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Fighting For Fish

Aug 03,2006 Leon Roskilly

It’s a bright and calm West Country Summer’s day. Precariously balanced above the wave washed gully, I position the rod for another cast as the spray breaks around me.

It seems an age since the family gathered round a table full of holiday brochures, as the cold winter rain swept against the windows.

The promise of far away foreign places seemed to be overwhelmingly inviting.

Artwork by Gavin Ward

In desperation, I argued my case. Suddenly, the game was up. ‘He’s only interested in fishing for bass’ my daughter exclaimed with unerring insight ………… the memory makes me smile, as does the memory of a series of mini disasters which eventually led to me getting my way …once again.

Through my polaroids, I watch the eddystone eel wriggling frantically behind the sea-filled bubble float. How could any bass resist that?

I begin to wonder if this tide will bring any success, remembering the talk in the tackle shop of the damage done by the gill-netters, and the offshore pair trawlers. Perhaps there are no bass among the rocks to be caught.

I’m concious that I’m wearing a T-shirt which my wife has bought back from Boston. There is a magnificent drawing of a Stiped Bass emblazoned across the front, and the legend reads ‘Cape Cod – Sport Fishing – environmental awareness’.

It crosses my mind that the shop that sold my wife that T-shirt certainly knew the value of the striped bass fishery to the local tourist industry.

I doubt that any of the shopkeepers in the West Country town, where my wife and children are spending my share of the holiday money have any idea that the sales they are making are dependent on the presence of bass amongst the rocks.

I doubt also that, when we fail to return next year, the holiday let will realise that bookings are down because myself, and the anglers around me, have returned home from this holiday, deeply disappointed at the non appearance of the bass.

The fishermen responsible for devastating the bass stocks are almost certainly aware of what they are doing. ‘if not us, then somone else’. That devastating mantra works it’s insiduous, cynical, dark magic.

I doubt that they realise that it is not only their jobs which will disappear when the bass are no more. They don’t see the connection between what they do, and their daughter’s summer job in the restaurant, or the generous tips she earns. Nor do they see the contribution those living fish make toward driving the local economy.

When the fish are gone, they expect to get a job somewhere else, they may find that they have to move far from the town of their birth.

Putting aside all ethical and environmental considerations, it is this non-recognition of the contribution which recreational angling makes to the general economy which so frustrates conservation campaigners.

Talk to MAFF about the need to preserve living fish, of decent size, for anglers to catch and they are likely to mutter that they aren’t responsible for angling. ‘Talk to Sport England’ they are likely to suggest. They seem to see their role purely as ‘managing’ commercial fisheries.

But that is beginning to change, thanks to the political pressure which anglers are beginning to apply.

If you want to be part of the effort, bringing the necessary political pressure to bear, then here are some suggestions.

If you live in a resort, write to the local Tourist Office, and to the Chamber of commerce, telling them of the plight of our fish stocks, the contribution they make to the local economy, and the much larger contribution which they could make, if they were managed more sustainably. Ask for their help in joining the campaign for more fish. Suggest that they conduct a survey to discover just how much recreational angling contributes toward the economy, and by how much this could be expanded, given a good and reliable supply of sizeable fish to catch.

If you spend ‘fishing’ holidays in Britain, particularly if you drag the whole family along, let the local tourist office, the chamber of commerce and your holiday let, know why you visit.
If you travel elsewhere for your fishing, let them know why you are spending your money there, instead of with them.

It’s not only recreational angling which is suffering, the local inshore fishermen also need fish. You will find that many of them are just as concerned about overfishing as are recreational anglers. Ask them for help in your campaigning. You might be surprised at their attitude!
In the ‘Useful Contacts’ corner of the SACN web pages, you’ll find a list of MPs with coastal constituences. They may be surprised at just how much recreational angling contributes to their local tourist based economy.
Please try to spend a little time writing a few letters.

We need to apply maximum political pressure to convince the decision makers that live, large fish, swimming free around our coasts, do contribute far more to the economy than a few dead fish on a fishmonger’s slab.

Your letter could just be the one to get the ball rolling, perhaps opening doors for others with clinching arguments to walk through.

With your help, in a few years time, the talk in the tackle shop may not be about gill netters and pair trawlers, but of the big bass coming ashore to anglers’ rods.

The streets will be full of anglers wives and kids, spending anglers money here, not in some foreign resort.

And just maybe, I’ll share the thrill of watching a huge fish smash into your eddystone eel J .

The following briefing, prepared by the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (BASS) will provide the arguments you need.

Alternative Tourism - The Case For Bass Angling & Conservation

This short briefing paper sets out the key issues for recreational bass angling as an alternative tourism activity.

The European Sea Bass - A Sought After Commodity

The European Sea Bass is a much sought after commodity amongst recreational sea anglers. It has high status and is in the true sense a ‘game’ fish. Like salmon, it is beautiful to behold, hard fighting, very good to eat, and can be caught by game fishing methods such as spinning and fly fishing, in an environment which is rugged, wild and beautiful in itself. Again like salmon, the bass has a fascinating life cycle and a capacity to enrapture anglers. A perusal of relevant angling literature will confirm this (Cooling, 1994).

Recreational Sea Bass Angling - An Income Generator

Recreational bass angling is an activity similar to golf or sailing in the sense that it is a hobby/pastime activity on which participants are willing to spend significant amounts of their disposable income and around which they will also arrange vacation activities, whether these be full family or group holidays, or ‘short breaks’. Up to the present time this tourism potential has gone unrecognised. This ‘market potential’ for the sustainable use of this natural resource is under exploited, though bass stocks are over exploited by unsustainable commercial netting practices.

