Net Gains: Gross Injustice

 

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.

Netting of pre-spawning agrigations occours inshore too

Just one of numerous net loads of bass taken day after day in January 2015

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.

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Bycatch bonanza

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.

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As long as he uses fixed nets or hook and line, boats like this can take 1.3 tones of bass per month for 10 months of this year

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.

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The bass would be safer I suspect if the pre spawning shoals gathered outside the shelter of this bay!

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: defra.helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Bass wishes for 2016

The BASS Blog Team

14 Comments
  1. Extremely well written article. Manage to avoid the usual demonisation of the commercial fishermen. A well managed stock is where we need to be, there should be plenty of fish for us RSA’s and for our small fleet of inshore commercials.

    This I particularly sympathise with: “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.”

    Keep up the great work.

  2. Can you please explain why you are targeting this type of activity which as you say is legal….but have nothing to say about the huge black market bass industry run by joe public anglers…..I spoke to one angler who boasted 6 fish in one day biggest in double figures….and the fish markets that turn away anglers with their catches….or undersized bass being taken every day by anglers…..all illegal…. but no target people who have bought a license ….try looking at getting your house in order before you turn on British fishermen.

  3. Excellent blog Matt – as always. Let’s hope the right people read it and take action. Sea bass certainly need any and all the help they can get right now.

  4. Excellent blog as always Matt. Let’s hope the right people read it and take action. Sea bass need all the help they can get these days, and especially after these short sighted decisions.

    I fear for them, I really do.

  5. Kevin has a valid point when he draws attention to the unlicensed anglers selling their catch, some catching well in excess of those willing to fork out for a license, (me for example), however, we are talking ‘Nit Shit’ compared to what Matt is identifying, obviously well researched, passionate and his blog really highlights how we should be working together to try and put things right, could your blog not form the basis of a web petition to submit to Parliament? Just an idea!

  6. Strange you should mention petitions Derek! just in case anyone hasn’t seen it yet you can sign a petition on this subject here that already has 12,700 signatures: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/116747

    Kevin: I don’t speak for unlicenced people who catch and sell bass – they are not recreational anglers: they are unlicenced commercials fishing with rod and line.

  7. I am very concerned about the Bass Fishing limits to the sport fishing fraternity.
    How can anyone say that 25% of all Bass stocks are taken by the sport Fisherman and then allow Gill Netters to catch even more. All Gill Netting around the British Isles should be banned to secure our Bass stocks. Plus the revenue Sport fishing brings to any country should be also recognized! What Numskull came up with this figure? Then allow the biggest culprits to devastate the Bass stocks is beyond belief! Last November a Gill netter on Anglesey was gloating that he had 900 Bass in 2 tides in his Gill nets. The republic of Ireland have realized this problem years ago and brought the appropriate measures to conserve their economy by not thinking about the very small revenue they will ever expect from these Gill netters or pair trawlers. Therefore WHO is going to stop this absolutely Ludicrous decision,made by over paid people who haven’t got a clue?

  8. unfortunately when there is money concerned little concern is showed in fish stock management or any thing else for that matter

  9. Your comments don’t add up to well…if said Anglesey fisherman only took 900 fish on this occasion and it was just a fluke he had less than an angler could of taken over the year….I Gill net and sport fish and I catch less in my nets over the year …every year…..than I do angling from the beach ….because it’s only part of my job. Then you mention that the government gets no revenue from me …..so I don’t buy food .fuel.boats.tackle like everyone else then ? It’s so easy just to hate others ,call names and do all this with figures that only add up in your head .

  10. Hi all
    I think that this is not a problem between recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen, this is about bass stock management and economy … and the desire of people to prosper and maintain their income at all costs.
    Believe me, I grew up in an area where net fishing for all species and all sorts of variations -gill nets, trawl, purse seine… nets barrier &/traps designed for river but terrible at sea … everything you can imagine- has been being to use for years and whom make a great fishing on sea bass spawning groups, are considered almost as heroes. It is a big new on local newspapers, resulting in capturing thousands of big size sea basses ( from four pounds to eighteen, even twenty pounds basses, 20,000, 30,000, 50,000 pounds of sea bass fished in a haul.)

