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Sound ‘bassis’ for restrictions

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Simon Hart MP (C): Recently complained to Environment minister over impact on recreational anglers

Simon Hart MP (C): Recently complained to Environment minister over impact on recreational anglers

ONE of the latest political footballs in the run-up to the Assembly elections and the EU referendum later this year is one that will resonate with a number of people living and working near the coast of south west Wales.

In January, a six month ban on catching bass was introduced, while a shorter ban for commercial fishermen runs concurrently. After this, a quota system will be put in place, limiting the number of fish which both commercial and recreational fishermen can take, for the remainder of the year.

UKIP in particular has taken this issue to heart. As The Herald reported last week, Llanelli candidate Ken Rees claimed that local commercial fishermen would be unable to survive if the rules were passed, and that it would lead to a situation ‘whereby a local fisherman innocently lands some bass on a local beach, only to be pounced on by the Marine Management Organisation, taken through the courts, and fined’.

Local MP and keen bass fisherman Simon Hart has also voiced his opposition to the legislation as it applies to shore fishermen. Mr Rees also suggested that many people would be unaware that the ban had begun.

WHAT WILL THE RESTRICTIONS BE?

As of January 1, recreational sea anglers (RSAs) will be forced to follow ‘catch and release’ practice, meaning that recreational fishing for bass is not prohibited, although taking fish for the table is. This will continue until the end of June.

From July 1 until December 31, RSAs will be able to retain one bass per day – a reduction from last year, when it was permitted to retain three. It is thought that similar measures will be put in place again next year.

In the commercial rod-and-line and netting fishery, fishing will be completely prohibited in February and March. During January and April-June, each boat will have a monthly catch limit of 1.3 tonnes. For the entire six-month period, vessels fishing with trawls and seine nets will not be permitted to target bass, and a maximum of 1% ‘accidental catch’ out of the total catch can be made up of bass.

From July –December, boats will be set a catch limit of 1,000 kilos per month.

An increase in minimum size, from 36cm to 42cm which was introduced in September last year has also been retained.

WHY HAVE THESE RESTRICTIONS BEEN INTRODUCED?

The International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has been expressing concerns about bass stocks in European waters for some time. In 2004, their advice was that the bass fishery should not be allowed to increase. At this point, the UK, which is one of the major commercial bass fisheries along with France, landed 617 tonnes. In 2014, a total of 1003 tonnes were landed by British commercial fishermen – an increase of nearly 40%.

At the same time, the spawning stock of bass – which generally reach maturity at around 6-7 years of age – has plummeted from 15,000 tonnes down to around half of that in July 2015. This is below the level at which the sustainability of the fishery is considered to be in danger.

ICES suggested that the maximum sustainable yield of the bass fishery for 2016 would be no more than 541 tonnes slightly less than a fifth of what was landed in 2014.

Interestingly, their report suggested that they had ‘no basis for advising on the allocation of landings between commercial and recreational fisheries ‘. It is thought that quantifying the number of fish caught yearly by recreational anglers is problematic, and that accurate data for this would be almost impossible to obtain.

The commercial bass fishery in Wales is far smaller than its English counterpart. In 2014, 911 tonnes of bass were landed in England, compared to just 92 tonnes in Wales. The money generated by the Welsh commercial bass fishery was around £600,000, as opposed to more than £6.5m in England. In 2014, the Welsh commercial fishery accounted for 3.3% of the total EU catch. The English landings of bass accounted for 34% of the EU total.

In a statement following the introduction of the restrictions in December, the Welsh Government said : “At the EU Fisheries Council held in Brussels on December 14 -15, 2015 a number of important management measures for sea bass fishing in 2016 were agreed. These are based on a clear acceptance of the compelling scientific advice that the bass stock in the southern half of the North Sea, the waters of the English Channel and the Celtic and Irish Sea remains under severe fishing pressure.

“The Welsh Government believes the new measures will prove effective in halting the continued decline in the sea bass stocks and will also continue to support the low impact nature of our bass fishery for the commercial and the recreational industry.”

It is thought that, rather than the restrictions being the result of ‘EU bureaucracy and red tape’ the reason for implementing EU-wide legislation was as a result of member states – including Britain and France – failing to legislate their fisheries effectively, if at all.

Bass are a non-quota species, which means that these monthly boat-by-boat catch limits are all that can be realistically imposed to protect stocks. Prior to last year, there was no limit on how many fish a country, or individual vessel, could take.

EFFECTIVENESS OF THE RESTRICTIONS

Opinion is sharply divided over how effective the catch limits for recreational and commercial fishermen will prove. Local MP Simon Hart – a member of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group – met with environment secretary Liz Truss to complain about the impact on recreational anglers.

Mr Hart said: “EU Fisheries Ministers caved in to pressure from commercial fishing interests and granted four month exemptions to commercial hook and line and the highly damaging bass fixed gill net fishery which are responsible for 50% of landings.

