Bass in trouble – scientists demand 80% cut in landings

There’s an article circulating in various forms (The Independant; Fish2Fork), or rather, the wording differs slightly.

What’s caught our eye is this paragraph:

The problem is exacerbated by recreational anglers who are responsible for about a quarter of the total landings in the UK, France, Netherlands and Belgium.

So we’re the PROBLEM?  Interesting that the 75% of fishing mortality from commercials isn’t highlighted as a PROBLEM!

The 75% of commercially landed bass are worth £5 million annually and that is what commercial bass fishermen can pump into the economy for their gear, boats, chandlery, fuel, specialist clothing, moorings, etc.

The 25% of bass retained recreationally for a personal feed of fresh sea food form part of the £1.2 billion expenditure by recreational anglers but we’ve no idea what proportion of that £1.2 billion relates to bass angling. Let us just consider if bass angling expenditure accounted for as little as  5% of all sea angling expenditure (and it is a difficult calculation) it still means that recreational sea anglers pump £60 million into the economy for their gear, boats, chandlery, fuel, specialist clothing, moorings, etc.  That’s twelve times the economic spend of commercial fishers for just a quarter of the resource mortality.  Even if downstream added value from processing and retailing of commercially landed bass is added in, it is clear that RSA (Recreational Sea Angling) provides United Kingdom plc with a far greater return for the public bass fishery resource than does commercial fishing. AND THESE CALCULATIONS ASSUME JUST 5% of RSA EXPENDITURE IS DEPENDENT ON BASS. We suspect it is considerably higher.

Time to look at how the bass cake has been shared over the last four decades. As numerous MAFF publications point out, prior to the mid seventies, bass were essentially 100% an angler’s species. Bass didn’t appear in the Defra statistics until 1995.  Forty years ago recreationals were responsible for pretty much all fishing mortality on bass – whatever it was. By the early 1990s CEFAS & CEMARE research suggested that the commercial catch was broadly equivalent to the RSA retained catch. Since then bass has attracted far more commercial interest and effort as access to other species has been ratcheted down due to management restrictions and TAC/quota cuts. Meanwhile, levels of C&R in the recreational fishery have escalated.  A leading CEFAS scientist acknowledged that the growing appetite for C&R by recreational anglers was effectively allocating a greater slice of the bass cake to commercial fishing. Do you see where this is going?

Year.                    Recreational % of take                     Commercial % of take.

1970                               95                                                             5
1990                               50                                                            50
2000                               40                                                            60
2012                               30                                                            70
2014                               25                                                            75

Remember, these figures are nothing to do with the actual tonnage removed. They are simply indicative of how the annual fishing mortality – whatever it is – is split between the two users, in other words, how the bass cake is shared out.

Whilst commercials are unrestricted in what they can catch and land and the appetite for the recreational sector to practice C&R grows, the pendulum will continue to swing towards allocating a larger slice of the sea bass cake to commercials.

Two out of three bass tagged and released by anglers that were recaptured, were caught commercially – that tells us everything. Whether we like it or not, and I guess we mostly don’t, the bass we release are positively enhancing the earnings of commercials far more so than assisting sustainability of the resource or improving the quality of future bass angling.

The ‘evidence’ that we (RSA) are only responsible for one quarter of mortality and generate far greater economic returns, will be subsumed in an orchestrated PR campaign to convince fisheries managers and politicians that more bass should be reserved for commercials.

Now compare the division of spoils as it is in the UK to that of the striped bass cake in the US.  87% of striped bass fishing mortality is allocated to recreationals and 20% to commercials. So when you release a striped bass, you can be sure you are definitely helping the resource and contributing to the future quality of your own fishing.

What was during the 1960s and early 1970s almost entirely an RSA species, has become a significant commercial species and will become almost entirely a commercial species if RSA’s appetite for C&R is not matched by equivalent conservation driven management being robustly applied to commercial exploitation.

We fear anglers who insist on mandatory RSA bag limits (and consequential mandatory C&R) WITHOUT any equivalent  restrictions on commercials are simply scoring an own goal.

Management of bass is currently high on both national and EU agendas, and the scientific advice for catches to be significantly ratcheted back is being considered. Rest assured, commercial leaders will use all the political clout they possibly can to set the scene for fisheries managers to achieve the reduction in fishing mortality first and foremost by restricting what RSA can take.

Just as in the newspaper article above, RSA will be vilified as THE PROBLEM.

The ‘evidence’ that we are only responsible for one quarter of mortality and generate far greater economic returns, will be subsumed in an orchestrated PR campaign to convince fisheries managers and politicians that more bass should be reserved for commercials. We’ve already heard politicians, fisheries managers and commercial leaders pointing to SEA Angling 2012 as evidence that RSA doesn’t need any bass allocation since all anglers want to do is catch and release them!

A scientist from CEFAS provided the evidence the Minister required with an absolute assurance that bass stocks were doing exceptionally well and the spawning stock biomass (SSB) was claimed to be double anything previously recorded!

As an aside . . . but relevant inasmuch as it relates to the state of bass stocks . . . . on 1st October 2007 one of our members sat in on a meeting with other RSA reps, and commercial reps, with Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw so he could rescind Ben Bradshaw’s announcement of an increased bass mls to 40 cm. A scientist from CEFAS provided the evidence the Minister required with an absolute assurance that bass stocks were doing exceptionally well and the spawning stock biomass (SSB) was claimed to be double anything previously recorded!

A handful of years later, ICES stated  bass are in trouble and that the SSB had been declining since 2005!

We’re still struggling to reconcile how the SSB was double anything previously recorded in 2007, yet was also in decline from 2005!

Surely it couldn’t be that we have some political interference here to suit politicians who are too fearful of doing anything that incurs the wrath of the commercial catching sector.

At the request of Defra BASS produced the Bass Management Plan . . . its about time those in power stopped worrying about the commercial sector and started to worry about the possible collapse of bass stocks.