    So I can understand Kevin, although he hide half of the story and complained on the illegal- ¿ recreational?- anglers . I can understand how they want to earn a decent and honorable life and have a regular income throughout the year. I can understand they want to win a certain amount of money – they need to feed and clothe their family, educate their children, keep his house, their car, your livelihood …- and they aren’t reluctant (and all fishermen that I know do it ) to make all the necessary arrangements and increasing pressure on fish all they needed. Thus, at forty-nine years old yet, I’ve seen it all. The increase in engine power to increase the actual fishing time, changing cotton nets to nylon nets, the marine electronics improvements , GPS and echo sounders that can locate fish better and let fishing in areas where it was previously impossible without losses of fishing tackle … and fishing, fishing, fishing… to earn at least a decent salary.
    And in the end, all this leads, in the medium term, to reduce the amount of fish available for fishing, reduction of sizes – and smaller fish have less value, so you have to catch more fish to win a similar salary …- and they have to take more meters of water nets, have to put more hooks into water, to lurk in every corner where fish can concentrate.

    In the long term it is the ruin. Kevin and his colleagues is possible that they can not know it, but it will reach soon ,rather than later and if they do not, if their children. So the solution is not to hide behind illegal fishing and not-recreational anglers or the legality of their profession. Nor it is terrible that a professional fisherman can fish nine hundred or nine thousand basses, the question to ask is how many basses are left to continue his life and if possible to fish freely spawning shoals and saving a large population, with healthy and large specimens of sea bass in the future.
    And another meditations that professional fishermen often they don’t do – at least where I’m living, blinded by the money
    When a professional fisherman fishing a lot of sea bass – or a few who have access to areas of concentration do it this- is doing two things:
    One is to lower prices for both themselves and their colleagues working elsewhere but put smaller amounts in the market during that season. Then, they have to fish more .
    And another is that they are taking an amount of sea bass that is not exclusively theirs. This sea basses what they are catching in the reproductive shoal, are the sea basses spread over tens of kilometers of coast and, the rest of the year, are the source of income of other fishermen,and, in the background ,they are forcing them to increase their fishing effort – putting more nets in the water, putting more bait hooks, spent more hours during pre-spawning months

    Well, sorry for this long text and its grammatical mistakes, but this issue is generating a lot of controversy in northern Spain, where commercial fishing is the king and decides all. Please, you have to reach a reasonable agreement as soon as possible, and the future of fishermen, both recreationals and professionals, will be a little better.

    Greetings from Galicia, Spain

  11. i am astounded by Kevins claim that the 900 fish taken in a gill net on Anglesey in one day is LESS than most recreational/sport anglers or even rod and line anglers who are trying to sell their catch illegally will catch over the course of a year………
    jeeeeez …………dream on !!! i think i know, or know of a pretty high percentage of the recreational lure anglers across north wales and can state as fact that very very few have hit 100 fish in a season EVER !!!!!………I know just a handfull who have ever done it and just two or three who get up to around 150 fish in season.And they only manage that by putting an insane amount of effort in,fishing at night,every night of the week that conditions allow from April to December !!
    Either we are all crap anglers or there are far fewer bass in North Wales than down south,….but hang on…..those 900 fish were caught in north wales…..
    You only need to talk to other anglers who will tell you of the many many blanks they have often going weeks on end without catching.
    Yes occasionally you find the fish but whereas we might have a great session and land 7 or 8 fish………………when a gill net hits a shoal it can be like the 900 fish in two tides…..
    No comparrison IMHO

  12. nice post

  13. If I am fortunate to catch a 42cm bass from the shore, I am now obliged to let it go, to swim into a businessman’s nets. He will then land my bass, sell it to a whole sale fish operation and, about two weeks later I am expected to buy my fish back from my local Waitrose for £40? This has nothing to do with conversation. It has everything to do with taxation. The Normans opted to chop your hands off for taking “their rabbits”. Big business will have your balls for taking ONE of their fish.
    Think about it…it’s their money swimming around out there. Not yours.

  14. Thank you very much for posting and sharing this great information…

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