Donovan Kelley 1918 – 2008

Donovan Kelley

By Malcolm Brindle

When I was a boy in the 1950’s I read the Fishing Gazette in the local library. An article written by Donovan Kelley about bass fishing caught my eye. It ignited a pilot light that has never diminished. Many years later I noticed in the BASS magazine that he required scale samples from Portland bass for his voluntary research and so began a correspondence that lasted until his recent death. I have filed all his letters because everyone regarded Donovan as the leading authority and for which he received a MBE in 1991.

His devotion started when the family moved from Plymouth to Torbay. A chance meeting at Dartmouth with Ray West – a local expert – opened up the mysteries of bass biology. After seven years interrupted by war service Donovan a former government auditor continued his studies retaining amateur status throughout and corresponded with over 400 people – too many to name -who had connections with the fishery. In the early 1970’s with the help of the Natural Environmental Research Council fish were tagged over a five-year period in Anglesey followed later with corroborative studies in North Pembrokeshire, North Cornwall, Dorset and offshore in Essex. In 1981 research started focusing on first year bass (0-group) survival rates up to maturity. Other tagging programmes followed. It is difficult to emphasis how important his contribution has been to legislation on bass protection. Such was his enthusiasm these projects were just part of an endless ongoing investigation that continued until the end. He has written two books, “Forty Anglers” (Merlin Books Ltd 1994) and “Life with bass” (1998) plus nine scientific papers (J. Mar. Bio. Ass. UK).

He was more than a friend to our society and was with us from the beginning. When told of the death of a special person many say “they do not make them like that anymore” So true of Donovan.

Donovan’s funeral took place at Bodmin Crematorium on 10th December 2008. The chapel was full to overflowing, not only with family, but with the many friends and associates who had got to know and admire him through his bass research, and his lifelong love of sea angling. BASS was represented by the Peter Macconnell, Malcolm Gilbert, and Dave Cooling, though numerous other bass anglers and research helpers were present to pay their respects. Currently BASS is looking into ways that we might create a fitting memoriam (perhaps in the form of an annual research bursary) so as to pay proper and ongoing tribute to the man who did more than any other to advance our knowledge of bass ecology and behaviour, and to make us first aware of the dangers to the species from over exploitation.