Sea Bass Stocks - Now Is A Good Time To Act

Due to the trend of increased water temperatures in the areas that bass inhabit, there have been a series of excellent years for the survival of young fish. As these bass continue to survive and grow they are capable of providing outstanding recreational fishing opportunities for many years to come, provided that the stocks are not devastated by commercial netting. Due to the slow growth rate and longevity of bass it is possible, from present estimates of immature fish stocks, to forecast accurately what the adult stocks will be 7 years ahead. For example, the recruitment to adult stocks in the years 2003-2005 will be excellent. We have the best opportunity for twenty years to restore this economically and socially valuable recreational fishery.

CEMARE Studies

Studies commissioned n the late 1980’s and early 1990’s show that whilst the UK first sale value of commercially netted European Sea Bass (dicentrarchus labrax) was about £4 million per annum, the value of recreational sea angling for bass was nearer £18.5 million. Much of this spending by recreational bass anglers goes into the coastal and tourism parts of the economy. It creates and sustains many more jobs and businesses than does commercial netting. There exists the potential for much greater income generation. At the time of the last survey (NRA, 1994), there were more than 1.1 million recreational sea anglers in the UK.

The European Perspective

Europe wide the number is likely to exceed 8 million. (Dunn, et al,1989), (Potten, 1992), (Pickett, et al,1995), showed that the income generated in the UK from recreational bass angling was between 5 and 6 times that generated by commercial exploitation of the species. Consideration needs to be given to the likely equivalent figures for those European countries which also have natural bass populations. Clearly the opportunity to stimulate sea angling tourism, for the benefit of all European coastal regions is very substantial.

The Irish Experience

Since the 1980’s Ireland’s bass stocks have been managed with a view to long term sustainability of the resource, and recreational angling’s contribution as an income generator through local and long distance tourism. National legislation supports this strategy by banning most commercial netting of bass. As a result many thousands of anglers, often with their families, travel to Irish shores each year.

Despite having a much clearer and more successful angling tourism strategy than the UK and the rest of Europe, the Irish government’s, Central Fisheries Board Strategic Plan 1998-2002 (CFB, 1997) indicates their view that there are many further development opportunities available. Amongst other issues, they identify availability of increased leisure time, sea angling as a (still) underdeveloped tourist product, potential to develop new ‘niche’ markets, and sea angling’s contribution to rural tourism development as key features (p.30). They go on to state:

‘Current bass legislation should remain in place as it is important to the survival of this prestigious sport fish’ (p.24).

These development opportunities exist, equally, for many parts of coastal Europe, if the unsustainable over exploitation we suffer can be curtailed.

The North American Experience

20 years ago the plight of the Striped Bass (morone saxtalis), the North American equivalent of the European Sea Bass, was thought to be beyond recovery. By showing conclusively that the economic benefits to be gained from planned sustainable exploitation through promotion of the species as a recreational sport fish, far outweighed those to be derived from commercial netting, fishery authorities, in combination with tourist agencies, have brought the fishery back to life. It now generates $ millions each year for coastal communities. The techniques and procedures used to achieve this recovery are available to us in Europe and are applicable to the European Sea Bass. The May 1999 edition of a New England business journal ‘On Cape Business’ makes the point, in an article entitled ‘Big Bass, Big Bucks’ (Sigelman, 1999) that there are massive ‘trickle down’ effects for businesses and communities large and small, from the availability of good quality recreational sea fishing.

Barriers to Progress

At the present time there are three main barriers to the development of an alternative tourism strategy based around the European Sea Bass. These are:

There must be fish - Without a prospect of being able catch bass in reasonable numbers and sizes, anglers and their families will not come to these coastal areas. If they can catch fish they will spend money, and return. Presently there is a Fish Availability Threshold which we cannot get over because of unsustainable commercial fishing practices.
Deliberate Exclusion - In Europe, but nowhere else in the world that has valuable sport fishing species, recreational angling interests are deliberately excluded from the processes and structures of fish stocks management. It is as if the commercials were perceived as the ‘owners’ of these stocks. In reality, they are the property of the of the ‘commons’.
False Assumptions - about the relative economic and social benefits of commercial and recreational fishing continue to influence decision makers to the detriment of recreational angling and its alternative tourist potential.
We would like the opportunity to develop these arguments further and to discuss the detailed information on which they are based on our website http://www.ukbass.com

The Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society MG/BC/PSM/11.99


National Rivers Authority, (1994). National Angling Survey. HMSO Publications.

Cooling, D., (1994). Reading About Bass. Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society, Quarterly Magazine.

Dunn, M R., Potten, S D., Radford, A F., Whitmarsh D., (1989). An Economic Appraisal Of The Fishery For Bass In England And Wales. CEMARE. University Of Portsmouth.

Potten, S D., (1992). Surveying Marine Recreational Fishing For Bass In England And Wales. CEMARE. University Of Portsmouth.

Pickett, G D., Eaton, D R., Cunningham, S., Dunn, M R ., Potten S D ., Whitmarsh D., (1995). An Appraisal Of the UK Bass Fishery And Its Management. Directorate Of Fisheries Research. Lowestoft.

Irish Central Fisheries Board, (1997). Achieving Sustainable Growth - Strategic Development Plan For Inland Fisheries, 1998-2002.

Sigelman, N., (1999). Big Bass - Big Bucks, In ‘On Cape Business’, May 1999 Issue.


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