Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Recreational fishing "accounts for 25% of sea bass mortality" - really?

If it has escaped your attention, and with the lack of publicity it quite possibly has, then from midnight last night I believe that via the European Commission it has become law that we recreational saltwater anglers in certain areas of Europe are now restricted to killing three (sea) bass a day. Thanks to World Sea Fishing for making the news more widely known about (check here), but quite aside from what I can’t help but believe is a fairly meaningless new regulation, what I personally find of most interest here is that we recreational sea anglers are being held responsible for “25% of sea bass mortality”. Really? I am sure there have been endless very expensive scientific studies into this, but I find it very hard to believe that we can possible be responsible for that many bass being killed………

I am all for (enforceable) restrictions on what recreational anglers can take from the sea, indeed it has never made much sense to me that in theory we can kill all legally sized fish that we catch. But how can a rule like this that has just come into force possibly mean a damn thing when there is nobody or nothing there to enforce it? Sure, you’d love to think that every sea angler now covered by these new restrictions has firstly actually heard of them, and secondly that they are all now going to adhere to the new rules and the unscrupulous among us aren’t now going to kill all the bass they catch and sell them for example. No more black market bass selling I hear the cries go up, because it’s now illegal. Yeah, right. Where is the enforcement?

I can’t help but admire the fact that the European Commission has actually been doing something towards protecting fragile bass stocks, and “intend” to do more - see here. A big reason for this I reckon has come via anglers and various angling bodies putting continued pressure on the powers that be. Do not stop. I have no problem with being restricted to three bass a day, indeed in reality I can’t see why it isn’t one bass a day, and with the size of that bass having to be within a certain slot size that takes account of logic - why for example would anybody need to take a double figure bass for eating? But how on earth is this new rule going to mean a damn thing without anybody out there to enforce it? Are we now trusting in the goodness of the human spirit? Call me cynical, but the word balls comes to mind.

But still I worry where this 25% figure comes from. If we as recreational sea anglers are being credited with killing this percentage of bass within the overall amount removed from the sea each year then I wonder what else we might have coming in the future - or to look at it another way, how much less the commercial sector might be regulated because the argument can be hang on, but the recreational guys and girls are actually responsible for a huge percentage of fish mortality. I can’t remotely base my lack of belief in the 25% figure on any kind of hard facts, rather it’s my own incredulity at how recreational anglers and the methods we use could possibly be responsible for catching and killing that many bass. It just doesn’t add up to me. Or am I completely wrong and in fact we are?

So next time you’re out bass fishing and it’s an epic session and you think hang on, I could take all these fish and feed my family/friends/pets or indeed sell them to a few restaurants via the back door and make a bit of dosh to cover my recreational fishing expenses (absolutely despicable if you ask me), well from now you’re breaking the law if I am reading the info correctly. And I bet you are quaking in your boots because there might now be a really scary fisheries protection officer patrolling your bit of coastline, the car parks and/or ports you might have set out fishing from, and even the more unscrupulous restaurants where the more unscrupulous anglers might be tempted to offload their catch for the greater good. As if. We don't pay for our fishing remember.

Look, I am all for the fact that bass protection is high on various agendas, and I also believe that we as recreational sea anglers can’t expect to have it all our own way. There has to be a degree of give and take, and whilst we are not scooping up scary numbers of fish via increasingly high-tech commercial fishing methods or raping our inshore waters via what seems to me to be an out of control level of inshore netting, we do stick hooks in fish for our enjoyment and there are some amongst us who kill everything they catch for whatever reasons. This is not a question of good versus bad, but I just don’t see how this new three bass per angler rule is going to make a blind bit of difference with no enforcement - and come on, be honest now, how often do you go out and catch three bass over the legal size limit anyway? And how often does that legal size limit make some anglers stop and think anyway? Bass are on the political agenda and we must be thankful for that, but Rome wasn't built in a day............