The welfare of our fisheries

Sean McSeveny
  · Sean McSeveny  · August 21, 2014

I was recently sent a message from Mick Guyll, asking if I would post his message on the site. I would like to point out now that whilst I think Mike has some good points, I don’t agree with all of them, especially regarding the licensing of pleasure anglers. However I think it is a good that he is so passionate about the welfare of our fisheries, so I welcome debate and comments on the subject.

Evening chaps. Probably preaching to the converted here but does anybody know any contact details for the bodies concerned with the preservation and welfare of our fisheries? I currently work in the western part of France, st nazaire to be precise. I have been here two years and fished pretty much every other weekend primarily for bass. On every outing we have been faced with netters, sometimes so close in they are exposed at low water. The upshot is that I could probably count the number of mentionable fish we have caught on two hands, discounting garfish which seem to be in abundance (due to the ability it has to swim through the mesh I am guessing. )

The French authorities seem to have recognised the problem in that a massive part of their income has now gone in that spear fishermen and anglers alike have now hung up their tools of choice due to the lack of stocks. Apart from the nets, according to a French paper article I recently read there seem to be enormous amounts of nitrates in local waters, I believe these have been washed down the loire estuary resulting in a massive algal bloom that has depleted the oxygen levels inshore and again added to the problem of no fish. There are however an abundance of conger eel here, every night we have been out with the whole squid we haven’t failed in attracting them up to 30lbs. All good and well but I hold congers in the same regard as I do crack offs and birds nests. Are congers somehow immune to depleted oxygen levels?? Couple all this with the average French mans love of raping the low water line for everything that moves and a lot that doesn’t and you have a pretty poor situation. There are bass here but as quoted in a French angling magazine, “if you want to catch a bass we suggest you buy a boat”.

My fear is that we are only 500 miles as the crow flies. I have witnessed people taking tens of undersized bass in the uk, not children but grown adults, I have seen anglers discarding dogfish on a beach and because it was not the intended quarry they are bludgeoned to death and left for the flies. Countries like Australia have strictly enforced laws governing legal size limits and catch numbers. I have seen commercial and sport fishermen alike catching unusable numbers of bass just because they were there and they could.

Pear trawlers operating the south western approaches are responsible for not the odd 1 or two hundred bass but literally 4 to 5 tons of bass in a trawl. Sadly we as fisherman do seem to fall into a certain category that I shall call greedy. Not all, there are many of us who lovingly care for the environment, putting back most of our catch. All that care pales into insignificance when 1 person kills and keeps more than his fair share.

I like to think we still have a fairly healthy fishery in the UK. I was fortunate enough to land an 8lb bass last November from the shore on spinning gear.

73cm Bass on lure for James Evans

73cm Bass on lure for James Evans

I say lucky but when I think back that was the only decent fish in two years really, they are there but we are having to work harder and longer for a glimpse of them. When I think back 10-15 years I am positive there has been a big drop in the numbers of all fish around our coastline. That said even though we can still catch fish I am sure you will all agree it’s getting harder year in year out. The upshot of my rant is that if some action isn’t forthcoming in the way of licences for leisure anglers with strict rules on the license giving size limits per species then we well may be headed in the same direction as the shores of Western France. The beaches here are beautiful and really scream bass, you get pretty despondent when the reality sets in that it’s all but empty.

A bit of trivia in that the French invented lrf (light rock fishing) ask yourself why would anyone want to buy a special, really light rod and reel combination to target baby wrasse and blennys? Simple, because they have nothing left to fish for here. It seems we are jumping on the LRF bandwagon too, surely that’s not fishing? Surely the thought of going out and hitting that lunker cod, bass, small eyed is what spurs us all into doing it? It’s about time the politicians listened, harsh steps need to be taken now before our fishery becomes a devoid wasteland like it has here in France. The commercial set up is a minefield. With trawlers operating from foreign ports to Hoover up all what we have left, mackerel being dysoned up and tinned in the time it takes to roll a smoke. Large Bass being targeted for those with more money than sense who then have it as some kind of morbid trophy baked in sea salt and served spectacularly in the middle of a table full of merchant bankers. I ask you how much would it cost to eat a panda steak? Not even sure it’s edible but I am quite sure it would cost a small fortune. Why? Because they are endangered. Surely our seas are full of endangered species well not full as the case is, that said why can we still purchase bass and cod quite reasonably at the supermarket? Surely they should be fetching higher prices? So much so that it should be so expensive that cod and chips becomes a once a 2 month treat, not something you can purchase with loose change in your pocket. The extra cost of purchase would negate the necessity for the commercial boys to go out so much. This in turn would see less fish caught and the fishermen still earning their keep. It would need policing strictly but I am sure this could be a start to us seeing a revival of our on the brink fishery.

