Since I started fishing for bass a few years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to land a few! Some big, some small – but almost all of them (save just one actually) I’ve put back.
Other anglers take their fish home for dinner. Bass, of course, is prized as one of the best eating fish around. Delicious cooked whole, as a fillet or, as my mate Jason Watling showed me, shallow fried in a light paprika batter.
We need to remember as anglers the reason we are allowed to go fishing is that fish are a major food source. Apparently even carp were introduced to Britain as a food source many years ago by monks – although I’m not sure I’d like to sample Commercial Fishery Carp on Toast, or indeed F1 Carp Sushimi.
But fish are food – and we should never forget it.
Because of that, we as sea anglers are in direct competition with commercial fishermen. They earn their living by going out and catching fish for the table. There are numerous complex issues involved in this process, and thanks to our lovely links with the European Union, those issues are made more complicated than you can believe.
Which brings me back to the subject of bass, and the story behind the film (below) which I shot in Cornwall with my mate Austen Goldsmith and Nigel Horsman from the Bass Anglers Sportsfishing Society.
Bass are one of the most beloved fish caught by anglers. They are the ultimate predator in my eyes. Silver killing machines, aggressive, fast, dynamic and intelligent. I’ve seen shoals of bass coral huge shoals of mackerel into the shallows on a beach, then take it is turns to pick off a meal, I’ve watched them following poppers on the surface all the way back to the boat, before fleeing when they spot they are in danger, and when caught, I’ve see their beady black eye following me around the boat glued to every movement. They are flighty, sometimes impossible to find, difficult to catch and different in every location. They are brilliant.
As mentioned, I catch and release all my bass – mainly because if I land one at 3lbs, something in me wants to catch that fish again when it’s a 5lb fish two years down the line. But I have no problem with anyone taking a bass for the table – as long as its done properly.
There are two massively important issues here. First, the fish should be ‘of size’. Secondly, it should be despatched humanely and quickly. (I suppose thirdly, you should give it the respect of cooking it well…but that’s another issue!!)
Currently, the minimum landing size for a bass in most of the UK is 36cm. Typically a fish of that size is perfect eating – but sadly for bass stocks, it’s a fish which almost certainly hasn’t had a chance to spawn. That means it’s not replaced itself in the food chain.
The B.A.S.S are working with Government to try and increase that minimum landing size to something above 48cm. This means the nass will be at least a year older – but crucially, it will have spawned at least one – maybe even twice.
I’ve seen scary figures showing the drop in bass stocks – and the forecast for bass over the next five years looks grim. Stocks have dropped by 20 percent in the past three years if figures are to be believed. A series of cold winters, combined with potential over fishing by the commercials (more of this next….) have combined to decimate the stocks of these stunning fish.
I had a long chat with a commercial skipper recently, which was very interesting. The commercials are in several different categories – but all seem to be lumped into the same ‘boat’ if you’ll excuse the pun!!
There are beam trawlers dragging in millions of bass with their nets. There are also rod-and-line commercials landing tiny amounts per day and scraping a living selling their fish. In my opinion, we need to make sure we don’t mix these people together.
Demonising all commercials is simply wrong. But some are certainly partially responsible for the current problems. I’ve been told, for example, certain large scale commercial operations manage to dip under the radar by catching their fish in British waters – but landing them in France. This means thousands of tonnes of bass scooped out in massive nets are taken from our waters – but not recorded here. It seems the concept of ‘One Europe’ is only relevant when it suits certain people.
Bass isn’t a quota species like cod – but it could become one if Europe decides to go down that path. They could decide on a new MLS instead. We could see in the next few months. The biggest issue with this is that bass (as you well know if you fish for them!!) are migratory. So – that means if any legislation is introduced, it needs to be Europe-wide. If we go the MLS route, that means if you land a bass that’s below 48cm centimetres long anywhere in Europe on any method, it gets returned to the sea.
Commercials who use nets will struggle to cope with that. The main reason is that they make huge profits from taking whatever they like. If someone tells them to stop making lots of money, they will kick off. These are the people who moan about discards of fish caused by quota restrictions, and throwing back ‘bi-catch’
My response to that is simple – use technology to find a sustainable solution. Catch responsibly – and don’t try to mechanically recover fish from a natural environment. The sea isn’t a fish factory created to provide a non-stop revenue stream.
I’ve heard the use of the word ‘harvest’ when it cones to commercial sea fishing. That’s what farmers do. The farmers who’ve planted the seed, then spent time, money and effort nurturing their crop before it’s ‘harvested’. They replace what they take.
Anglers alone won’t solve this issue. Legislation might. Can we trust the people who banned us from weighing things in pounds, eating straight bananas and curly cucumbers to deal with this situation?
I wish I knew the answer, but I don’t. Hopefully people like Nigel Horsman do – and they will force those is positions of power to make correct, sensible and balanced decisions.
Hope you enjoy the film.
If you want to do more, why not join the Angling Trust and use them to lobby for action?
Or sign up for the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society?