Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society

Fighting for Bass and Bass Anglers’ since 1973

Southern IFCA – the case for an increase in the bass MLS.

For the past nine months BASS member Nigel Horsman has been persistently lobbying the Southern IFCA (which covers Dorset, Hampshire and the IoW) and it’s members. Following a meeting with the Chairman, he was asked to write a paper setting out the argument for a higher bass MLS. This will be discussed at the next public meeting of the Southern IFCA Technical Advisory Committee, and includes Nigel answering their questions. This meeting is open to all members of the public and will be held at 2.00pm on the 17th November at Bournemouth Town Hall. The TAC will then report to the full Southern IFCA committee at their next public meeting which will be held at 2.00pm on 15th December in the Council Chamber, Poole Civic Centre. Again, this meeting is open to all members of the public (though only as observers, members of the public cannot take part). The full committee is made up of half Councillors and half other stakeholders (commercial fishermen, anglers, divers, Hants Wildlife Trust etc). Nigel believes that he has “significant support” on the full committee for an increase in bass MLS to 48cm. The full committee have the power to make a byelaw to change the bass MLS in it’s area.

What would be great and really powerful, would be to have as many supporters at either or both of these meetings, to show the members (especially the Councillors) the level of public support for this measure. A letter writing/emailing campaign after the TAC, but before the full Committee meeting, would also be useful from supporters who cannot be there in person. BASS is asking that you try and organise your diaries to come along and show your support and let any other supporters of BASS know and get them to come along as well.


Reproduced below is the paper which Nigel will be presenting on the 17th November:

This paper is presented to the Technical Advisory Committee of the Southern IFCA by Nigel Horsman of the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society. It seeks to set out the economic, scientific and ecological reasons to increase the minimum landing size of bass from the current 36cm to 48cm. The paper shows that such a move will increase bass numbers and sizes in the S. IFCA region, by ensuring bass become adults and spawn at least once before being taken. An increase in bass landed from 36cm to 48cm would result in 50% fewer individual fish for a given catch weight, worth 50% more cash for commercial fishermen. An increase in numbers and sizes of bass will also increase sea angling potential, which is economically worth 20 times the value of commercial landings. The MLS increase should also halt the decline in stocks and may start to restore stocks. Should the Southern IFCA decide to move to increase the Minimum Landing Size for bass, as we suggest, B.A.S.S. would work to encourage other IFCA’s to follow your lead.

Background Information about Bass (Dicentrarchus Labrax)

• Long lived (30 years)
• Slow Growing (specimen bass is 15 years old)
• Late maturing (6 to 7 years old, 42cm+ for females)
• Good commercial value
• Premier UK sporting seafish
• Adults disperse inshore in summer/autumn
• Many adults aggregate offshore in winter, pre spawning
• Juveniles live in or near inshore nursery areas (such as Poole Bay and the Solent)
• Spawning success very variable
• No quota protection
• Inadequate stock status data
• Minimum Landing Size (MLS) 36cm
• UK Value of Commercial landings less than £5m p.a. (MMO), in the S.IFCA region landings value in 2010 was £1.1m (appendix Bass Landings 2010SIFCA))
• In UK 40% (by value) caught by gillnet/enmeshing net, 30% lines, 20% otter trawling, 10% other (pair trawling, beam trawling etc). So, 70% caught by small inshore (sub 10m) fleet
• In Dorset, Hampshire and IoW 60% of landings (by value) are from the commercial hook and line fleet, 25% from gillnets and 10% from otter trawling (appendices Bass Landings 2008, 2009, 2010 SIFCA)
• Recreational Sea Angling value (bass angling in UK) £100m+ (Charting Progress 2 – Defra)
• MLS applies to commercial and recreational sectors equally

Fisheries Management/Science

• 48cm is the minimum to ensure all bass taken at any time of year have spawned at least once (42cm – Pickett and Pawson, plus 6cm annual growth). This would clearly increase spawning productivity as well as increasing average size of bass. It would ensure each bass taken has had the chance to replace itself first.
• In their definitive work “Sea Bass: Biology, exploitation and conservation” Picket and Pawson (MAFF/Cefas bass experts) state on page 143 “No fully mature females have been found with viable gonads at less than 42cms total length”. This raises three points

o Firstly, females less than 42cm can be found with egg sacks, but these will be reabsorbed not shed as viable eggs
o Bass do not suddenly become fertile at 42cm, that is merely the smallest length that Picket and Pawson found with viable gonads. Maturity will arrive at some length above 42cm.
o It is possible that a female bass that is below 42cm may have viable gonads. If such a fish is ever found, that would not, of itself, invalidate these findings.

