Fishermen using nets to catch sea bass on Yorkshire shores face threat of legal action from anglers group

The last five fishermen using traditional nets to fish from a 300-mile stretch of coastline are facing a new threat to their livelihoods after a warning of legal action from recreational anglers.

There are just five fishermen left who fish using traditional nets along a 300-mile stretch of coast

The group, who fish off the Holderness coast, an age-old practice dating back millennia, only got their intertidal licences back in recent weeks after a four-year ban.

But now a not-for-profit organisation, Fish Legal, on behalf of the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society, has sent a letter to the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Association (NEIFCA) claiming that the issuing of the permits was “unlawful” and the process was “kept secret and away from the public eye”.

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Dave McCandless, chief fisheries officer, said they would “robustly” defend their actions, adding they had been “very happy” to reopen the fishery.

Fishermen, from left, Andrew Sanderson, Frank Powell and Shaun Wingham, pictured at Bridlington harbour Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

He said: “We are being challenged by people living in the South of England, who probably don’t know where Bridlington is.

“We are permitting five artisinal fisherman to work nets from the beach, which itself is not an easy fishery to operate.

“Their position is that there shouldn’t be any commercial fishing for sea bass. They want it protected as a recreational species for the sole enjoyment of recreational rod fishermen.”

Mr McCandless said the bass fishery was healthy, and signs are that it is expanding year on year in the region.

There are some 100,000 anglers between South Tyneside and Spurn, the NEIFCA’s area, who are allowed to land two sea bass per day.

Mr McCandless said there was no information regarding the amount landed by recreational fishermen, but the NEIFCA has a detailed record of the net fishermen’s catches over 15 years, and he believes anglers’ catches exceed that taken by the five. The netsmen also catch other species like cod and Dover sole.

Fish Legal describes itself as fighting “to protect the aquatic environment and fisheries”.

In a statement, Dr Justin Neal said: “Like our member, we are concerned that the bass fishery in question has been opened up at a time when the fish stock is still in a fragile condition and more should be done to conserve those stocks.”

He said the reopening of the fishery, which followed a precautionary EU ban, was “disappointing”. While the law provides exemptions for bass to be caught as a bycatch, Dr Neal said it was “obvious” that the main species caught would be bass.

They are also challenging the fact that the committee met to approve the opening up of the fishery to commercial nets before the law changed.

Their letter says the Sportfishing Society only learnt of permits being issued two days before they were granted on September 28. Documents of the decision had not been posted on NEIFCA’s website as of November 14.

It says the Society "reserves its right to issue a claim for judicial review outside the normal 3 month limit due to the secrecy surrounding the decision".

One of the five fishermen, Andrew Sanderson, said: “I think it’s a lot of hot air - some of these people want it all, they don’t want anyone else to do anything.

“I think it’s good to take a few - it doesn’t do the fishery any harm - we are just scratching on the edge of the sea. There’s nothing wrong with what we do at all.

“Now the winter is hardening on, once we get to Christmas, it is so difficult for us to catch anything. January, February and March, we can be out of it.”