Elliot Morley

The Minister for Fisheries responds to an article by Fergal Keane, in which he chronicled the destruction by commercial fishing of stocks of the sea bass
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Fergal Keane raises some important points about the over-exploitation of sea bass ("Sea bass: the latest fashion in ecological genocide", 22 July). I would just like to point out that important measures are being taken by the Ministry of Agriculture to conserve the sea bass.

Fergal Keane raises some important points about the over-exploitation of sea bass ("Sea bass: the latest fashion in ecological genocide", 22 July). I would just like to point out that important measures are being taken by the Ministry of Agriculture to conserve the sea bass.

Since 1990, some 37 nursery areas closed to fishing for sea bass for all or part of the year have been established. They include river estuaries, harbours and power station outfalls where juvenile bass usually congregate. In addition, restrictions have been applied on the use of gill nets and similar enmeshing nets. Current evidence indicates that the nursery areas have been highly effective and juvenile bass are thriving.

I know that there has been concern that the effectiveness of these nurseries is being undermined by the off-shore fishery for bass, alleged to be taking significant quantities of the larger bass that form the basis of the spawning stock. For this reason, I have introduced a licence condition restricting landings of bass from UK vessels to five tonnes per week or, as a once-only choice, 15 tonnes per month during 2000. This puts a cap on landings from UK vessels for the first time.

I do not rule out yet more measures to protect bass. Conserving the stock is in everyone's interest: commercial fishermen who provide food for us all, and recreational anglers like Fergal Keane who enjoy their sport and help local economic activity.

Conservation action must be based on sound science. That is why, given that the French play a very important role in the off-shore bass fishery, I have provided funding for our scientists to cooperate with French counterparts on a project to monitor the stock. This work will help us see if more needs to be done.

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