If they brought in rules whereby a 40 foot boat for example was only allowed to land say £300,000 of fish in a year and that equated to 10 tons that would mean they get £30.00 per kilo. Expensive yes, if we got rid of the middle men and they sold direct to the fishmongers/supermarkets we could still enjoy fish at about £35.00 per kilo. Everyone’s happy. If those in parliament saw fit to bring back subsidised red diesel again that would also be something that would elevate the fisherman’s profits enabling him to have more ‘in port’ time and again lessening the burden on our fisheries. I am no politician, I am however an avid fisherman who has just become the father to a future fisherman. I really believe that if action isn’t taken now then there will be no fish for me to teach him to catch. That surely is unforgivable. The scientists throw their 3 pennies in now and then, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. We are the guys at the coal face and we see the damage first hand. Because we don’t have letters after our names surely doesn’t mean we should be silent, we have a voice? Who do we ear that voice to is my question. Mike guyll



I have had a few reponses to this post one which was a bit too comprehensive to include in the normal comments column, so I have included Fraser Munro’s comment below. Once again his thoughts do not necessarily mirror my own and I am happy to keep this post going:


In response to Mike Guyll’s comments


First let me commend Mike on his enthusiasm and thank Sean for giving him a platform.

My comments are intended to add to the debate and in no way cause Mike grief.

I understand that the bodies currently responsible for regulating our fisheries are Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and local Sea Fisheries Committees. They set size limits for fish, issue licences etc. It should be noted that they deal with the regulation of commercial fishing and their regulations only apply to commercial fishermen. This is not exactly the same as looking after the welfare of our fisheries but it is about as close as we are likely to get. Their websites make interesting reading.

I have not done any serious research into the state of our fisheries but do offer the following observations; the tonnage of fish landed commercially is huge, I doubt that any reliable data is available for pleasure fishermen (do you believe all the fisherman’s stories you hear?) but I doubt that all the fishermen on Chesil in a year get anywhere close to the catch of one pair of trawlers.

I have see various estimates of the amount of money spent by anglers per fish caught (in particular bass) and by the time travel, accommodation, parking, boat hire, tackle purchased, bait bought etc is taken into account this can come to hundreds of pounds per fish. As angling is often quoted as the most popular participator sport in the country this represents a huge contribution to the economy and raises a great deal of tax revenue.

Personally I would not favour the introduction of a sea water fishing licences for several reason

  1. It would be very expensive to administer and difficult to enforce. As an accountant (Google Fraser Monro or Accountants in Chickerell if you want to see the letters after my name) I could never recommend volunteering to allow a new form of tax. HMRC are quite capable of spending more on their own wages than they collect in taxation. It would also criminalise a lot of occasional anglers who would not get licences. So this is not the way to go.
  2. The right to fish in the sea was one of the rights gained in Magna Carta and should not be lightly thrown away. We have given away far too many of our rights and freedoms already.
  3. I do not trust the government (any government) with any more of my money than is absolutely necessary. Even if they could run the system efficiently  I doubt that the money would be spent on anything useful; just look at firearms licensing, Road Fund Licence etc.

On the other hand I can see room for improvement and would like to suggest that one way forward would be for various fish to have the sort of ‘Sport fish’ status that America and Ireland have introduced. See also Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S.) and the National Mullet Club.

For example if, shall we say, wild wrasse, bass, mullet and tope were designated as ‘sport fish’ and not traded commercially then a great deal of pressure would be taken from stocks. Restaurants and fish lovers could still buy farmed bass etc (which are also a nice size for an individual portion) wrasse would no longer be slaughtered for pot baits and no one would try to make mullet an affordable replacement for bass. This would be comparatively easy to enforce and revenue from anglers would continue to benefit society.

As this is something that I knocked out during my lunch break it is not the best thought out of documents. Does anyone have firsthand experience of Irish and American bass management? What other ideas do people have?

Fraser Munro.


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6 Responses to "The welfare of our fisheries"
  1. Avatar Patrick says:

    Don’t like the idea of licensing, but I pay for one for trout fishing, I’d get a lot more out of a salt water license.
    Commercial fishing needs more control so that there are fish to catch in the future. Possibly to restrict more destructive gear in certain areas & netting inshore that harvests the smaller fish- bass & others. It’s too indiscriminate. Ultimately they’ll fish themselves to the dole office if restraint isn’t exercised a bit.

