[The following interview between Malcolm Gilbert, BASS European liason officer, and Phil Lockley, SW correspondent of ‘Fishing News’ ( a weekly newspaper serving the commercial fishing industry) appeared in the Fishing News (26 August) and is in response to some comments made by David Pessel, chairman of Plymouth Trawler Agents. We would like to thank the Editor of ‘Fishing News’ for allowing us to publish the interview on this web site.]

A leading bass angler has strongly backed the Defra proposal to raise the minimum landing size (MLS) of bass from 36cm to 45cm, reports Phil Lockley.

Malcolm Gilbert of the Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (BASS) told FN the increase must be seen in the context of a “growing raft of evidence” of the great social and economic importance of recreational sea angling.

He said the Strategy Unit’s report Net Benefits said that in 2002 around two million people in England and Wales went sea angling at least once. Sea anglers spent an estimated £1bn annually on equipment, travel, food and accommodation. Another study showed it supports 19,000 livelihoods in England and Wales.

The Net Benefits report recommends that the government should consider designating some species such as sea bass as “wholly recreational.”

But Malcolm Gilbert said: “Angling leaders believe there is no need to allocate this public resource (bass) entirely to recreational angling, because with the right management bass can provide the best possible return to the UK coffers via a mixture of both recreational and commercial exploitation.” Nevertheless, he claimed that current targeting of size 5 bass (weighing 500g-1kg) using gill nets of 90mm-100mm mesh size is not economical.

“A larger minimum mesh size to complement a MLS of 45cm will minimise discards of dead fish. Commercial value of small bass averages less than £5/kg, as shown by figures in the Fishing News article attributed to David Pessel, chairman of Plymouth Trawler Agents.” (FN 19 August ‘Bass size rise shock’).

Mr Gilbert said 110 tonnes of bass valued at £507,000 competes “head-on” with over 50,000 tonnes of cheaper, small, farmed bass.

“Angling leaders suggest that the commercial exploitation of wild bass should focus on larger fish captured by hook and line to produce the best value”, he said.

“Places like the Portland Race, Eddystone Rock, Dodman Point, Manacles and the Runnelstones (as well as other areas) already produce substantial catches of bass weighing up to and over 5kg each.

“This benefits the stock by allowing a higher proportion of small bass to grow, as undersized bass can be released alive by hook and line fishermen.

“With the current growth rate of bass up to 8cm a year, relatively small and abundant fish of 36cm to 44 cm will soon become available at 45cm plus and such bass weigh twice as much as a 36cm bass.

“The availability of more and larger bass would also stimulate the recreational sector – a win-win situation for the South West economy”.

Mr Gilbert said comments by Mr Pessel, who opposes the MLS increase, were “regrettably typical of some commercial fisheries leaders who fail to think longer term and recognise that there are stakeholders with a direct interest in the social and economic validity of public fishery resources (in the case of bass) that exceed by leaps and bounds any monies gained from commercial fishing.”

Referring to Mr Pessel’s comments that anglers illegally sell bass to restaurants, for example, Mr Gilbert said that selling black fish was an offence “whatever the method of capture.” “If such fish are taken by rod and line and then sold, the offence is not that of a recreational angler, but one made by licensed or unlicensed fishermen.”

Mr Gilbert also rejected the suggestion that the views of commercial fishing interests were more important than those of anglers. He said the historical view that management should have only commercial fishing interests in mind had now changed.

“The frequent assertion by commercial fishermen that their activity is more valid – as they fish for a living while anglers only fish for leisure – is spurious,” he said.”