What’s the story?

A journalist from Wales wanted to speak to a member of the BASS campaign team urgently today. The 2 best qualified BASS personnel were not available at short notice on a Bank Holiday, so in their absence I sought to help him.

Above minimum landing size but still not spawned

Above minimum landing size but still not spawned

I called with no idea as to what he wanted from BASS and as the conversation progressed he continued to keep his cards close to his chest. He said he’d had a call from an angler in his region complaining he could only catch 3 bass a day now, but as he didn’t expand on this I was left with a slight sense of unease. As things moved along I began to suspect the journalist wanted an “EU bureaucrats restricting local anglers: Foreign vessels continue without restriction” outrage angle to his story. This in my mind was not the headline I most wanted to see as it was far from the whole story.

All I could do was let the facts speak for themselves and hope the man down the line hadn’t already decided what to write regardless of the facts. So I explaining the history behind the 3 bag limit, how the stocks were collapsing and how the EU scientists said there must be an 80% reduction in landings. I then enlightened him that the minimum landing size was set below the size at which bass breed and also told him how the only restriction on commercials was on mid-water trawling on the pre-spawning aggregations, and how this had only occurred as an emergency measure (a UK initiative) after the different EU counties failed to reach any agreement between themselves.

The journalist asked one too many question as to whether it was the European trawlers fishing in our waters that took most of the fish etc. It was this and his sense of obvious disappointment that the statistics show it is local commercial fishing pressure that accounts for the greatest proportion of the overall bass landings that led me to sense he desired an anti EU angle to the story.

I finally explained that we have been led to understand that further measures are imminent. Yet despite the fact I told the journalist most would probably consider taking 3 bass in a day plenty, I couldn’t help but sympathise with the irate anglers view point. As things stand the stats claim anglers take AT MOST 25% of the bass (certainly a gross overstatement) yet the commercial sector who take AT LEAST three quarters of the bass are carrying on almost unrestricted.

I am very much from the school that few things in life are truly black and white HOWEVER without further measures VERY both from the EU AND the UK government soon to SIGNIFICANTLY reduce commercial bass landings, this is in danger of becoming a clear outrage.

The facts are:

  • Angling for bass generates in excess 10 times more income than commercial bass fishing
  • We need an 80% reduction in landings of our bass yet to date this year bass landings are UP in Europe!
  • Anglers CATCH at most quarter of the bass and probably more like a tenth (this also does not even take account that many return most of the bass they catch nowadays!)
  • The only measures introduced to date is emergency measures on mid water trawling up to the end of April 2015 and the imposition of a 3 bag limit on recreational anglers.

I got off the phone uncertain whether the journalists (a non-angler I am sure) was and wiser and still unclear as to what his slant would be on the story – but at least he now had the facts. Yet I was now fired up enough to write these words.

It really is time those who have agreed that that the evidence is compelling and things must change and finally walk to walk and introduce proportional changes to reduce ALL bass landings by 80%. Yes the EU politicians are still failing to agree anything significant, BUT the UK politicians are seemingly just using this as a smokescreen for their own inaction too. The story is not therefore an EU imposing unfair restrictions (or conversely failing to act) story: it is that politicians and fisheries scientists AT ALL levels are continuing to fail to act that is the headline!

I for one find it completely understandable that, the Swansea angler is disgruntled and contacting the press – It’s just a shame that all of us likeminded anglers are not also doing the same. He will in all likelihood continue to feel aggrieved unless the commercial fishermen are finally properly restricted and catching 3 bass in a day becomes a realistic prospect.

Given this shouldn’t we all be shouting to the press about what is happening to our bass?

Rapidly declining bass biomass in Europe

Rapidly declining bass biomass in Europe (ICES 2013)

Blogger: Matt Spence

28 Comments
  1. Good blog Matt ,

    Don’t forget to be positive. We have a new MLS that will at least restrict the activities of the commercial fleet I have come to categorise as ”Scum Bags” The guys who target bass in areas with high volumes of Sub 42 cm fish (But over 36 cm ) .

