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Avoiding Bass Discards

Jan 24,2007 SACN


Prior to April 2007, when a new Minimum Landing Size (MLS) for bass of 40cm will be implemented, immature bass of just 36cm are presently the target of many inshore bass fisheries.

Bass of this size mix with smaller bass, so even now there is a certain amount of discarding of bass below the current MLS of 36cm, especially when trawling.

Fishermen have warned that one aspect of the new MLS is that  bass between 36cm and 40cm will now join the discards.

Indeed knowing the public’s distaste at the practice of discarding fish that are not allowed to be landed, some actually seem to be looking forward to the prospect of presenting significant discards of undersized bass as a propaganda tool in their campaign to overturn the decision to protect the inshore bass stocks by raising the mls.

The question that arises is why did DEFRA choose to protect the bass fishery by raising the mls, knowing that this will inevitably lead to higher discards?

The truth of the matter is that discarding of significant quantities of bass below 40cm is entirely avoidable, by adjusting fishing method and places where bass fishing takes place, and DEFRA have assumed that fishermen will soon adapt their practices to avoid the unnecessary killing of quantities of undersized bass.

Bass are mainly under threat from two types of fishing, netting and trawling (the bass hand-line fishery is very selective and avoids the problem of killing undersized fish almost entirely).


Netting 

When set ‘correctly’ most netting can be quite selective in the size of fish being targeted, as smaller fish pass through the mesh, and ‘too large’ specimens ‘bounce off’.

Acknowledging this, as well as raising the mls of bass, DEFRA have decreed that the mesh size of netting used in fisheries where bass is a significant proportion of the catch (10% or greater) must use an increased mesh size of at least 100mm (previously 90mm).

(There is some discussion about whether an increase to100mm is too conservative, with some suggesting that an increase to at least 105mm, perhaps 115mm is needed to avoid too many discards)

However, mesh size is by no means the whole story when looking at selectivity.

‘Twine’ diameter, and setting the net so that it ‘folds’ will also determine how effective the net will be in allowing undersized fish to pass through.

A very soft fine monofilament will snag almost everything (fortunately including much ‘rubbish’ so is unpopular with netsmen).

The ratio of net length to headline length will also determine whether excessive folding of the net occurs.

When a large length of netting is fixed to a much shorter length of headline, so the net folds, and entraps many more smaller fish than a net set with a smaller net to headline ratio.

As does a deep net set in shallow water, especially as the depth of water decreases with tide.

And of course if nets are set in places where the size of bass is mostly below the mls, so the likelihood of catching undersized fish increases.

So, netsmen wishing to avoid discarding excessive quantities of undersized bass will need to consider using larger mesh (perhaps larger than the regulations demand), and setting them in a way that maintains the selectivity of the net, and avoiding areas where bass smaller than the new mls predominate.


Trawling

DEFRA have decided that (at least initially) trawl mesh sizes are to be left at 90mm.

The reasons being that:

a) Netting, not trawling, is responsible for taking most of the catch of bass below 40cm within the 12 miles to which the new mls applies.  

b) Changing the mls will have an impact on the catch of other species caught by trawl

c) Survival prospects for undersized bass discarded from trawling are likely to be greater if a smaller mesh is used.

d) Most trawling occurs in water deeper than 20 metres where few bass below 40cm are likely to be encountered.

Where bass are the target catch, then fishermen can avoid large numbers of discards, by avoiding trawling in shallow areas, less than 20 metres in depth.

Where other species are the intended catch and trawling in shallow water is ‘unavoidable’ (ie trawling for sole), bass can be avoided by trawling at a slower speed (say 2 knots which is usual when flatfish are being targeted, rather than 3 or 4 knots used when trawling for bass).

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Most fishermen, with an eye to the future, and anxious that the UK inshore bass stocks are managed sustainably, will realise just how much their future income will depend upon avoiding unnecessary discarding of immature fish, and adapt to the new mls quite quickly by adopting the use of nets with increased mesh sizes (perhaps higher than the 100mm minimum legally required), setting nets in a way that will avoid the capture of undersized fish, and by fishing in areas where the capture of undersized fish is likely.

However, should it prove that some are determined to recklessly ignore high rates of discards by choosing not to adapt their fishing to the new mls, then it will certainly become necessary to consider further regulation regarding the use of gear responsible for high rates of capture of undersized fish, and areas that can be fished.

Along with most responsible fishermen, we hope that such further regulation will prove unnecessary, and that both the catching sector, and recreational sea anglers can look forward to an improved, more valuable, and more robust bass fishery in the years to come. 



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