  2. Avatar Mike guyll says:

    Thanks Fraser, Sadly everyone is right here. I would also be hard pressed to justify giving politicians anymore of my hard earned money. Naively I would love to see a body set up by fishermen for fishermen (and women of course). If you look at the way the salmon fisheries have been managed over the years there has been a certain amount of success with laboratories devoted to the breeding of and distribution of juvenile fish up and down the country. Surely it wouldn’t be to much to ask that measures such as these could be brought in for the sea fisheries, in particular the sporting fish like bass etc. I would be prepared to pay for such services in the manner that the freshwater game anglers do but fear that you are correct in what you say regarding the tax mans inane ability at pillaging money set aside for a specific task to bolster the finances of other, less deserving benefisheries (spelling wrong but couldn’t resist).
    I believe, as you say, we do as anglers spend a considerable amount on just getting to the sea before you take into account bait, tackle, clothing etc. As we all know we don’t get many things in life for free. The enjoyment we get from just being at some amazing shoreline around our country is the free part, landing a decent fish is the part that we will all be paying for once the stocks have run out. That is my primary concern. It seems money and the greed of a few is probably going to spoil it for the rest of us as is normally the case.
    Once those stocks have run dry I am pretty sure there will be no going back. Here in France is a prime example of that. A German colleague of mine asked me to go last Saturday lure fishing from the rocks. I declined through reasons relating to ill health from the night before (there aren’t fish here but the wines are awesome). He duly spent six hours on a rock and didn’t even have a knock. That’s real perseverance and commitment but there is only so long before that commitment wains.
    That feeling you get when you know the winds in the right direction, the swell is perfect, the tide has met with the sinking sun, your knots are tied well, you have your retrieve working perfectly and the tip of your rod is fluttering with the gyrations of your favourite lure are unsurpassed for me.
    If you knew those things had come together but your lure gyrated through a fishless void of an ocean would you still enjoy it? I fear not. From my experiences here you soon start to lose the commitment.
    After reading your reply Fraser I duly looked at the Irish fisheries website and found this :-

    A clarification on the protection of bass stocks
    Bass are protected under the Sea Fisheries Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. They are covered under the following three statutory instruments
    SI 367 of 2007
    SI 368 of 2007
    SI 230 of 2006
    All of which can be found on the Irish Statute Book website (
    These three pieces of legislation which derive from the Sea Fisheries Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 specifically prohibit
    Commercial Fishing For Bass & Size Limit (SI 230 of 2006)
    The effect of these Regulations is to prohibit fishing for, landing, transhipping or having on board bass by an Irish sea-fishing boat and to prohibit the use of nets. These Regulations also prescribes a minimum size of 40 centimetres for bass within the State. These Regulations come into effect from 9 May 2006.
    Taking more than two Bass per day by recreational anglers (SI 368 of 2007)
    The effect of this Bye-law is to impose a bag limit on anglers of two bass in any one period of 24 hours and to provide for a ban on angling for bass during the spawning season (15 May to 15 June each year).
    Selling Rod or commercially caught bass (only imported ones) (SI 367 of 2007)
    The effect of these Regulations is to prohibit the sale or offer for sale of bass (other than bass which has been imported into the State) from 1 July 2007.
    135 IFI officers are authorised under this act as de facto Sea Fisheries Protection Officers for the purposes of enforcing the Bass legislation.
    From what I can gather their fishery had become sterile with bass becoming about as rare as the proverbial rocking horse poop, this was only back a few years ago. They have turned it into a bit of a fishing Mecca since then with anglers travelling far and wide to taste some of what they have on offer.
    Imagine having a fishery like that in the UK with anglers flying in to enjoy what we have on offer. What a dream. Surely this could be a template for our waters?
    Ireland are an example of what can be done with forward thinking politicians whom do not have vertebrae akin to that of a squid!
    The revenue that this would bring to our shores would surely surpass that which the indiscriminate, bludgeoning commercial fleet do? The only part that vexes me about their website is this :-

    Selling Rod or commercially caught bass (only imported ones) (SI 367 of 2007)
    The effect of these Regulations is to prohibit the sale or offer for sale of bass (other than bass which has been imported into the State) from 1 July 2007.