    I understand monthly catch limits may be coming in for Sub 10 M fleet , hopefuly this will allow DEFRA to control tonnage harvested . We have talk of increased mesh sizes and possible close seasons , The close season is the key to everything , we get that we’ve done it for Bass !!

    We saw a big slide in recruitment as the result of 3 very harsh winters . Lets not forget we have had a run of extra mild winters recently , hopefully with good recruitment , hopefully the mix of new measures and mild winters will all contribute towards a positive future . You may however have to use a zimmer frame to get to your rib

  2. Hello,

    I am the journalist who inquired about bass fishing in Wales, and I was grateful for the chance to speak to somebody who knew something about the subject.
    A common misconception that I have in my work is that people assume that journalists are after a specific angle to a story. In this case, as in many others, I stumbled across a subject about which I know nothing. I then make phone calls to try to inform myself in order to avoid making errors and omissions in the story.
    I have no angle, as I do not know the facts. I then write the story, with the most interesting line at the top.
    I repeat this several times a day, and must meet daily deadlines.
    Richard Youle

  3. Apologies if I drew the wrong conclusion about you looking for an angle on your article Richard – I guess it was me that had an angle given my desire to find blog material!

    Cheers Oz thanks for the pep talk. Yes I’m still positive most of the time. I do honestly believe further changes are coming but the lack of actual progress can occasionally get you down. I still believe the more we continue to campaign: the greater the restrictions on commercial bass landings in the future.

  4. Hi Matt,
    great blog as always,I think it it has been a long time coming but we are nearly there if we get the mls. but we must have a close season. Take a look at Will Bensons video SATORI about the commercial fishing for Permit and we find sport fishermen and women are up against the world over.

  5. how disgusting of goldsmith to come out with a comment like that denigrating commercials and adding to the them and us barrier with hatred.
    There is nothing wrong with the u k bass industry, none of the home grown legislation organised by both BASS and TAT will have any influence on the stock in the uk. The very same as the irish model where it is not targeted nor fit for purpose. It is purely down to the take where the imbalance by the French landings completely overshadows the take by the u k. The science used by Both BASS and TAT in pushing for these restrictions can only at best be described as mediocre and lacking as is their consultation with the very guys whom they claim to represent.

  6. Here we go again, cherry picking and misinterpreting data. How B.A.S.S. can keep a straight face whilst doing this I don’t know. The data that you are using is fundamentally flawed….The ICES reports are based on some ridiculous statistical models that were used to fit the graphs they already had….based on insufficient data, so insufficient in fact that they deliberately left out a lot of the recruitment survey data….the interpretation of which was flawed anyway, which is patently obvious to anybody if they actually bothered to read ALL of the reports…which either B.A.S.S. haven’t, or, they are just using bits that suit their argument.

    Oh, Austin, be careful about calling people names, that’s a bit hypocritical considering that it “could be viewed as discrimination against a sector of society”……….remember that bit in the Bass Management Plan?

  7. Here come the usual ‘there’s no issue’ fantasists. Always reminds me of Comic Ali, the Iraqi Information Minister. Do your best lads, try to bog-down the discussions … remember Cod ?

  8. Crikey, Barry and Worms. The usual suspects. I think you need to start opening your eyes to the science. You may not like it, but unless you have any better science that you can direct ICES to I suggest you believe it.

    BASS doesn’t and couldn’t misrepresent the data because the data is in black and white in the ICES reports.

    In any event seems the EU and the IFCAs finally have started to realise theres a problem with the species, so you better be quick with that science.

  9. show us some science Julian, all TAT and BASS have put up is from one small area in the channel. They have used that to shout and scream that ALL the stock is falling off a cliff, without a mandate or consultation. And that is aged btw. Did you have a look at last years tows? Or are you ignoring them as if they don’t exist?

  10. Si, Julian, to be totally serious, have you actually read the 216 page document on how ICES got their data, deleted data and adjusted mortality figures and adjusted the statistical models to fit older graphs or did you just look at the 9 page flyers they put out?

    It’s a serious question because if you had actually read the paragraph at the bottom of page 84, “Sensitivity to uncertainty regarding UK inshore nets and lines landings (run 25b)” (amongst many other variables, including RSA take) and then looked at the charts on page 86 showing an INCREASE in SSB I think you might have spent more time and effort challenging their findings and not poo poohing comments from people who have read them.

