I’m sure that many of my own friends genuinely believe that the promotion of catch and release bass angling (C&R) is the responsible thing to do, especially with a resource that has been terribly over-exploited. But let me paint an alternative picture.
I believe that recreational sea angling (RSA) needs to promote itself as a sector that requires a fair and decent slice of the bass pie. RSA should promote the responsible consumption of wild bass that has been self-captured with rod & line taking into account bag limits, minimum landing sizes and spatial and seasonal closures. I genuinely believe that by taking such an approach RSA will have more success in establishing itself in the minds of politicians and the public as the legitimate and valid sector that we undoubtedly are and that in turn will create opportunities for RSA to exert more influence on management measures than we can achieve whilst we’re perceived as mainly C&R. We must be seen as ‘user stakeholders’ participating in an activity that is reliant on taking a share of the bass resource and not as a sector whose requirements can be satisfied with mandatory C&R.
I believe that recreational sea angling (RSA) needs to promote itself as a sector that requires a fair and decent slice of the bass pie.
I cannot reconcile the scientifically agreed abysmal state of bass stocks with the 2017 measures that give an annual allocation of 10,000 kilos of bass to one user stakeholder (commercial hook & line fisher) whilst simultaneously denying the keeping of any bass by RSA (during first half of year)! How is that a fair and equitable outcome for RSA? If I wish to eat some bass I have to buy them from the very same sector who is responsible for destroying the quality of my fishing, one consequence of which is the measure that I can’t keep any bass for the first half of the year!
If there is one single job that RSA has to accomplish during 2017, it is to dispel the myth that we’re perfectly content with being allowed to fish C&R only for 6 months of the year.
If there is one single job that RSA has to accomplish during 2017, it is to dispel the myth that we’re perfectly content with being allowed to fish C&R only for 6 months of the year. We must circulate the message amongst politicians as compellingly as we can that our retention of responsibly and selectively captured bass for personal consumption is THE PRIORITY use of what is a public fishery resource. There can be no superior allocation of a public fishery resource other than to those members of the public that elect to equip themselves with the tackle and knowhow to access that resource themselves.
Commercials have enjoyed decades of being the only user stakeholder at the table. They have established themselves in the driving seat. Public marine fishery resources are routinely referred to as ‘commercial fish stocks’. They were handed out licenses to access public fishery resources (public capital) for personal financial gain WITHOUT charge. I know of no other marine extraction activity for which licenses are provided without charge. Hell, you require a license to bury someone at sea from the MMO AND you will have to pay for it! In addition, commercials have secured a stream of public funding for their shore side facilities, for vessel improvements, for training, for representation and even for their leisure equipment!
Commercial fishermen have enjoyed decades of being the only user stakeholder at the table… They were handed out licenses to access public fishery resources (public capital) for personal financial gain WITHOUT charge.
RSA has a hell of a mountain to climb and as Crick Carleton (CEO of Nautilus Consultants) told me once, bringing about the required changes to the whole fisheries management regime so that RSA achieves its position and influence justified by the sector’s size will only happen if the RSA sector makes it happen. No one else will do it for RSA. Essentially, why should anyone – scientists, fisheries managers or politicians – take RSA seriously IF IT DOESN’T TAKE ITSELF SERIOUSLY?
And if that sounds unkind, just dwell if you will for a moment on what proportion of sea anglers support RSA organisations such as the Angling Trust? What proportion of the thousands of businesses who existence depends on RSA are contributing realistic financial resources to ensure the voice of RSA is effective?
I’m sorry if all this sounds rather negative, but it isn’t all bad news. RSA demonstrably has made political progress in achieving a higher profile and no more so than during recent years. I believe the number of sea anglers who are engaging (to various levels) with fisheries issues is slowly increasing. As Brexit unfolds, and there are enormous uncertainties in respect of fishing; Defra will no longer be able to hide behind EU skirts. RSA will need to significantly beef up its dialogue with Defra and greater angler representation to MPs is essential.
As I pen this blog, I am looking forward to my annual spring trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where striped bass stocks were successfully rebuilt some twenty years ago after collapsing from over fishing. That rebuilding came about after a hell of a lot of battles between recreational and commercials and the ‘war’ was won by recreationals who determinedly fought for a more restrictive management approach for all users that placed the fish as the single most important consideration.
Striper Wars by Dick Russell, published in 2005, recounts that story and is testament to what can be achieved if recreational sea anglers stand up for their rights. The various battles were fought with grass root anglers co-operating with tackle dealers, charter operators, guides and tackle manufacturers. The rewards have to be seen and experienced to realise it was worth the fight. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) calculated that during the decade following the successful rebuilding of stocks, the number of trips targeting striped bass from existing and new anglers increased sevenfold and the expenditure from those anglers also increased sevenfold. The European Tackle Trade should take note and consider investing in some effective advocacy to position recreational sea angling to its rightful place in the process that determines fishing policies and management on this side of the Atlantic.
Malcolm Gilbert | May 2017