• B.A.S.S. are not aware of any scientific research or findings that contradict Picket and Pawson with regard to the 42cm
• The approximate annual growth rate of 6cm per year at that age/size has been confirmed verbally by Cefas to BASS and is in accordance with a 42cm bass being 6 to 7 years old
• Maximum yield to the UK commercial bass catching sector occurs at an MLS of about 50cm (MAFF lab leaflet 59 by Picket and Pawson, point 5.3, page 29)
• When the MLS was moved to 36cm (1990), the science pointed to an MLS of 45cm to 50cm, based on maximising yield to the commercial fishery and preventing the overfishing of juveniles. This was moved down to 38cm to allow certain fisheries (particularly the West Coast) to continue to commercially catch (trawl) juvenile bass as this was the composition of catches then. The commercial gain for Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, South East etc was sacrificed for the short term finances of some West Coast fishermen. Longer term gains for these fishermen from increasing the size of fish available to them was also sacrificed.
• 38cm was moved to 36cm on 2 provisos. First that gillnet MMS was 100mm and secondly that angling ( as well as commercial fishing) was banned in nursery areas. Neither happened but the MLS still became 36cm
• With no quota on bass to limit fishing effort, the only technical measures protecting bass stocks from overexploitation are the nursery areas protecting very young bass and the Minimum Landing Size. Other potential measures might include closed seasons or prevention of fishing in spawning areas (both difficult as bass are believed to spawn throughout the English Channel during the late winter and spring) or prevention of winter pair trawling outside the 12 mile limit (but that is down to CFP rules and UK landings are less than 10% from pair trawling). Increasing the MLS has several advantages

o It applies to both commercial and recreational fishermen, so has some equity to it.
o It accords with scientific principles
o It passes the common sense test
o It is merely a change to existing regulation, not a completely new regulation
o It is easy to “test”

• The Marine Strategy Framework Directive definitions of a commercial fish stock that is not at good environmental status includes stock age and size distributions that are not met by UK bass stocks therefore a corrective plan will be needed (Cefas catches and landings data show a stock lacking in adult bass – see Appendix CEFAS bass discards data v2 and BASS response to Cefas v2).


• An increase in MLS to 48cm would not increase discards (dead) from the commercial hook and line fishing sector or from recreational sea angling as bass have low mortality if unhooked and returned reasonably efficiently.
• Discards (dead) from gillnets depends mostly on mesh size and soak time. Mesh size of gillnets makes them size selective so an appropriate increase in mesh size would prevent an increase in discards.
• At 48cm current discards from trawlers which are encouraged, incentivised and rewarded by the 36cm MLS to target juvenile bass would reduce as the financial incentive for targeting shoals of young bass near nursery areas would be removed (see Appendix CEFAS bass discards v2 and BASS response to Cefas v2)). Bass trawling is a minor activity in the S.IFCA region (see bass landings appendices)
• There may be a concern that if the S.IFCA increase the bass MLS those larger fish will simply be caught in other areas. However, a number of studies of tagged bass have shown that adult bass have a high propensity to return each spring to the same feeding grounds. Though these are not distinct populations of bass, they can be considered as “our” bass that the MLS would be protecting. (see the 2007 paper, published in March 2008 in “Fisheries Research” by Picket, Pawson, Leballeur and Brown in the appendices)
• Some fishermen will state that there are so few bass more than 48cm long that their livelihoods will be seriously affected. If there are few bass more than 48cm long, that is evidence enough for the need to introduce further protective measures, as we are suggesting. If there are plenty of adult bass available, then fishermen’s livelihoods should not suffer in the short term. Either way, this measure will result in more and bigger bass in the S.IFCA region, to everyone’s benefit.
• Further to this point, there is very strong anecdotal evidence from recreational sea anglers that bass stocks have declined significantly in terms of size and quantity over the last 5,10,15,20 years. This is supported by the catches data supplied by Cefas (see Appendices) which shows a lack of adult bass. Over the longer term, in a 2004 paper by Stanford and Pilcher, Mike Pawson is quoted as saying that he estimates that the 1973 bass biomass (pre commercial exploitation) was reduced by 75% to 80% by 1995 (and commercial exploitation has not reduced since then). Even SeaFish, in a Feb 2011 responsible sourcing guide say “…in the 1960’s, a time when the virtually unexploited sea bass population contained many more large fish than today”