    When “learned” scientific (?) orgs leave out information that gives them the wrong lines on a graph (it gives the completely opposite effect to that which any normal person, or, even a scientist experienced in population estimates would expect).

    Don’t you find it odd that SSB increases as the catch rate is tripled?

  11. gr8

  12. Hi Matt,
    Where did you find the chart inserted at the bottom of your blog?

    It looks like the old WGCSE “Relative Stock Biomass” curve up to 2012 but it’s got the “Spawning Stock Biomass” ‘Y’ axis legend. It doesn’t fit with the charts I have!

    The latest charts are calculated using the SS3 (run 22) model and give a much different picture, with SSB and total biomass considerably higher than your chart. Have a look on p89 of the ICES IBP bass report 2014 to see a comparison. This was produced in Jan-April 2014 so not new but it’s much newer than your hybrid chart.

  13. Hi Julian, opening our eyes, here is the mantra from BASS, so perhaps you can either ask within or have you an idea of the science that all rsa should be looking at, according to BASS, so where is it? Quote BASS: the reduction of bass mortality through catch limits in our inshore waters in line with the best available evidence from ICES and others

  14. Sorry if I have offended anyone by using the term ‘scum bags” , this specifically refers to guys who actively pursue Bass in areas that have a dominant stock of small fish , Netting inside creeks or this horrendous otter trawling or inshore netting on certain beaches that always hold small fish . I have great friendships and links with the hook and line commercial bass guys around the South West . I have spoken too most of my contacts and so far they all regard the increased MLS as a good thing and most agree that an increased MLS is a good move and long overdue

  15. Hello Austen, (sorry I mis-spelt your name before!). Is the netting you speak of catching undersize fish? If so, the obvious thing there is to report illegal landings or methods. If however, they are catching legally sized fish then that’s largely through consumer demand for “plate sized” fish.

    I see that an increase in MLS would potentially allow more fish to spawn once but, also it would target another cohort of larger fish that wouldn’t breed again that would produce more spawn….however, that’s another more complex ecological debate.

    Have you read the ICES IBP BASS REPORT 2014? For some reason, whenever I mention it on the B.A.S.S. site my posts get ignored. Either people haven’t read it and don’t want to or, people have read it and realise how illogical the whole analytical procedure was but don’t wish to admit it.

    Obviously, if the ICES information is wildly inaccurate then we are no nearer knowing how many bass are in the sea than we were 50 years ago, save to say that anglers and commercials alike are catching a lot of bass of all sizes.

    Regards and tight lines!

  16. Hi Worms (btw what is your real name?)

    I believe you and I were discussing bass science last year on WSF.

    At the time this prompted me to speak with Cefas and I satisfied myself that the supposed “issues” with the science were in fact non-issues, mostly based on misunderstandings of the science. I then reported this back to the forum.

    You then raised some further questions and I suggested that you call Cefas yourself to discuss them. Have you done so and if so what did they have to say?

    If not, then I am afraid I am not going to spend more of my time investigating potential non-issues and red-herrings.

    I would welcome your further posts on this topic – but only once you have discussed the science properly with Cefas and have something meaningful to report.

    In the meantime, I will continue to rely on the advice of the experts, ICES, which is reviewed by STECF, and has consistently flagged that bass are in dire straits and that urgent action is needed to try to turn things around.

  17. Hello David,

    My name’s Nick Staples, I’m a senior scientist in the ecology field …that includes making population estimates from raw field data and using statistics…. Yes I do remember some of our discussions. I too contacted CEFAS and, as you probably know, they just do some of the surveys and as such couldn’t reply to issues with the ICES reports. I don’t have issue with the CEFAS surveys particularly, the methodology, timing and areas are fine and well recorded from what I can see…..they just keep getting cut because of funding!

