Size Matters

Sean McSeveny
  · Sean McSeveny  · December 4, 2014

Bass numbers are declining so what can be done to boost the species?

A recent article in The Times reported on EU proposals to limit the number of sea bass caught in UK and European waters – the end goal being to maintain sustainable levels of the species which, as recent figures show, are currently seriously depleted.  But the piece also highlighted serious flaws in the proposed legislation – and showed how responsible, sustainable rod and line anglers would actually be the ones to seriously lose out if the measure was to go ahead.

No one would argue against the case for ensuring stocks of Sea Bass, one of the most popular and overfished species, remain plentiful, and after looking at the recent set of figures collected by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, no one could fail to see that current levels are at an all-time low.

This depletion is due in part to repeated aggressive trawling by non-sustainable  commercial fleets, but a smaller part of it can also be attributed to landings of undersized bass by uneducated rod and line anglers, who are ignorant of the current minimum landing size guidelines.

undersized bass2

As well, there is a serious inequity between the amount of bass French trawlers take from UK and European waters compared with the amount retrieved by UK commercial fleet annually, with the French contingent taking triple the quantity that British trawlers do.

This discrepancy needs to be addressed to ensure the UK’s commercial fisherman do not draw the short straw, receiving a negative impact on their livelihoods.  It can also only be fair that this inequality is tackled before any more limits are placed on the UK’s rod and line anglers, commercial or otherwise.

And there’s also another key issue affecting bass stocks that needs to be addressed by the European Commission before the body impose yet more restrictions on sustainable fishermen – water temperature -with temps under 9c being the point when most bass typically shoal up to breed.

This means there needs to be a total ban on commercial fleets fishing for bass in waters with temperatures under 9c, as otherwise, spawning will be seriously hampered, and stocks of bass will further fall.

Of course, there does need to be some type of regulation on pleasure anglers who repeatedly fish for undersized bass, as they are undoubtedly contributing to the depletion of stocks, if not quite on the same scale as the commercial trawlers.

Southern Ireland’s legislation, which is currently much more stringent than the UK’s,  specifies all Bass caught must be at least 40cm in size, and as a direct result, the country has enjoyed a massive increase in both the size and number of bass.


Implementing the current UK legislation that mandates all Bass catches must be 36cm or higher is far from easy, but it can be done, with support and assistance from influential bodies within the angling community, such as B.A.S.S and the Angling Trust.

One practical way which organisations like these could directly help is by assisting with the placement of measuring signs in areas rod and line bass anglers use, to both inform the uneducated of the size limits, and remind the careless of the guidelines.

Since some anglers are totally unaware of what the current size limit is, what it looks like or even in some cases that there even is one, signposting would seriously help to raise awareness of the issue and boost bass stocks at the leisure end of the market at least.

The latest figures demonstrating the dearth of bass are disturbing, and it’s clear the EU needs to take significant steps to even out the inequity between French and British fleets as well as action a clampdown on commercial fleets mining waters under 9c.

As long as the EU, DEFRA and the like fail to tackle the real issues that have contributed to the depletion of wild bass as a species, numbers will continue to fall, and the irony is, the biggest losers will be the UK’s contingent of sustainable anglers, not the aggressive commercial trawling outfits that are the main reason behind the current shortfall.




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10 Responses to "Size Matters"
  1. Avatar Fraser says:

    Hello Sean, as always an interesting and informative article. For what it is worth I would like to add the following observations

    Irish fishing regulations contain the following

    ‘A conservation bye-law was implemented which prohibited commercial fishing and a ban on the sale of bass’

    This has allowed Irish bass to recover from commercial over exploitation. It is comparatively easy to enforce at point of sale and has been very effective.

    I feel that size limits also have a role to play but these are difficult and expensive to enforce.

    The bass commercial bass fishery in England is comparatively small contributing a fraction of the worth of recreational fishing and inflicting disproportionate damage to stocks. Commercial fishermen are flexible and in the habit of targeting new species and environments when their current target has been reduced to none economic levels.

    The Irish have shown the way perhaps we should follow. I believe that the Americans have done something similar with their stripped bass.

  2. Avatar Mike guyll says:

    It all comes down to greed Sean. Wether a pleasure angler knocking a six ounce schooley on the head or a commercial boat wiping out an entire shoal. I suppose in the case of the leisure angler it could be a certain amount of ignorance, the fresh water licence pays towards alleviating their ignorance with television adverts and postal warnings about their do’s and do nots.
    I know you don’t agree with licensing saltwater anglers but if implemented whereby any man utilising a fishing rod had to be registered with a license then at least the ignorance side of things could be addressed.
    I read a disturbing piece posted on social media yesterday whereby people were killing dogfish and throwing them behind the bank at Abbotsbury. Sadly those kind of actions go hand in hand with the decline of society in general and if these people have no social standards then why would they give a damn about a few fish they have killed and left for the birds.
    At least a license might get rid of the 6 pack anglers that only see it as a way of getting away from the battle axe and kids with no real interest in fishing or what it means. They are the ones more likely to be killing all their catch and landing undersized fish even if not for consumption.
    As for the commercial fleet if the EU don’t do something about it soon with exclusion zones protecting certain areas at certain times with management of the foreign fleets then many a fanatical angler will be hanging up his rods causing an enormous gap in the economy. The sooner those that have a duty of care over our fisheries realise that anglers are worth more to the economy than all of that bludgeoning commercial fleet the better. Hope you are keeping well chap.

