The Commercial Fishery

During the 1970s, monofilament netting materials became increasingly available. These have the advantages of being very light, compact, cheap and of low visibility. This led to an explosion of effort which roughly coincided with increased demand as bass became very fashionable throughout Europe. During 1980, some commercial fishermen in Cornwall became so concerned at the incredible catching power of theses nets that they persuaded the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee to legislate against the nets in two areas where bass were traditionally caught with hook and line.

By the end of the 1970s, French pair trawlers targeting black bream in sea area VIIE encountered bass which were becoming increasingly valuable. In the early 1980s, Scottish midwater pelagic trawlers began to realise the value of their by-catches of bass, captured with the targeted mackerel. Inevitably, as the awareness of potential earnings grew, so the effort increased along with a rapid improvement in technologies including fishing gear and fish location. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the recreational and artisan fisheries collapsed whilst the hi-tech offshore exploitation expanded from total landings (all areas) of 500 to 1,000 tonnes in 1990/91 increasing to 2,800 to 5,000 tonnes (in area VIIE only) in 1996/97.

The records of the UK Navy and Fisheries Protection Service show that the number of vessels entering the relatively new offshore fishery is increasing. During the last ten years the number of French vessels has doubled to more than sixty and increasing interest from other nations is inevitable as quota reductions on more traditional species are imposed and more rigorously enforced. Most recreational and commercial exploiters regard the introduction of bass nurseries, as well worthwhile, but are now increasingly questioning whether the benefits of these sacrifices are going to accrue back to them in the form of more and larger bass whilst this offshore fishery exists.

MAFF statistics released in 1999 indicate that the number of UK boats fishing for bass has risen to an estimated 180-430 and 1,300-2,000 part-time boats, mainly inshore, with full-time boats showing a marked increase since 1992.