Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Fish stocks, behaviour, movements, weather patterns, climate etc. - how much do we really know?

Read an article like this and you can't help but feel down - "sea bass stocks at lowest in two decades" - why oh why does the mainstream media and indeed a proportion of the general public call "our" bass "sea bass", when we only have one species of bass around here. We ain't the US or Japan where they have various freshwater and saltwater species of bass. Anyway, I digress. We live on this planet but our time here is but a merest speck of dust in relation to how long stuff's been going on for, and most likely will continue to long after we have done our stuff, wiped out who knows how many species of animals and fish, and covered much of the earth's beautiful surface with concrete jungles.

Am I relentlessly positive about bass fishing to the point that I don't see what is going on ? No. Sure, I love going to Ireland for example, but like anybody who is into saltwater fishing almost anywhere on earth I imagine, nobody can pretend that mankind is exactly doing much good when it comes to slowly but surely emptying the oceans of their natural resources. I hear a number of Irish anglers bemoaning their levels of bass fishing over the last couple of years especially, but then I also hear any number of UK anglers doing the same thing. Who's got it the best and who's got it the worst ? Who knows what the fishing was like back in these mythical good old days before commercial fishing got so mobile and so efficient ? Things were always better in the good old days weren't they ?

I don't need the national media to tell me what we as anglers already know. The world's population keeps growing and people like to eat fish - it's a no brainer. Unless something drastic is done with fish stocks then I kinda assume that over time we will all find that our levels of saltwater sport fishing will continue to decline. It's simply mathematics is it not ? More people eating more fish means less fish swimming around. Legal or illegal commercial fishing, it matters not how fish are removed from the sea, and I don't subscribe to anglers not making the blindest bit of difference either.

But, and for me it's a big but - we live on this planet yet not that long ago we thought we were going to fall off the edge of the horizon if we sailed out too far. We can't accurately forecast the weather more than about two days ahead. We can't agree on whether we as a species are affecting climate change or whether we are in the middle of the planet's "normal" warming and cooling. We can't cure the common cold and only a handful of people have ever been to the deepest parts of the ocean. What do we really know ? We believe we're an intelligent species yet we retain nuclear arsenals as deterrents against a nuclear holocaust. Seriously ? How screwed up is that ?

It's not a case of me trying to put a positive spin on fish stocks because I am an angler like most of us here, and I want to catch more and bigger fish. I have to ignore these tedious insinuations that an organisation like Failte Ireland have so much money to spend on promoting fishing that they are showering me with the stuff to keep on heading over and lie through my teeth about what I get to see and experience. That kind of jealous rubbish aside, I have always worked on the assumption that something like fish are doing things for various reasons that we just are never going to understand. Do they understand themselves ? Nope. We are all animals, and whatever your beliefs, what do we really know about instinct ?

We head for the sun to get some warmth. We migrate to cities for whatever they offer. We shelter from the rain. Some people feel worse on a full moon (werewolves are true, I saw one once on the telly). Some people are good in the mornings and some ain't worth knowing until later in the day. I'm right-handed but you might be left-handed. I find myself drawn to the sea but you might find yourself drawn to a river. We do things we don't have a clue about and I don't see why fish should be any different.

I always remember a guy telling me many years ago that he reckoned the cod fishing in the Bristol Channel changed for the worse after the 1987 October gales. The weather men can say what they like, but I have lived in the south west for over twenty years now and I firmly believe that we get far more north west winds than we ever used to - and I absolutely despise NW winds for shore fishing around here. How about say an angler now catching bass in the Outer Hebrides when he or she never used to ? An angler caught a small striped bass at Dover the other day - see here. A good friend of mine hooked a small tuna species off the shore just last week when he was pollack fishing (sadly it came off). What on earth is going on ?

Well to me that's just it. We don't know, and if you ask me we never will. If we can't explain our own human instinct then I fail to see how we can ever understand the instinct of the other animals that we share this planet with. I am not remotely trying to ignore that there might well be issues over in Ireland say with the bass fishing, but then we have serious problems here of course and none of it is remotely unique. But I would ask what these "problems" actually are, or rather, do we have a frigging clue what is going on ? Fish stocks are of course under increasing amounts of pressure, but can we rightfully expect that fish do the same thing year in year out when for example the weather patterns and thus what many fish are instinctively doing is changing perhaps ? Are things that we will never understand on the change, and perhaps as they always have been - we have been around for such a short time on this planet that we have such a comparatively short timescale to measure things.

Should we as anglers be adapting more to this potential change ? We are pretty good at ranting and raving about there being less of whatever species of fish around, but we certainly won't be putting our hands in our collective pockets anytime soon and putting anything meaningful towards at least trying to something for the greater good. Let's just say that what I believe is a changing pattern of weather is actually affecting what a fish like the bass does, and when they do what they instinctively do. Do we have no choice but to attack how and perhaps even where we fish for them a bit differently ? Is a combination of increased commercial and recreation pressure plus whatever is going on with the weather bringing about a fundamental shift in what a fish like the bass has to do to survive ?

Look, I don't have a lifetime's worth of bass fishing knowledge and experience to call upon here, and not for one second am I pretending that all is rosy wherever I happen to go fishing. I am a pretty simple creature at heart though and I tend to believe that certain weather conditions tend to get various coastlines going for example. Instinct remember. Nature. Food. Would we begin to migrate south if the UK for example was hit with its own ice age ? Instinct would kick in and we would do what we needed to do to find food and shelter. Or conversely some of us might bury our heads and hope things went away - but I believe that is a human trait and I don't believe fish do that kind of thing.

If our weather is changing for whatever reason, then surely it's ignorance in the extreme to not think that this has to affect fish behaviour and/or movements. Why would bass rush inshore for example if there was no reason to ? Why would they bother hitting our lumps of bait and plastic if there are more than enough sandeels and mackerel shoaling up and almost asking to be chomped upon ? Simple maybe, but I can't honestly remember for example the last time here at home or indeed on one of my trips to Ireland that I had any meaningful or prolonged weather conditions that got the open coastline going. How can I expect the fish to be there like they were in the good old days if their instinct perhaps is moving them on somewhere else at different times to what we might have expected ? As you can see here, I have no definitive answers. Fish stocks are under increased pressure, but what else is going on out there ? Food for thought for the weekend. Have a good one.

Henry Gilbey7 Comments