BASS Goes To Norway

The profile of BASS dramatically increased after the launch of the ‘Bass Management Plan’ in November 2004 and as a result, it was suggested that attendance at the 4th World Recreational Fishing Conference to be held in Trondheim, Norway in June 2005, would be beneficial.

Norway program

John Leballeur, Chairman of BASS and the BASS Restoration Project team, attended the conference on behalf of BASS and presented a paper, written by Malcolm Gilbert, BASS European Liason Officer. The theme of the presentation was titled, ‘UK Sea Anglers Challenge Conventional Mindsets’, which was well received by the delegates at the conference, who came from 27 countries. An ‘abstract’ of the paper was published in the official programme which was circulated to all attendees prior to the start of the conference.

Copies of the BASS presentation and the abstract are reproduced below.

Background to the Conference

The 4th World Recreational Fishing Conference in Trondheim was sponsored by The Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management. However, several other companies and organisations provided valuable financial support and practical help. They were, The Norwegian Research Council, Mustad AS, Norway State Forests, Norwegian Association of Hunters and Anglers, The Norwegian Salmon River Owners Organisation, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, The Norwegian Hospitality Organisation, The Ministry for Agriculture and Food, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, USA.

This years World Recreational Fishing Conference was the fourth to be held, previous conferences took place in Dublin, Eire (1996), Vancouver, Canada (1999) and Darwin, Australia in 2002.

Abstract – UK Sea Anglers Challenge Conventional Mindsets

Commercial fishing interests have invariably been prioritised over the interests of other stakeholders and the fishery resources themselves in the UK. As research increasingly shows the socio-economic significance of recreational sea angling, past attitudes and mindsets are being challenged.

One of the leading organisations is the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS) who campaign strenuously for a new management approach to sea bass in favour of recreational angling.

Political progress by saltwater angling interests during the last two years has arguably exceeded that of the previous century. A number of consultations surrounding fisheries have taken place and these coincided with research to show the enormous value of recreational sea angling. Recreational sea angling input into the consultations has been consistently and energetically provided by volunteers who for the most part are suffering significant burn out.

A key report to the UK Government has recommended the evidence be examined for designating some marine species – recreational. BASS have contributed to the evidence with a 60+ page Bass Management Plan. BASS has also secured the support of the Fisheries Minister but recognises many obstacles lie ahead.

Future opportunities for recreational sea angling have never been better IF the sector can collectively provide sufficient resources for full time professional representation. Anglers, angling press and the tackle trade all need to be playing their full role is raising the profile of sea angling.

Malcolm Gilbert & John Leballeur June 2005

The paper presented to the conference – UK Sea Anglers Challenge Conventional Mindsets

In the UK, as across most of Europe, marine fish stock resources are held out as commercial fish stocks and are managed for commercial exploitation. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has historically taken no account of recreational sport fishing – socially, economically or biologically. Research is increasingly highlighting the enormous levels of participation and value of recreational sport fishing, so why should such a significant sector have been so ignored within the process of formulating policies and strategies for our commonly owned fish stock resources? It is arguably the fault of the sport fishing sector itself for if the sea anglers and the many businesses that supply the goods and services consumed by anglers have not considered their activities of sufficient significance to warrant the funding of effective full time representation so that the sector’s profile is high on the EU agenda, why should others take us seriously. In the United Kingdom things are changing. Sea Anglers are challenging convention and one of the leading organisations that seek to raise the profile of saltwater sport fishing is the Bass Anglers’ Sport Fishing Society (BASS).

BASS is a UK based organisation which started in 1973 but also has members from Ireland, France & Holland. As a single species organisation it focuses on the conservation and exploitation of the European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax)Dicentrarchus labrax is a slow growing, long lived member of the serranidae family of fishes. It’s good looks and appeal to anglers who fish with bait, lure and fly, from boat and shore have made it one of the most popular sport fish targeted by UK anglers. In the UK serious commercial exploitation only started in the 1970’s with the arrival of monofilament gill netting. The EU minimum landing size, up until 1981, was a ridiculous 32 cm and since then an only slightly less ridiculous 36 cm. Females do not spawn until 42cm and so a 41cm female that has not spawned, say in 2005, may well be 47 cm at her first spawning in 2006.

BASS members have argued that fishery resources are publicly owned and this is confirmed by the UN FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries which also confirms that recreation is a legitimate use of fish, describing fish stocks as one of humanity’s natural heritage. BASS members have lobbied strenuously for a more restrictive management regime for bass and the society has developed an enviable reputation for its participation in research with a significant contribution to tagging studies and assessing year class strength with O group netting.

