We’re Not Gonna Take It!

Until the bass plan is amended to prioritise a higher stock target, I will be telling Defra ”We do not accept your plan”.

Have you ever had the frustrating experience of someone asking for your advice, you spending valuable time giving your advice, and then that person ignores it and does something else?  This is what Defra has done to sea anglers with the bass plan – asking sea anglers what they want to see in the bass fishery and then publishing a plan that doesn’t prioritise what we want.

But Defra has listened carefully to commercial fishers, promising them a review of the bass authorisation system that could let more commercial fishers into the bass fishery, suggesting ditching the “bycatch only” rule for netters and trawlers, allowing commercial fishers to land all the bass they catch and changing the system to enable commercial fishers to get their catch limits increased more quickly.

The biggest problem with Defra’s plan is its impoverished objective for our bass stock.   What sea anglers want is simple: improve and protect the bass stock so we (and our children and our childrens’ children) have more and bigger bass to catch – fewer blanks, more trophy fish.   We like catching large, powerful bass and these fish are vital to the stock too, since they are more reproductive than smaller bass.  Currently we have a bass stock structure where too many of the large bass have been removed by commercial fishing, so the stock lacks resilience, increasing the chance of another crash in the future.

95% of sea anglers and 74% of commercial fishers who responded to the consultation told Defra “To allow the bass stock to rebuild and be maintained at a high level, a long-term strategy is needed.”  We asked Defra to look at World class fisheries abroad, for example Australia, where the state of Queensland is targeting stock sizes of 60% of the natural, unfished stock size, recognising that much larger, healthier stocks maximise benefits for coastal communities.   But Defra wants the UK status quo to continue in the short term, targeting a stock size just 33% of the natural, unfished stock size (or, putting it another way, allowing 67% of the bass stock to be killed).

Defra talks about the current stock target being “sustainable” but that is very misleading.  What Defra means by “sustainable” is just that the fish being killed are balanced by the stock growth, so the stock size is stable.   But a wide range of stock targets are sustainable in this narrow sense, there is absolutely nothing special about Defra’s current target, except that it aims to maximise the tonnage of fish being killed, which is a really stupid thing to do.

Until the bass plan is amended to prioritise a higher stock target, I will be telling Defra ”We do not accept your plan”.

With thanks to Sea Angler magazine for permission to use this article.