Wyn Rowlands questions a Bangor University study which claims a drop in numbers . . . reports Andrew Forgrave in the Daily Post (24th Feb 2014).
The university developed a data mining programme to trawl through on-line angling forums after some members refused to take part in a study assessing sea bass populations.
Recreational anglers fear the findings may be used to support curbs against their sport, such as licensing and no-catch zones.
The university said the study may help policymakers reverse alarming falls in sea bass populations.
Wyn, who used to run a bait store in Llanfechell, said scientists should not have used “under-hand” methods to capture data.
He said the information was also unreliable.
“Anglers are the biggest liars going,” he quipped. “They always talk about the one that got away. Many are outraged that private information should have been obtained in this way.
“They are also concerned the data may be misleading and that it could be used to draw up management plans that will damage recreational sea angling.”
The three-month MSc study was designed to help Wales conform to reporting requirements under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.
It set out to assess the impact of recreational sea angling on bass numbers.
And as traditional data collection methods are time-consuming, it targeted “novel and low-cost” alternatives.
A student researcher turned to on-line fishing forums after struggling to extract sufficient data from clubs and charter skippers.
A web scraping tool was developed to mine the World Sea Fishing and Wirral Sea Fishing forums, with 20,060 unique threads downloaded over 56 hours.
Of these, 1,110 threads were “identified as containing pertinent bass catch data”.
Online data mining is used widely in marketing, where it is used to build customer profiles, and the Bangor report believes on-line fishing forums can become a “fertile” area for information gathering.
Mr Rowlands said some anglers fear the report could lead to tighter management controls, the start of rod licensing and even the introduction of fishing permits on private land.
“If this happens, the number of anglers will fall and Welsh tourism will lose out,” he said.
Among those who did contribute to the Bangor study was the Welsh Federation of Sea Anglers.
Treasurer Roger Cook said he understood the concerns of individual members over the methods used to collect data.
But he said sea bass populations faced collapse and it was important that policymakers had accurate picture of their distribution if fisheries were to be sustainable.
“It’s in everyone’s interests to restore bass numbers,” he said.
“Recreational sea angling accounts for a small percentage of bass landings. Most are taken by the big commercial trawlers from France and these need to be the target of any curbs.”
Bangor University said the study had used publicly available information posted on websites.
No personal details, or details of catch locations, were used.
“All this information was available for all to see on the web, and the student only used data that was already in the public domain as part of his dissertation,” said a spokeswoman.
Sea bass is a prized catch for recreational sea anglers but Mr Cook insisted they were fished in a sustainable way.
He said: “Most anglers fish to the voluntary minimum landing size of 45cm – and most of the bass are returned to the sea anyway.”