    • Sean McSeveny Sean McSeveny says:

      I too read that report about the Dogfish being thrown up on the beach. Unfortunately I have seen this first hand, on several occasions and it has not just been the occasional angler that was carrying it out. These guys were serous fishermen with all the best tackle and well capable of casting the distances needed to hit the fish on CHesil. When I challenged them, their response was I want to catch decent fish not these scavengers. It makes my blood boil.

      THe point I am trying to make is that I don’t believe a sea licence would make that blindest bit of difference to these ignorant morons. I can see your point, in that money released from a licence fee would go towards paying to better educate anglers, and size limits could be printed on the licence. However I am as strongly opposed to a licence as you are for its implementation. The shores of the UK are one of the few places that we have left, where we can hunt and gather at no cost.

      On the point of exclusion zones, I am with you 100%. However even these seem to have loop holes that certain boats seem exempt from. Take the recent MCZ for Chesil. I was delighted when it was announced that fishing with non static gear was banned. Only to witness a Scolloper based in West Bay tearing up the sea bed opposite the bridging camp. When I enquired as to why that boat was allowed to do that, I was told that they had grandfather rights to do so.

  3. Avatar marc stannard says:

    Totally agree Sean it’s taking the fun out of fishing as I still haven’t had many nice size bass this year which has been worst than last year and the year before. Something really needs to be done

  4. Avatar Kim Vickers says:

    Good Afternoon Sean, I have followed your website for a long time now and find it very informative. I did write and answer to your last plea for the powers that be to take note of what we anglers say with regards to our Bass fishing – I did not however see a reply.
    Your artical today makes a very good point, and one would hope that we responsible anglers are listened to. I agree with all you say but in my humble opinion you are holding in your photo one of the most precious bass of all and that is the large specimens which of course are the Breeding Stock. It has to be said that we all want to land the biggest fish but as I pointed out in my last communication with you,in my view there must be a mandatory catch and return, maximum size brought in. This would help keep our breeding stocks maintained.
    For your info I am ex Navy too. Last two years as assistant fisheries boarding inspection officer on HMS Lindisfarne 1983-85 and have fished (angling) from Lulworth Cove for some 60 yrs now.
    Kind Regards
    PS Come fish with me!!

    • Sean McSeveny Sean McSeveny says:

      I totally agree with you, that there needs to be a minimum and maximum size limit, as they do for many species in the US. However the only way that this could work, is if there is a total ban on commercial fishing for Bass. This is something that happens in Southern ireland and has been highlighted in Fraser’s comment.
      Personally I don’t think there is a need for a full ban on commercial fishing, but I would love to see a ban during the winter, when they shoal up to breed.

  5. Avatar Steve griffiths says:

    Really good and knowledgeable article yet again and could not agree more. Thanks for a good read.

  6. Avatar Shaun says:

    People complaining about not catching bass? They are looking in the wrong places. They go back to old haunts years later and expect it to fish the same. Fact is fish move and if you don’t move with them your catches will dry up.

    Bass are being caught in places they previously where unheard of and right through the winter as well. This shows us the stock is moving around and fluid in nature. Surveying one area is fine but flawed, fish move and if you don’t move with them it will seem as if all the fish are gone when reality is they are still around just in a different spot.

    The minimum size should increase to 45cm but no maximum size should be set, that is pointless.

    If people beleive a license would help us they are sorely wrong. A license if just a tax on our fishing and the money would be sucked up by useless organisations like the AT, TAT or BASS which only serve there own interests.

  7. Avatar Dave says:

    The MLS of 36cm is far too low. These fish haven’t even had the chance to breed at least once. In order to make sure this is the case the MLS needs to be 48cm. If you keep killing fish before they can breed then you are going to have issues. p*ss poor management.

    Why can bass nursery areas be netted at certain times of the year? Its madness.

    French pair trawlers mopping up the prime brood stock in the channel are decimating the species. They can take as much in a week as the whole inshore fleet in a season.

    Make bass hook and line only for that is the only truly sustainable fishery. If you do this you can also have a max landing size and protect the prime brood stock.

    If you really do care and want to make a difference then email your MP and ask them to support measures to conserve, protect and regenerate the bass population. We can make a difference as a group and there are close to a million of us.

  8. An interesting article that I have just got around the reading. My view is that like it or not, the Bass issue is political. Encouraging sea anglers not to take undersized fish is one step, but to get our stocks back will take political will and motivation in Europe. Sadly the UK is so underrepresented in the EU parliament thanks to UKIP.

    Other member states have better quotas and their fishermen are better looked after UK thanks to Nigel Farage not voting when a he was member of the European Fisheries Committee. People may not want to be in Europe, but while we are, it is up to our elected MEPs to work hard for Britain’s benefit and at the moment that is not happening as UKIP holds the lion share of UK MEPs. And they vote on precious little.

    I believe strongly in conservation. Health stocks will help us catch more fish and enjoy the beach more. But only in Europe will we do that. So to get change means contacting British MEPs on the Fisheries Committee. One is Richard Corbett ([email protected]) a Labour MEP, the other is David Corburn of UKIP ([email protected]). My guess is we would get more action from the Labour MEP rather than the UKIP one.

    Let them know how you feel about Bass stocks and what your opinion is for a way to better protect them. A commercial fishing ban, even for 5 years, would greatly improve the stocks. Sean’s idea of no commercial fishing when the water hits 9°C is also genius. I have never understood catching fish during the breeding season (that is one of the main reasons Blue Fin Tuna are in serious trouble in the Med). As anglers we have the experience and wisdom to know how to halt the decline in our wonderful Bass, but that all goes into hot air unless politicians are made aware of it.

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