as well. And there is no need to place unnecesary restrictions on bone fida Recreational Sea Anglers taking home fish for their own use, and to feed their families, though with a cap on commercial effort perhaps an angling bag limit would be more acceptable and equitable . Win Win Win for everyone, and most importantly for the fish stocks themselves.
(Posted on November 19, 2006, 12:50 pm Leon Roskilly)

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