    CEFAS aren’t the body that write the bass reports though, as you well know. It’s ICES. They acquire information, apply statistics to it and come up with answers. Sometimes they realise that their predictions are wrong and need to reassess their statistical models which they do by experimenting until the lines fit old graphs. It’s commonly done unfortunately in big studies where time and money is at a premium and data is insufficient…..hence the anomalies between the 2013 and 2014 charts for biomass (check the figures at the end of the summary reports) where the SSB and TSB are in decline from 2005 and 2006 respectively in the 2013 chart and from 2011 and 2009 respectively in the 2014 report…….odd that….plus of course the IBP report which actually lists the changes they made and what they had to add or leave out to get the data to fit, well almost…..they aren’t hiding anything by the way and I’m not implying that they are. I am however highlighting the potentially huge inaccuracies in the results due to lack of data and inappropriate statistical modelling that has been used.

    I have posted a few examples which are very easy to check by non scientific folk, easily read text and easy to read graphs. Try reading it and coming back to give me your thoughts.

    I’m not out to prove anybody wrong, I’m here to show that the evidence is flawed, and obviously so. In my opinion, this evidence should have been read and checked before going to Government ministers when B.A.S.S. and the AT were asking for restrictions on commercials and RSA.

    Leaving it to the “experts” is all well and good David but, when it has already been suggested to you that the science has flaws, with substantial evidence, and you don’t check on it where do you stand?

    And just to correct you on a point if I may, ICES has not “consistently flagged that bass are in dire straits and that urgent action is needed to try to turn things around.”………as you well know, it’s quite a recent thing!

  18. Hi Nick

    Thank you for introducing yourself.

    You have missed my point.  I have already satisfied myself by doing some reading and talking with Cefas.

    Least year you raised further questions and I asked you to check them out with the experts yourself – but, if I understand you correctly, you have not done this; you talked with Cefas, established that you needed to talk with ICES, but then have not discussed your questions with ICES.

    You are now raising questions again and my answer is the same – please discuss them with the experts and then come back and give us an even-handed account of their response.

    Until you do that, there is no reason why I should trouble myself further regarding your opinions.

    David

  19. Hello David,

    I don’t think I have missed your point at all, in that, CEFAS don’t have the answers to ICES so, your answers from CEFAS cannot possibly answer my questions regarding the ICES results.
    As I said earlier, I myself make population estimates. I don’t “need” to contact ICES to discuss their results as they are perfectly well explained in the IBP report. This report details how and why they used what data and what statistical models. Perhaps I didn’t make that quite clear in my previous post….the answers are there!
    It is also why I am asking why B.A.S.S. haven’t queried any of the results as, if you have read the IBP report, you will see, quite clearly that some of the “experiments” tried gave the “wrong” answers so were left out.
    It’s not a problem for me if you don’t wish to discuss the anomalies I just assumed that B.A.S.S. would be willing to discuss and evaluate the current population issues of bass in European waters as they have previously shown such an interest in bass stocks and, particularly recently have used the ICES reports as evidence to back up falling bass stock claims.
    Having found numerous discrepancies between the recent reports I thought I would draw it to your attention (well, not yours specifically, you have chosen to respond to my posts addressed to others). I also asked your opinion of a couple of illustrated examples which, for some reason you don’t wish to respond to.
    You said in your first post: “I would welcome your further posts on this topic – but only once you have discussed the science properly with Cefas and have something meaningful to report.” and then in your last post: “You are now raising questions again and my answer is the same – please discuss them with the experts and then come back and give us an even-handed account of their response.
    Until you do that, there is no reason why I should trouble myself further regarding your opinions.”
    Fair enough David, (although you do sound a bit like a teacher telling a naughty schoolboy to go and do his homework again!) I completed task 1 and I have explained why I don’t need to complete task 2. I’m not asking you to “trouble” yourself over observations, I just thought that having more information to target better data collection and statistical analyses would be to everybody’s advantage. As a scientist I’ve been under the impression that asking questions tends to get more answers than sitting at the back being fed information. Obviously I’m wrong and accepting everything you’re told is the way you work.
    If you are happy that when Johnny takes one egg from a dozen he is left with eleven but, when he takes three eggs from a dozen he leaves thirteen that is your choice….an odd one I’ll admit but still your choice.
    And there was me thinking it was all about the bass!

    Never mind, tight lines!