“At the same time anglers face draconian restrictions and are at risk of criminalisation if they try to keep the self-same bass that a netsman is free to kill during the moratorium.”

Mr Hart added: “Recreational anglers are prepared to play their part in what was expected to be a fair, effective and proportionate package of measures that would help rebuild bass stocks but this has not happened.

“The recreational bag limits are grossly unfair, make an ass of the law and fail to acknowledge that recreational sea angling is the most sustainable form of bass fishing which delivers the best economic return.”

While it is possibly difficult to understand how removing more fish from a depleted stock will make recreational fishing more sustainable, Mr Hart raises a valid point about commercial fishing activity during the first six months of the year.

The original proposals called for a blanket ban on all fishing for bass, with the exception of recreational ‘catch and release’ fishing for six months. This led to an outcry from the commercial fishing industry, with many lobbying Euro MPs and politicians to stop this ban. Stephen De-Waine of the West Wales Shellfishermen’s Association was among those.

In his letter to Welsh MEPs, Mr De-Waine said: “It will have devastating economic consequences for not only Welsh fishermen, some of who rely totally on catching bass for a living, but also with all the fish buyers and businesses which provide fishermen with consumable and non-consumable goods to support their businesses.”

February and March were chosen for the two month blanket ban because this is considered to be the spawning season for bass.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that the commercial bass fishery in Wales is not a year-round occupation. In Pembrokeshire, for example, most of the commercial rod-and-line boats do not begin fishing until around April, at the earliest, with gill netters beginning before. As is currently the case, weather conditions are generally too rough for the operation of small inshore boats (typically less than 10 metres in length) in January and February.

Therefore, while a six month ban would have caused a loss of earnings to fishermen for a period of around two months, there is no reason to assume that the ban could not have run from January-April, something which may have reduced the resentment felt by recreational fishermen who feel that they are being asked to do more than their bit.

IS IT THE EU’S FAULT?

Pair trawling: Blamed for over-fishing

Pair trawling: Blamed for over-fishing

While UKIP has made serious political capital from the ban, along with other EU fishing regulations, the fact remains that bass stocks in British and Welsh waters were in steep and sustained decline, and had been for at least a decade. Natural factors have played a part in this – bass larva are vulnerable to sustained periods of cold or rough weather early in their lives – it is hard not to see a correlation between increased fishing and declining stocks.

Bass are known to group together in large numbers to spawn in February and March, when they are targeted by pelagic trawls. This is particularly damaging to a sustainable fishery, in that many fish are killed before they have a chance to reproduce.

While trawlers only account for around a third of bass taken in the fishery (34% in 2014) catches like these are far more harmful to stocks, and as such, should be restricted. Pair trawlers have also been suspected of causing the deaths of dolphins and porpoises, although this has not been conclusively proven.

The Welsh Government, as it has with other fisheries including the Cardigan Bay scallop fishery, appears to be aiming for a sustainable fishery. Unlike in England, the Welsh Government has launched a Task and Finish Group to consider the future of bass fishing, and has held several meetings.

An attendee with a stake in the industry, who asked not to be named, told us that there was a general consensus that the fishery had to be legislated in some way to make it sustainable. One of the ideas at the meeting which was widely supported was the banning of pelagic trawling in Welsh waters. This, while not widespread at present, could become more so as the seas warm, so a ban would be an effective pre-emptive measure to preserve future stocks.

The misapprehension persists that it will be illegal to catch bass during the first six months of the year. In fact, they can still be caught for sport, as long as they are returned to the water alive. The image of innocent pleasure fishermen being dragged off the beach by enforcement officers for accidentally hooking a bass is therefore somewhat misleading.

There are around 20 fisheries enforcement officers working in Wales, covering all aspects of commercial fishing and catches landed in Welsh waters. This would give the impression that, like the ban on smoking on beaches, the one-bag limit in the summer will be practically unenforceable, and will rely on the honesty of individual anglers.

Penalising powers available include verbal and written warnings, as well as prosecution.

In some ways, the commercial fishery is more easily regulated. However, there will be few Welsh commercial boats in danger of exceeding the 1,000kg per month quota. A total catch of 92 tonnes, even assuming that there are only 30 rod-and-line boats or gill netters in Wales, equates to around three tonnes per boat.

Between April and September, the traditional season, this equates to around half a tonne each. While netters catch more fish, the difference is not as great as one might think (30% in fixed and drift nets, compared to 19% commercial rod-and-line in 2014).

SO, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?

It is hoped that the restrictions will reduce the number of bass landed to around 1500 tonnes in 2016, from 2,682 tonnes in 2014. If this was applied proportionally to the Welsh fishery, this would lead to landings of around 50 tonnes. However, the biggest catch reductions will be among trawlers – not a regularly employed method in Wales. As stated earlier, the monthly maximum catch limits are unlikely to affect most of the inshore fishermen in Wales, especially as tides and weather conditions will prevent them from fishing anything like 30 days a month.

If anything, the restrictions placed on trawling, and the ban on fishing in February and March, should increase the number of fish successfully spawning, which could lead to an increase in stocks.

