If you go down to the coast today, you’ll find tens of thousands of anglers on beaches, piers, jetties and small boats casting a line into the sea. One of the advantages of a mild December is that bass, which traditionally head for warmer waters at this time of year, are still in plentiful supply.
That’s not just a bonus for recreational fishermen, but also for charter skippers like Neil French, who operates the 40-foot Spirit of Arun out of Littlehampton, in West Sussex. He relies on keen anglers to make his living and can accommodate up to eight at a time. On a good day, they bring home between six and a dozen bass each trip.
Not any more. As of midnight last night, Neil and his clients will be committing a criminal offence if they return with just one fish.
Under the radar, the EU has sneaked in a new law making it illegal to take home a single bass. It applies not just to small businessmen like Neil, but also to individual anglers who go no further into the sea than halfway up their waders.
If you go down to the coast today, you’ll find tens of thousands of anglers on beaches, piers, jetties and small boats casting a line into the sea. One of the advantages of a mild December is that bass, which traditionally head for warmer waters at this time of year, are still in plentiful supply
Few of these weekend sportsmen will have any idea they are doing anything wrong. Neil only found out after rumours surfaced on social media.
He has received no official communication from Brussels, or from Defra, the British ministry responsible for fisheries. It took Nigel Farage, Ukip leader and himself an enthusiastic sea angler, to dig out the relevant directive.
This specifies that anyone catching and keeping a bass off the British coast is liable to a fine of up to £50,000. Yet the law applies only to inshore fishing. Commercial trawlers, predominantly French and Spanish, will still be allowed to catch 1.3 tonnes of bass a month.
So no surprises there, then.
Neil told me: ‘These commercial boats can catch as much in a night as I will catch in five years, but they won’t be affected.’
The measure has been introduced in the name of preservation. But if there is a shortage of bass, something Neil disputes, it isn’t the fault of recreational anglers and skippers of small charter boats.
‘Most anglers are acutely aware of the need to conserve stocks and behave responsibly. I’d say in my experience that there has been no decline here — quite the opposite, in fact,’ says Neil, 57, who has been running his charter operation for 15 years and has been fishing for fun all his life.
No, if there is a European shortage of bass, then it’s all down to overfishing on an industrial scale by foreign-owned vessels, plundering the seas under the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy.
Yet these commercial operators won’t suffer as a result of this latest directive — apart from a brief pause during the spawning season in February and March.
The rules will apply until June, when they will be relaxed. After that, sea anglers will be allowed to keep a grand total of one bass each.
Yep, that’s right. One. Should make all the difference. You can hear the Prosecco corks popping from Padstow to Peterhead.
While the foreign fishing boats will steam full ahead regardless, the future for hundreds of British charter skippers like Neil is uncertain. He charges around £60 a head per angler, per day, which doesn’t leave a huge profit after overheads such as fuel, maintenance and insurance are taken into account. And because of the weather, he can only fish approximately 160 days a year. Work it out for yourselves.
It’s not just the impact on charter skippers, either. There’s an entire coastal economy dependent upon sports fishing — bed-and-breakfasts, bait-and-tackle shops, pubs.
Britain’s ports and fishing villages have been devastated ever since Grocer Heath shamefully traded away our traditional fishing grounds in 1972, in his desperation to join what was then known as the Common Market.
Leaving all that to one side for a moment, though, the real scandal here is the contempt for individual liberty which is the hallmark of the EU.
As Farage points out: ‘For centuries, it has been the absolute right of British citizens to fish from our shores. Magna Carta enshrined as common land the high tide to low water mark. Brussels has once again ridden roughshod over our freedoms.’ Without any debate in Parliament, without consultation and without even notifying those affected, it should be added.
A measure such as this would never have passed a vote at Westminster. There would have been uproar. More people go angling than watch Premier League football.
Any politician standing on a manifesto which proposed turning British bass fishermen into criminals would be committing electoral suicide.
So instead, it was simply rubber-stamped using a so-called statutory instrument. This is how laws are made now in Britain — and have been ever since we subjugated our democracy to the dictatorship in Brussels.
And you know — you, just know — that this latest directive will be enforced far more rigorously in Britain than anywhere else in Europe.
Regular readers may remember the case of retired trawler skipper, Earnest ‘Bubs’ Cromer, which I brought you last year. Bubs, 76, from Grimsby, was persecuted by the authorities for catching a few fish in a net in the Humber Estuary in defiance of an EU-inspired by-law.
Meanwhile, successive governments have stood back as European policy has reduced Grimsby from the busiest fishing port in the world, boasting 700 trawlers, to a rotting husk.
The last time I looked, there were just five trawlers operating from Grimsby — a third of the number of boats servicing useless offshore windfarms, put there at vast public expense to comply with the EU’s insane ‘green’ energy policies.
For the past 45 years we have been told lies about our relationship with Europe, which has its tentacles in every aspect of our lives, from telling us who has the right to live here to how many fish we can catch off Brighton beach.
As I explained on Tuesday, the widespread flooding which has engulfed much of Britain is an inevitable result of doolally Brussels environmental directives.
Only this week we learned that our contributions to the EU now top £1 billion a month. Another report claimed that EU legislation covers enough pages to stretch for 130 miles.
Is that all?
Call Me Dave promised to sort all this out, to seek a fundamental renegotiation of our EU membership. At the last election, we trusted him to keep his word.
We have learned to our cost that he was lying through his teeth.
There’s been no attempt to unravel the fisheries policy; or the Common Agricultural Policy; to repatriate powers to make our own laws; or to scrap many of those absurd regulations which now exist only because of Brussels diktats.
He isn’t even attempting to control immigration, merely obtain a worthless opt-out on benefit payments.
Then he thinks he can scare us into voting to stay, by wheeling out predictable horror stories about millions of jobs being lost and every family being thousands of pounds worse off if we get out.
It’s pathetic. It’s dishonest. It’s insulting. This isn’t about technicalities, or ‘influence’ or whether we can trade freely and thrive economically without the wonderful EU — which, of course, we can.
It’s about whether we are a sovereign nation, with the power to make our own laws and determine our own destiny.
Perhaps the Prime Minister would like to explain to the legions of British sea anglers he’s just criminalised at the EU’s behest how, exactly, remaining in this sclerotic, anti-democratic behemoth is in our best interests.
Cameron likes to think of himself as the Heir to Blair. But when it comes to Europe, he’s the bastard son of Grocer Heath, sacrificing decent people like bass skipper Neil French for a seat at the lobster supper tables of Brussels.
The government sold out our cod and haddock fleets for the sake of political expediency. Now it’s the turn of our sea bass fishermen.
Getting on for 25 years ago, I rewrote the theme tune to the wonderful TV series When The Boat Comes In, as a commentary on our relationship with Europe. You tell me what’s changed.
You can’t have a fishy, on a little dishy,
You can’t have a fishy, ‘cos the boat’s been burned.
You can’t have a haddock, you can’t have a bloater,
And as for Britain’s quota, that has gone to Spain.
Dance to the Spanish, sing for your supper,
Eat bread and butter, ‘cos the boat’s been burned.
You can’t have yer mussels, they’ve been sent to Brussels,
You can’t have a mackerel, ‘cos the boat’s been burned.
Happy New Year.