  20. this is typical of someone with his fingers in his ears shouting lah lah while not wanting to listen to reality Nick. This also points to the arrogance, were they wish to impose worthless u k restriction on both the rsa and the commercial sector using evidence that at best is clearly aged and worse it’s so full of holes to make swiss cheese look compromised. Roskilly is correct, it’s not just about recruitment, however, the evidence of depletion needs to be factual, credible and irrefutable. This bass issue will not go away until the likes of TAT and co actually communicate with both the guys who they claim to represent and also the guys who can actually deal with reality. BASS and TAT need to come up with credible facts to face up to the recreational sector. Who’s heads are in the sand I have to ask.

  21. Hi Nick

    I will reiterate my point to be crystal clear: I would like you to demonstrate that your questions have some substance by discussing them with the experts first and then reporting back to us. If ICES confirm that your concerns are correct and that their conclusions are therefore not to be relied upon, then I will be all ears.

    Until then, yes, I am happy to rely on the opinions of the experts (people who spend their lives thinking about fish populations; countless hours focusing on bass; and are telling us that there is a major problem), particularly since I spent some time last year considering and discussing with CEFAS various questions/criticisms that were raised on WSF and establishing that they were based on misunderstandings or were red herrings.

    You say that you have no need to discuss your questions with ICES; fair enough, that is your choice and I will leave it for others here to decide how that impacts on your credibility.

  22. Hello David,
    Just to be even more crystal clear, I don’t believe that I need to provide any evidence whatsoever to ask a question.

    I have supplied incontrovertible evidence for you to assess but you insist on being silly. If you don’t wish to answer simple questions then, fair enough. You are making many assumptions based on your personal opinions but none based on the facts.

    I dare you to make a factual statement based on the facts that I have proposed as questions to you based on the ICES IBP report David……..Come on man, it’s not rocket science…or at least it shouldn’t be….just answer simple questions!

  23. Hi Nick

    It’s quite straightforward, go and talk to ICES and then report back.

    Or don’t, your call.

  24. quote David, particularly since I spent some time last year considering and discussing with CEFAS various questions/criticisms that were raised on WSF and establishing that they were based on misunderstandings or were red herrings.

    please enlighten us on the misunderstandings and also the red herrings. A sample of the questions and criticisms would be beneficial. You need to educate the masses with your facts, do you have you any? Who in cefas can be contacted to listen to their confirmation of the red herrings. Now that will be very useful indeed.

  25. Hi Barry

    I am not get sucked back into the debate we had last year on WSF – you were there, so presumably you read my report of my conversation with CEFAS.

  26. No Dave you assume wrong, I didn’t read it, or it didn’t ring any bells as I would have remembered it, so copy it here please. Anything to do with bass at the moment is important, so your views are most certainly relevant, in particular where some are going wrong with red herring and misunderstandings, it will be very useful. So what have you got?

    Ginge has locked me out of wsf in a precursor for TAT to run part of the forum as TAT do not like criticism or alternative opinion. Unfortunately TAT hasn’t taken up the opportunity to communicate direct with the rsa, I can only assume that it’s all too much for them, they have limited resource for the rsa and no rsa reps in any event. I really don’t see why they have expended so much time and effort using weak evidence on the bass stocks unless they have an alternative agenda, other than serving the rsa.

  27. Hi David,

    Correct me if I’m misunderstanding things but, why would ICES know what your opinion is?

    Regards, Nick.

  28. Thanks for the comments folks. Worms and Barry as David said to; it’s not up to him or BASS to answer any dubious and unproven doubts you may have with a robust report from ICES. My take on the analysis, for what its worth (I think an MSc in statistics leaves me equally qualified to comment as a man with BSc in ecology) is I don’t agree a very minor technical analytical point of no overall relevance in one area of a report that triangulates different sources to draw its overall conclusions. But hey go talk to the authors yourselves

    BTW David is one of the principle BASS campaigners at an EU level on, hence his contact with the likes of ICES. Our efforts in BASS are better devoted to campaigning not to getting sidetracked for too long by the few but vociferous bass crisis deniers.

    This thread is now closed to feedback as all have had ample opportunity to express their views… time to go bass fishing instead.