40cm mls For Bass – Good News or Bad News?
After what seems like an age, Ben Bradshaw, the Fisheries Minister recently announced that, from April 2007 the minimum landing size for bass which will apply to commercial fishermen and anglers, will be 40cm and the minimum net mesh size allowed will be 100mm. Is this good news or bad news for recreational sea anglers ?
At face value it appears to be bad news.
[photo – anglers enjoying sea fishing – photo courtesy Pete Riley]
There was a huge effort expended by a handful of tenacious souls lasting many months, to get the minimum size for bass set at 45cm – the size at which all female bass would have been able to spawn at least once.
The bad news is that this has not been achieved and the scientific facts supporting this have not been used, due to political positioning and sustained commercial lobbying. More bad news is that only a tiny percentage of sea anglers could be bothered to get off their backsides to vote. Let’s not kid ourselves, 2500 anglers responses to this consultation from an estimated population of 1 million sea anglers is pathetic in the extreme.
Even more bad news, is that most anglers failed to understand that this consultation was not merely about bass. It was about how anglers should be using their significant lobbying power to join forces to get the government to understand that they now require measures to be put in place to protect and improve the quality of inshore sea angling for a range of fish species.
The bass mls consultation was an example of the vehicle applicable to any species of sea fish not just bass. During the consultation anglers even became ‘species tribal’ and started to turn against their fellow anglers and organizations like BASS – the ones who had actually decided it was time to do something.
However, now the announcement has been made and the dust is settling, let’s have a rounded look at what this announcement means.
Firstly, this consultation has proven that sea anglers can make those who manage our inshore fisheries listen and act. OK, so a change from 36cm mls to 40cm seems no big deal but it is an increase and it was made to happen by responses from only 2500 anglers and organizations. What would have been the outcome if 250,000 sea anglers had bothered to respond with one letter?
This result means sea anglers’ needs are being acknowledged at the highest level. BUT, progress is only going to be slow, if only 2500 anglers can be bothered to vote. You want bigger and better results then more anglers need to lobby and vote.
Secondly, a 4cm rise in the bass mls is the biggest single rise ever achieved for bass.
Thirdly, by taking the mls from 36cm to 40cm means that 20% more female bass will be able to spawn before being caught than at 36cm – is that not a positive result? Will that not produce more juvenile bass leaving more to escape commercial capture than now?
Fourthly, a large number of bass in our estuaries and nursery areas are in the 30-36cm range. At this size commercial gill netters and unlicenced cowboys are attracted into these estuaries and nursery areas, as they know that there is a good chance that they will hit a good proportion of 36cm bass amongst many under this size. By pushing the mls to 40cm it means that the proportion of legal sized bass inhabiting estuaries and nursery areas will significantly decrease, making it far less of an attractive gamble to netters. Not only could they spend a lot of effort for a few legal sized fish, but if they gamble on keeping fish under the legal size of 40cm then they increase the risk of getting caught and prosecuted.
It is also now much more difficult to offload 10 stone of illegal sized bass on a regular basis, now that Defra, the Marine Fisheries Agency, the SFC officers and the Fisheries section of the Environment Agency, are all starting to work together on fisheries enforcement and intelligence sharing.
Finally, despite the initial disappointment of many anglers, Ben Bradshaw has left the door open to the introduction of a 45cm mls in 2010. It does seem a long way off but the door is ajar – what is the saying about pushing on an open door rather than a closed door?
The bass mls consultation has created much interest. The result is not as bad as it may first appear. Most of all it should be the biggest wake up call ever to sea anglers, who really want the prospect of decent fishing in the future. This consultation has shown what can be achieved by a few dedicated individuals. Imagine what could happen for all inshore sea fish targeted by anglers, if we all voted as one, and in significant numbers.
Let’s now see if this wake up call can have any impact on other species of fish targeted by anglers. Right now Defra are consulting on making a law to protect the Tope from all commercial exploitation, and to only allow the capture of this fabulous sporting fish by rod and line.
How about showing Defra that sea anglers, en masse, want this law brought into being, irrespective of what fish you mainly fish for. A vote to support this measure by a mere 25,000 anglers would certainly make Defra understand that the force is growing and expectations for similar measures, for all sea fish in the near future, are rising within the angling community.