Charles Walker backs calls to act to protect the numbers of sea bass

Speaking in a debate about the commerical overfishing of sea bass, Charles Walker calls for sea bass to be a shared resource between commercial fishing and the recreational angler, with the balance in favour of the recreational angler and to reject EU proposals to limit catches for recreational anglers to one fish while not effectively policing commercial fishing.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Mr Crausby, to speak in the debate.

I will not rehash the figures given over the past hour, but I must say to the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas), to paraphrase Napoleon, “better a lucky fisherman than a good fisherman”. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is rather better than he gives himself credit for, although I know that he is a lucky fisherman, as I have landed both his double-figure barbel for him—or at least netted them; I think he takes responsibility for having landed them.

I was going to give a great exposition on the need to preserve bass stocks, but again that has been done eloquently by my colleagues. Instead, I want to say that I absolutely love fishing. Fishing bridges all walks of life, from the richest and most powerful people to those who simply enjoy a day on the beach. I spend a huge amount of time fishing with my sons and, before I had my sons, I spent an enormous amount of time fishing with my grandfather, so the activity bridges generations as well. One of the most exciting times that I have had in the past five or six years was when my middle son caught his first bass, on Islay. I was running up and down the sea shore making a huge amount of noise, getting in a panic, and dropping the net and picking it up again, while he calmly landed a wonderful fish. As a family, we all then celebrated his success.

There has to be a fish species somewhere in the sea that does not belong to commercial fishermen. They have it all their own way. As the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said, they are a powerful lobby. Sea bass are a resource that needs to be shared, and the balance in that sharing needs to be in favour of the recreational angler. As for commercial interests, the debate is not about the loss of jobs; it is about the creation of jobs—well-paid guiding jobs, and jobs in restaurants, hotels, pubs, the tackle trade and angling shops. It is a positive thing that we are doing here today.

The wonderful thing about sea angling is the way everyone gathers early in the morning, or when the tide is right, with great excitement. Tackle bags are thrown on to the shore, and people rootle through for their favourite lure. A great celebration takes place, with people enjoying their natural heritage and the natural history of this country.

It is all very well to come up with facts and figures, which are very important, but the most important fact is that we are currently taking fish that have not spawned. They have not reproduced. Any idiot, from whatever background, knows that that is unsustainable. One of the most depressing interventions in this discussion was by the European Union, which has drawn a moral equivalence between netting and pair trawlers, and recreational anglers, saying that if we are to make new rules and legislation about the taking of bass, recreational anglers should be limited to one fish. That is to confuse and conflate issues. Recreational anglers are not the problem—they are the solution to the problem.

10.31 am

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