Tackle and Tactics
What do sea anglers really catch? I don’t often read the sea angling magazines but occasionally I will buy one just to see what’s going on. I’m certainly no match angler either but having bought a magazine I tend to read almost everything in it. Anyway the other day I was fascinated to see the results of a couple of matches in one of the monthlys. The anglers were mostly well known and pretty competent and were using the latest gear so, for sure, they could all cast a lot further than I can. It was a one off match between the two groups of five and they were pretty well set up with good bait and equipment. I’m sure that, whatever was out there, these blokes were likely to catch it. Most of the fish caught were cod and between them they had quite a few (110 altogether).
These days it seems that match results are determined either on the old style basis of ‘weights of fish caught’ or on ‘lengths of fish caught’. If it’s judged on weight the results quoted are usually just the total for each angler. In the case of length however they also report the number of fish caught to make up the total number of inches per angler. If they do this then it’s a simple matter to divide the length by the number and get an average length of fish caught. In the match quoted above the average length of the fish was only 9.4 inches. Now whatever anyone says I don’t believe that catching nine inch cod on a beach caster is a great deal of entertainment. Of course this is no reflection on the people fishing it simply shows that there were very few cod(ling) of any size about. To put it in perspective a 14 inch cod weighs about one pound. Apparently, old books on sea fisheries (from 1913) describe the usual maximum length of a cod as being 51–59 inches, with the size usually offered for sale being 35 inches. In 2008, the usual size of a cod is often much less than this at around 13 inches (Cefas 2008). Quite a change!
Since cod do not mature until they are between 18 and 36 inches in length (3-8 years of age) it seems that the fish being caught were only about one year old. A sad reflection on the present state of cod fishing. So, although we often moan about the small size of bass compared to the early 1980s and look back through our rose coloured glasses at the catches we used to make, at least the fish are still capable of pulling our string. Even today a 9” bass is regarded as a baby rather than a worthwhile catch.
In a slightly different vein, a recent television series suggested that we should switch from cod and haddock to eating mackerel and coalfish as being ‘sustainable’ fisheries. With the current technologies available to commercial fishermen, for sure it would only be a matter of time (and not much time) before these fish reached the same parlous state as more popular food fish. In fact I believe that there is already quite an argument about mackerel quotas with the Icelandic government.
Sadly, I don't have the answer to these problems. In the past the only thing that has restored our sea fisheries to some degree has been a world war. During these conflicts commercial fishing was dramatically reduced and stocks recovered. Clearly no one wants another war so I suppose what this tells us is that we need to stop taking so many fish from the sea.
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