• Larger bass are worth more per kilo than smaller bass.
• Moving catches from 36cm to 48cm results in the same weight of bass being approximately 50% fewer fish worth approximately 50% more cash (source:Newlyn fish market, August and September 2011), in only 2 years.
• These gains will be particularly available to the inshore, artisanal, under 10m fleet rod and line and gillnet commercial fishermen. This is the dominant commercial catching sector in the S.IFCA region.
• In England in 2010, there were only 305 under 10m boats that landed more than 250kg of bass (worth approx £2000) and 56 boats over 10m. I do not have data specific to the S.IFCA region.
• An increased MLS will result in more, bigger, bass, exactly what would encourage the £100m recreational bass sea angling sector to grow significantly
• Bass are a tourist attraction – this starts to treat them as such (in the South West, visitors spend 750,000 days p.a. sea angling, with spend of £55m p.a. with no.1 target species being bass – Nautilus report “Invest in Fish South West”)
• The S.IFCA region is ideally placed to take advantage of any increase in bass angling tourism, being within easy reach of London and the Home Counties and having an unmatched wealth and variety of bass angling venues, together with a tourism infrastructure for a bass angling season running from April/May to October/November.
• Weymouth in particular, has the largest charter angling boat fleet in Britain, with some of the best bass angling potential in Britain.
• In the South West, residents spend £110m p.a. on recreational sea angling, with the number one target species being bass (Nautilus report)
• Improved bass stocks would help the many small businesses in the recreational sea angling sector (tackle shops, charter boats, small boat builders, tourist trade, tackle manufacturers, guides etc)
• For example, a few weeks ago I fly fished with 6 other men one morning in Poole Harbour. Each of us had upto £1000 of fishing equipment and at the end of the session we enjoyed breakfast in the Sandbanks Hotel. Between the 7 of us, fly fishing for nearly 3 hours, we caught 5 small bass. More bass and bigger bass would result in more such trips and more income for our economy.
• For example, in the summer holidays one day in Swanage, I observed very many men and boys either fishing or carrying fishing rods, many having paid to fish from the pier. I saw no one catch any fish, though one chap told me he had seen a bass under the pier. The capture of any bass by any of them would encourage much more such activity, again with local economic gains.
• Small bass compete with the 80,000t p.a. of cheap, low quality, meditteranean farmed bass. This is commercial suicide. Wild fish must be as differentiated as possible to drive the appropriate premium. For most consumers, the first and most obvious differentiator is size.

Political background information

• In August 2006 Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw put out a press release confirming an increase in bass MLS from April 2007 (following Defra’s largest ever consultation). The plan was to initially increase the limit to 40cm with a further increase to 45cm in 2010. In the press release the Minister said

I have accepted the arguments for a bigger MLS to help increase the quantity and size of bass. This will also give better protection for the stocks. There may be short term costs from this measure before we see future gains but it is vital that fisheries management takes a long term view

• Following a Ministerial reshuffle, Jonathan Shaw took over the post and decided not to go ahead with his predecessors decision. It appears he was persuaded by the commercial fishing lobby that any short term pain would be unacceptable, despite the significant gains to be made 1 or 2 years after for both the commercial sector and recreational anglers.
• In March 2004, the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit within the Cabinet Office produced a report on the future of fishing in the UK called “Net Benefits”. In it the Prime Minister said

o “The recreational fishing sector is a potentially high contributor to local economies in coastal areas”
o “Fisheries management policy should recognise that sea angling may, in some circumstances, provide a better return on the use of some resources than commercial exploitation”
o “Fisheries departments should review the evidence supporting arguments for re-designating commercially caught species for wholly recreational sea angling, beginning with bass by the end of 2004” and
o “In 2002, around 2 million people went sea angling at least once in England and Wales…. Total expenditure by sea anglers in the UK on their sport (eg on fishing equipment, travel, food and accommodation, etc) is estimated to be at least £1billion annually”

• In 1990 the Irish Republic recognised the recreational value of their bass stocks and designated them wholly for recreational use. Bass angling tourism to Southern Ireland is now worth nearly twice the value of all the bass commercially landed in the whole of the UK.



  • Landing size is possibly the easiest measure to confirm
  • Legal commercial catching and purchasing sector can be informed and monitored relatively easily
  • Recreational sea angling sector may need a PR campaign through press, clubs, tackle shops, fishing locations etc
  • Most people are law abiding and if they know the law will comply
  • Difficulties of catches in one IFCA region being landed in another will occur, if commercial (or recreational) fishermen choose to deliberately break the law. But this happens now with “black” fish. The Southern IFCA clearly have excellent staff but limited resources. Not being able to apprehend every single law breaker is not, however, a valid reason not to introduce sound regulations.