During the last two years however, things have dramatically changed – it is difficult to attribute this sea change within government to any one particular event but it almost certainly started with an improved understanding of the socio-economic benefits of marine sport fishing. UK anglers including BASS members have for many years pointed to other parts of the globe where some marine fish stocks are managed for the benefit of sport fishing. Such ideas have historically been given short shrift by officialdom either regarding such suggestions as blasphemy or suggesting that just because such policies work in South Africa or USA, it would not be the same here in Europe. In 2001, as a result of devolution in the UK, the National Assembly for Wales, commissioned an analysis of its entire fisheries sector — freshwater, saltwater, aquaculture — and a key finding from this research was that the recreational sea angling sector in Wales was actually a bigger industry than commercial fishing. With this evidence from so much nearer home, fresh lobbying efforts took place and in 2002 the Government funded a study, evaluating Sea Angling across England ‘ Wales. ‘The Drew Study’ as it was called, was published in 2004. As the research for the Drew study was being carried out, the Prime Ministers Cabinet Office Strategy Unit was commissioned to look at fisheries. Yet another consultation took place in the form of Inshore Fisheries Enforcement and so during 2003 and 2004 the opportunity for the recreational Anglers to actually have their say was unprecedented — and have their say they did.

The Strategy Unit report to Government contained a section specifically about developing the recreational sea angling sector. This included recommendations such as “fisheries departments should ensure that angling needs are represented at the local fisheries management level” and “fisheries departments should review the evidence supporting arguments for re-designating commercially caught species for wholly recreational sea angling beginning with Bass by the end of 2004.” The report estimated that across the whole UK around 2 million people went sea angling and expenditure on equipment, travel, food and accommodation was in the order of a billion pounds sterling annually and yet perhaps the most influential recommendation of the 200 plus page report was that; “the over arching aim of fisheries management be to maximise the return to the UK of the sustainable use of fishers resources and protection of the marine environment.” Essentially if good evidence supports the notion that the best use of a Marine resource is recreational sport fishing then that is precisely what the resources should be managed for. Such an approach truly confronts established practice and thinking.

BASS immediately engaged with the fisheries department to identify how best it could assist in providing the evidence for bass to be managed for sport fishing. Despite the suggestion of wholly recreational designation, concerns about commercial bycatch of sea bass even if it was designated wholly recreational led to the selection of primarily recreational. The principal is that sea bass resource is managed for recreational sport fishing to provide the very best return to the UK socially and economically with a degree of controlled commercial exploitation taking place in a manner so as not to jeopardise the generation of best value from sport fishing. Seven key management tools have been identified as follows:

1. Licences for commercial fishermen. The ability of the modern inshore fleet to rapidly transfer effort to any new opportunities would inevitably lead to any improvements in the bass stock (more and bigger bass) being eradicated by increased effort. This would jeopardise the development of the recreational fishery and therefore ‘best return’. Consequently, licences to retain and sell bass would be issued to those who can demonstrate a genuine track record of catching bass to cap the number of boats targeting bass.

2. Carcass Tags. A specific number of carcass tags related to historical catches would be issued to each licence holder in order to control mortality. The carcass tags would be traceable to each fisherman and to be in possession of bass i.e.: fish markets, restaurants, hotels etc., without a carcass tag would be illegal.

3. Bag Limits. Recreational angling would be controlled with bag limits.

4. Closed Season. A closed season during the breeding period

5. Minimum Landing Size. An increase in the minimum landing size applicable to both recreational and commercial.

6. Nursery Areas. Existing bass nursery areas should remain and be strengthened with the introduction of more restrictive legislation.

7. Inshore Netting. A prohibition on the netting of bass in near to shore waters with a view to confining the commercial exploitation to hook and line only – a practice already widespread throughout some areas of the UK targeting larger high quality fish for better prices.

These ‘tools’ will be thoroughly discussed with the Government over coming months with a view to the introduction of some regulations by the end of the year. Further regulations may require the introduction of new legislation that is already being considered in the form of a new Marine Bill for consideration by Parliament.

The recreational sea angling position was recently strengthened when a Government all Party Committee – Environment, Food ‘ Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee – carried out an enquiry into how the Fisheries department were implementing the recommendations of the Strategy Unit Report. After taking oral evidence from sea angling leaders, their published findings substantially supported the sea angler’s position.

What of the future? There are undoubtedly interesting times ahead, but far more resources are needed in order to capitalise on the progress made to date. Existing UK representation is wholly ‘voluntary’ and full time professional representation is desperately required so that the opportunities to influence the decision process at local, regional and national level can be made more effectively, as well as contributing more resources towards EU representation. Such representation requires funds and BASS have identified three critical areas where substantial changes are required.

  • Anglers need to fund professional representation.
  • Angling media need to editorially cover fisheries management issues.
  • Tackle Trade needs to start looking after its fishery interests.

Far higher levels of support from grass root sea anglers are required. Such support is only possible if the angling media start to editorially cover the many complex areas surrounding fisheries policies. Anglers over time will become better informed and will want to have their say. The tackle trade must stand up and be counted. They must start to understand the linkage between fish stocks and the long term security and prosperity of their businesses.

These ideas are not exactly revolutionary! In the US, anglers contribute significantly to organisations such as the Recreational Fishing Alliance and Coastal Conservation Association. The editors of much of the angling press routinely carry editorials on fisheries management and policy issues. The American Sportfishing Association’s catch phrase is: More fish = more anglers = more profit — such a simple message, yet so overwhelmingly true.

Malcolm Gilbert / John Leballeur 12-16 June 2005, Trondhiem, Norway