While 1500 tonnes is still almost three times the limit recommended by ICES, it represents a step towards a more sustainable fishery, and should go at least a small way to arresting the decline in bass numbers.

For recreational anglers, there are certain inequalities evident. For example a retired person fishing 30 days a month could take 30 bass per month, while someone only able to fish on weekends would be limited to eight or ten. However, as suggested earlier, it is much more difficult to monitor the catches of recreational anglers, meaning that a monthly quota would be almost impossible to impose.

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Carmarthenshire Archives’ new building officially opened

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ON MONDAY, November 28, Cllr Rob Evans, Chair of Carmarthenshire County Council, unveiled a specially designed plaque to commemorate the official opening of the brand new Carmarthenshire Archives building.

The official opening was attended by year 6 pupils of Ysgol Y Dderwen, along with their Headteacher Mr Dylan Evans, who designed the plaque by compiling various artwork and sketches that are housed at the Archives.

Established in 1959, Carmarthenshire Archives is the local authority archive service for the County of Carmarthenshire and the new building is located at St Peter’s Street, Carmarthen. 

The service is home to our extensive collection of historic documents that date from the 13th century to the present day. The collection includes archives, maps, books, photographs, videos and sound recordings. It is the Archives’ mission to preserve and make its documents available for general study and research.

Admission to Carmarthenshire Archives is free and open to anyone who wishes to use the Council’s records. Most of its services are free, but we do charge for some extra services and help.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Leisure, Culture and Tourism, Cllr Gareth John commented:

“Congratulations to the pupils of Ysgol Y Dderwen, they have designed an excellent and appropriate plaque that is inspired by the treasure troves of our archives. It was wonderful to welcome them to the official opening so that they can see their work take pride of place at a building that holds great significance to us in Carmarthenshire. 

“This is a brand new and modern building that is fit to keep and protect our county’s most precious historical documents. 

“But of course, these documents are meant to be viewed and studied by school children, students, academics and anybody who has an interest in Carmarthenshire’s rich history; and this excellent facility provides the perfect space for people to come and view these treasures.”

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Llandeilo gas works to begin say Wales & West Utilities

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WALES & West Utilities will shortly begin work to upgrade gas pipes in Llandeilo.

Wales & West Utilities has liaised with Carmarthenshire County Council to plan the work and it has been agreed that work will commence after the town has celebrated the Festival of Senses.

The £123,000 investment scheme, which is essential to keep the gas flowing safely to heat and power local homes and businesses, will begin in New Road on 21 November. This section of work will be complete before Christmas and Wales & West Utilities will return to the town next year to undertake further work in the Crescent Road area. Barring any engineering difficulties, work in the town will be complete by the end of February next year.

Wales & West Utilities Adam Smith is managing this gas pipe upgrade work. He said: “Working with the Council, we have planned this work to accommodate the needs of the town.

“While most of the gas network is underground and out of sight, it plays a central role in the daily lives of people across Llandeilo. Whether it’s heating your home, making the family dinner or having a hot bath, we understand how important it is for your gas supply to be safe and reliable and there when you need it.

“We know that working in areas like this is not ideal, but it really is essential to make sure we keep the gas flowing to homes and businesses in the area, and to make sure the gas network is fit for the future. We’ll have a team of gas engineers on site throughout the project to make sure our work is completed as safely and as quickly as possible while keeping disruption to a minimum.

“This work is essential to keep the gas flowing to local homes and businesses today, and to make sure the gas network is ready to transport hydrogen and biomethane, so we can all play our part in a green future.”

Our Customer Service Team is ready to take your call if you have any questions about our work. You can contact them on freephone 0800 912 2999.

Alternatively, you can contact us on Twitter @WWUtilities or Facebook.com/WWUtilities.

Wales & West Utilities, the gas emergency and pipeline service, brings energy to 7.5m people across the south west of England and Wales. If you smell gas, or suspect the presence of carbon monoxide, call us on 0800 111 999 straight away, and our engineers will be there to help any time of day or night. Before visiting, we’ll ask you to let us know if you or anyone in your household, is experiencing Coronavirus symptoms or self-isolating. We’ll still come and help you: but our teams will take some additional precautions to keep us all safe.

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Police appeal following theft of items from Home Bargains Crosshands

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OFFICERS from Dyfed Powys Police have confirmed that they are investigating the theft of items, including a Christmas Nutcracker Ornament valued at £129.99, from the Home Bargains store in Crosshands, Carmarthenshire.

The theft occurred at about 12:40pm on Tuesday, 27th September 2022.

Officers have carried out all possible lines of enquiry, and are now appealing for help from the public.

They would like to identify the people in the CCTV image, who may have information that could help the investigation.

Anyone who knows who the people are, or if you believe you are pictured, contact Dyfed-Powys Police.

This can also be done either online at: https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.police.uk or phoning 101.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

Please quote reference DPP/2006/27/09/2022/02/C

Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.

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