A year ago in a small Cornish harbour I watched a commercial fisherman sorting a catch of bass. Such was his bonanza that his gillnets appeared to be more flesh than monofilament. This windfall for the mostly part-time potters went on for weeks. The huge pre-spawning aggregations of bass that had shoaled up from around the region were decimated and the market price of bass plummeted. When I met up with local bass angling guide, Oz Goldsmith later in 2015 he somewhat despondently told me, although he was managing to put his clients onto bass, overall his catches had been down no matter where he fished around the region. This was a trend widely echoed by anglers in West Cornwall.
A mere coincidence or related events? I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Twelve months on and I returned to the area and the boats were again netting the bay. The only visible changes are the commercial I watched previously has invested in a better boat and now sorted his catch away from harbour and prying eyes. I can’t help but wonder if this is to prevent a repeat of last year’s photo of bass carnage that enraged angling community and inspired numerous emails to our politician’s. Although I could not tell what was in his nets, he was catching fish a plenty – a fact betrayed by the numerous unwanted fish being discarded to squabbling gulls around him.
The EU’s proposed bass landing regulations for 2016 would have prevented the pre-spawning aggregations of our bass being targeted right now, as a ban on all landing would have been in place from the beginning of January to the end of June. Yet evidence suggests that the UK and French politicians intervened resulting in the final measures being significantly watered down. Last year in the pre-election build up, George Eustace, the UK minister with responsibility for the marine environment helped instigate emergency bass measures after Europe failed to agree action. This December successfully re-elected, he emerged from the meeting and bragged on TV about how he had achieved “generous exemptions” for small boat UK commercial fishermen allowing them to use “low impact” fixed gill nets. Given both the bycatch the gulls were feasting on and the plunder of these waters I’d witnessed previously, such methods hardly looked low impact to my eyes.
Seeing the waters I and many others bass fish being plundered again and recalling the cop out by the EU fisheries ministers made me seethe.
Although further progress was made, the EU outrageously decided to massively reduce anglers share of the landings while permitting netting (the method that accounts for greatest amount of the UKs bass landings!) get to catch yet more. They failed to heed the scientific advice on how much bass should be landed to prevent further decline of our bass stock too. They also seemed to ignore Article 17 of the Amended Common Fisheries Policy and the fact that per tonne of bass rod and line angling bringing the greatest economic benefits, the least environmental cost and great social benefits to our 850,000 UK sea anglers.
Our fisheries politician might make friendly noises towards us anglers but our bass are still seemingly managed for the short term benefit of commercial fishermen and not the long term interest of our bass stock resource.
Unlike the wilder open sea, the bay the other day was sheltered from the swell. Although the water was coloured I contemplated launching my small rigid inflatable and trying to catch a bass or two. Despite having the time, the equipment and bass in front of me, in the end I couldn’t bring myself to fish.
Amongst the numerous benefits from bobbing about on the ocean, often wet and cold, happily waving a stick, acquiring a sense of inner peace from my actions ranks high amongst them. Still steaming from the recent cop out by the fisheries ministers, I knew that to share this tiny bit of ocean with someone armed with nets, throwing bass into boxes or to the herring gulls was hardly going achieve this. If I was actually lucky enough to hold a bass, as I returned it to the water (as is my normal practice anyway) I knew I would only be reminded of our duplicitous decision makers and my blood would boil.
Looking out to the fisherman working hard in his boat I knew it was wrong to see him as the enemy. As a recently turned full time fisherman, with an investment in a bigger boat (possibly paid for by last January’s bonanza) he has a living to make. He was doing nothing illegal. Human nature is what it is and as fishing methods become more sophisticated and our fish fewer, the only way to ensure the future of our stocks is through effective management based on science and economics. No it wasn’t the commercial fisherman who deserved my contempt: it was those tasked to effectively manage our bass stocks but who fail to fairly legislate I despised.
As I walked away another boat chugged out of the harbour to join in with the netting. I thought of Oz and the other anglers in the area and their prospects for the year ahead. It was hard not to image the bass fishing this year will prove even harder than last. It is eternal hope that leads anglers back to the water, but I did wonder given the way things were going if soon only those with blind faith would still be bass fishing.
Instead of casting my lures I went for a long walk. When I returned I wrote to my MP and requested she ask the minister why fixed nets were considered low impact. After that I felt a little calmer inside.
If you also want to let of steam then email your MP too (To find your MP’s email look here: https://www.writetothem.com) – If nothing else it may leave you feeling better about this than by doing nothing!
You might ask them to ask The Minister:
- On what grounds does The Minister consider fixed nets to be low impact?
- When does the Minister intends to achieve fishing at or below maximum sustainable yield for bass?
Or you could just tell your MP that our bass are still being landed at unsustainable levels and the exemption for netting for bass in unjust and should be overturned!
If you also want to email George Eustace at DEFRA, then send your thoughts to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bass wishes for 2016
The BASS Blog Team