North Devon anglers will not be able to keep any bass in 2018, although the situation may be reviewed in March

North Devon’s sea anglers are facing the prospect of not being able to keep any bass in 2018.

The European Council is proposing a complete ban on the taking of bass by recreational sea anglers (RSA) for the entire year.

In 2017 there was a ban for the first six months but anglers were allowed to keep one bass a day for the remaining time.

The much-prized ‘sea bass’ made famous by celebrity chefs currently sells at around £32 per kilo.

'Sea bass' has been made popular - and expensive - by chefs. Picture: Contributed'Sea bass' has been made popular - and expensive - by chefs. Picture: Contributed

The EU believes the bass stocks are now in a critical state, according to its scientists, and has placed further limitations on catching them.

Anglers may still fish for them, but must release them or potentially face prosecution and fines if they break the law by keeping one.

There is some suggestion the situation may be looked at again in March, with the possibility of the one-a-day bag limit being re-introduced for the second part of 2018.

Some commercial fishing will still be allowed - fixed net fishermen can keep 1.2 tonnes over 10 months, while commercial hook and line vessels can keep five tonnes in that period.

A by-catch of 100 kilos for netting with trawls and 180kg for seine has been allowed.

Angling provides a boost to the economy in the South West and there are fears this could be hit by the ban.

John Balls, chairman of North Devon Fishermen’s Association, said despite reductions in what commercial fishermen could catch, the leisure sector had continued to see quite substantial bags of bass caught by boat and shore anglers.

He said: “Eventually something had to be done. If there’s a million part-time leisure anglers and they catch one fish each, that’s a lot of fish.”

North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones said he had written to fisheries minister George Eustace about the issue.

He said: “There’s a delicate balance to be struck between our environmental responsibilities to protect fish stocks, and the economic value of bass fishing.

“This is especially difficult in an area like North Devon where recreational fishing is a significant contributor to the local economy.

“Hopefully most recreational anglers, and the businesses that rely on them, will not be unduly impacted by this, but I have been assured that ministers will continue to monitor this closely.”