    Does that mean we are bolstering sales of non farmed bass for their restaurant market? I sincerely hope not.
    Anyway really good to see the commitment that you guys share on this subject. Tight lines all. Mike

  3. Avatar Kim Vickers says:

    Hello, The constructive comments above do make for interesting reading and food for thought. I spent 2 yrs as a Fishery Protection Assistant Booarding Officer from 1983 – 5 whilst serving in the RN. A lot has changed since those days but my basic thoughts on the control of our fisheries still remain the same. Our men at the top do as they always do – Listen to the experts agreeing with every word and then go of to the House of Commonds to be told to ‘zip it’. I too have no faith in them at all. As for the scientist employed to manage our fish stocks, well what can one say?
    My main comment with regards to the control of our fish stocks is to try and concentrate on the breeding stocks. Minimum size for our beloved Bass is 36cm. I personally return any Bass under 3lb. We all want to catch the biggest fish of any species. Bass over let us say 6lb could be tagged and returned. Tagging could be done on a voluntary basis where anglers are supplied with tags – a log kept and submitted at the end of say each year to DEFRA. This information could be used to great effect I’m sure.
    Just one more thing, ( there are many I would like to comment on ),and that is, I do believe the majority of anglers are very conscious with regards to the preservation of our fishing and long may that last. The ones who ignore the rules and have no self discipline know who they are and I hope to see them on ‘Fiddlers Green’ one day!!
    Regards to you all.

  4. Avatar john may says:

    Hi All

    Great to read these sorts of comments following Micks observations and thoughts that I share.

    At this time THE place to air your views and concerns is your local IFCA [Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority]which for Weymouth/chesil is the Southern IFCA.

    These guys have the responsibility under DEFRA to manage the sea and its resources up to 6 miles out and specifically to recognise ALL users of the sea which specifically includes recreational sea anglers as well as the sustainability of marine life. [CHECK THE WEBSITE]

    The IFCAs of which there are 10 around the country have been in existence for just a few years and are now ,with the support of the findings of the national survey – SEA ANGLING 2012 [worth 2 billion to economy]- are moving forward in support of sea angling.

    Check out the Devon and Severn IFCA web-site – where an angling strategy has been published and restricted commercial trawling/netting and long lining areas are being set up.

    I have been an angling fanatic all of my life and for the last two years I have worked with the DSIFCA as an MMO appointee to assist and advise on Recreational Sea Angling -particularly in the upper Britol Channel. Getting involved has paid dividends but there is still a long way to go.

    For some time there has been an on-line questionnaire on the Southern IFCA web-site – make sure you use it and express your views /concerns – this will be in part used to measure anglers interest in developing a strategy. Say nothing and you will get little. Thousands of anglers fish chesil year round and bring a huge amount to the local economy have your say about nets /trawlers and those who fill dustbin bags with mackerel.

    In my patch clubs are very supportive of management plans for the sea but as the SEA ANGLING 2012 national survey established only about 7% of those questioned were club members!–possibly why we undeniably have those who are uneducated on size limits and the consequences of killing to many fish [mackerel ?]

    Last point — my view on licenses etc — I would dearly love to stay with the “magna carta” view but it is too late for that –mother nature needs help — in paying for a license you are in effect forming a “club” with possibly nearly a million paying members – pay the money and demand support for our sport and protection of fisheries. Use the Angling Trust – not government and keep the revenue in the sport.

    One More — Angling Zones with realistic minimum/maximum size limits with realistic catch limits and no netting / trawling would provide benefits to all including commercials is it not common sense.We deserve support from the conservationists but they need to be educated.


  5. Avatar john may says:

    Just checked Southern IFCA website and sods law they have in the last couple of days re-vamped their website and the questionnaire I referred to which has been there for several weeks has come off. They will be using responses in formatting their proposals. Urge those wishing to make their views known and considered in the local management plan to contact them.

    Any proposals will be published for consultation by the Southern IFCA prior to implementation but this is still the best time for those interested to give their views


  6. Avatar Dave says:

    Some great comments and many more on the BASS blog. Its worth a look to see what is really going on, (or not really going on!) in the EU and the UK.
    Its worth writing to your MP and MEP about the state of our fisheries and how they appear to be managed solely for the commercial fishing industry. The commercials don’t own the stocks, everyone does. I just wonder who gave them mpermission to sell at a profit while we have to pay for what is rightfully ours.
    There’s a lot going on “basswise” at the moment so a letter to those able to make a difference could make a difference. If we don’t stand up and be counted then things are just going to continue as they are now – going downhill. We can make a difference but only if we do something positive. Standing and moaning on a beach to another anglers won’t help anyone. The recreational sector plough far more into the economy for the same species than the commercial sector – around 20 times more yet we don’t get a say in the management of our fisheries – that is carzy but we have allowed it to happen.

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