Yes, it's true, bass are actually going to get some protection - yippee!!
I can't believe that what I blogged about the other day (see here) has actually gone and happened. We all know how dangerous it is to get your hopes up about anything that involves politics, but holy cow if it hasn't happened : "European Commission acts to protect sea bass stock" - check here. Any sport angler who has an interest in either bass as a species or indeed European based saltwater fishing as a whole must surely be jumping for joy, albeit of course with a few reservations. As BASS say on their website here, a number of people and organisations have pushed and pushed for years, and anybody who has taken time to send emails and letters to the powers that be deserves at least a pat on the back.
This comes from the Angling Trust website (here) : "Trawling for bass during the spawning period has been banned in a historic set of emergency measures aimed at averting a total collapse of Europe's bass stocks. The ban on pelagic trawling - which accounts for 25 per cent of the impact on the stock and includes the controversial method of pair trawling - will begin immediately in the Channel, Celtic sea, Irish Sea and Southern North Sea and run until April 30th during which time adult bass aggregate to reproduce and are most vulnerable."
As I said earlier, I am jumping for joy but with reservations - this is of course some great news, but note that this is a temporary measure that is now in place for 2015 only. What happens next year? We don't know. My understanding is that it is incredible of course that bass as a species are going to get at least some level of protection while they go about their spawning this year (and let's hope it's an awesome spawning year), but one must hope that this temporary shutdown of the spawning grounds comes into force every year from now on. The way I see it is this - any protection has to be better than a free for all with zero protection, and I can't help but get the feeling that bass as a species is finally being seen as a valuable commodity for not only the European commercial sector (as food of course), but also the recreational sport angling (RSA) market.
Has it finally begun to sink in that bass are worth more alive than dead?
This also comes from the AT website : "The European Commission is also proposing limiting catches for other commercial bass fisheries and is working on a proposal with member states which will be taken to the Council of fisheries ministers as soon as possible. The emergency measures have been introduced following scientific advice in June 2014 that recommended an 80 per cent cut in catches from the previous year and confirmation that continued fishing pressure was leading to serious harm to the reproductive capacity of the stock. This is the first time that Article 12 of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy has been invoked due to, "A serious threat to the conservation of marine biological resources."
All this is a huge and important step in the right direction, and as per the paragraph above, will we now see anything being done to lessen the harmful impact of such rampant inshore netting as so many of us anglers witness around the shores of the UK? Is this temporary ban on the pelagic trawling of bass from now until April 30th a fundamental shift in the right direction?
It is my belief that as much as we as anglers want to see a massive reduction in the commercial landings of bass, we as "users" of this natural resource have to give something back as well. I don't believe that responsible anglers impact bass stocks anywhere near the same level as commercial fishing, but we do "use" the resource that is the bass stock for our personal enjoyment - and as much as we tend to feel that it is our right to wander the shoreline or fish from boats and catch bass for fun, surely if the commercial sector is going to potentially be placed under more and more restrictions, when we as an increasingly powerful "voice" should be giving up that bit more as well?
From the AT website : "The EU is putting forward further measures to deal with the impact on bass stocks of recreational and other commercial fishing methods. For recreational bass angling the proposals include a three fish a day bag limit and an increase in the legal minimum size of bass from 36cm to 42cm."
It goes without saying that anglers want to see the MLS (minimum landing size) raised as high as possible, but what about the proposal that we as recreational bass anglers potentially be limited to three bass a day? Damn right if you ask me. If we have the right to (sport) fish for bass, then who the hell can say that a commercial angler hasn't got the right to harvest bass for people to eat? What gives us the anglers almost a divine right to fish away yet expect commercial anglers to be restricted in what they can do? Sure, I want them restricted and tightly controlled, of course I do, but I passionately believe that we as marine stakeholders must also give back. Sea fishing may in theory be free in a lot of countries, but it ain't much good being free if there aren't enough fish to catch.
And who the hell could argue with a three bass per day bag limit? Ireland's had a two bass per day bag limit for years, and I see no reason why any self-respecting angler could possibly want or indeed need to take three bass a day for eating. Nope, I would like to see it go further. If we as recreational sea anglers are finally being taken at least a little bit seriously, surely we owe it to the future of what we do to get serious back. I don't want a heap of restrictions on what I do for my enjoyment, but what in the hell gives us the right to, in theory, take as many bass that we catch which are over the MLS? We need to give back, and it is my hope that UK sea anglers don't throw their arms up and complain about the potential for bag limits. We as "users" must contribute, surely? I am absolutely over the moon that something good is finally happening, and I can but hope that UK saltwater anglers get right behind this. Join the Angling Trust, join BASS, get better informed, get involved, because hell bloody fire, if there is one thing that all this proves is that we can make a difference.