Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


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The future of bass stocks.

Over the past few weeks I have been hearing constant reports of large numbers of small but 'takable' bass being caught by 'anglers' fishing from charter boats off the Dorset coast. Of course there are also lots of commercial boats fishing the same tide races and the numbers of fish caught must run into thousands per day on occasions. I believe that the price of bass fell dramatically in local markets while this mini-glut was in progress so presumably the number of fish returned alive is negligible.

What hope is there for a full recovery of bass stocks while even anglers are involved in 'harvesting' large numbers of these barely mature fish? A recent report produced by marine scientists Caddy and Agnew suggests that we are on the slippery road to disaster. The paper deals with recovery plans for fish stocks around the World and I thought it might be of interest to anglers generally and bass anglers in particular.

Sadly the examples given mostly paint a picture of doom and gloom but I'll try to give a balanced view. Some of the earliest recovery plans were for herrings - seriously overfished in the North Sea. The fisheries were closed completely and over a period of time stocks more or less recovered. However, when the gigantic cod stocks off Canada collapsed and the fishery was closed there was no such recovery. The problem seems to lie in the fact that, unlike the herring which was a simple one species fishery, the cod fishery affected many other species (both fish and fish food organisms). In other words it appears that simply applying catch quotas to single species is unlikely to solve the problem.

It seems that part of the reason why quotas don't often work is that the long life of species (such as bass or mullet) may be a strategy for dealing with natural catastrophes. In other words individual fish don't put all their eggs in one basket. In the event of several bad spawning years on the trot a fish may hang in until it can eventually spawn in good conditions. If, on the other hand, overfishing has removed all the big (old) fish, this strategy is no longer useful. We may soon end up with a stock of small, early breeders and nothing worth catching.

As an example of a successful recovery plan the striped bass is quoted. Apparently this plan was aimed at protecting one or two strong year classes to improve the spawning stock. Secondly an attempt was made to enhance the state of the estuaries where the fish breed and thirdly SIZE LIMITS WERE SET SO HIGH THAT THE FISHERY WAS EFFECTIVELY CLOSED UNTIL THERE WERE LOTS OF BIG FISH PRESENT.

It was suggested that OVERFISHING OF YOUNG (AND OLDER) FISH WAS THE MAIN PROBLEM. Size limits were in the range 25-41 cm before the recovery plan, but were steadily HIKED UP TO 97 cm BY 1990. This effectively constituted a ‘no-kill’ policy on sports fishermen in the early days of the plan.

In a nutshell:

1) Environmental factors strongly influenced breeding success, although improvements in nursery areas may have helped to produce good year classes (as seems to be the case with our bass).

2) Success depended mainly on management of the wild stock.

3) The plan was well supported by anglers and commercial fishermen.

4) To persuade commercial fishermen that the plan was good, clear scientific targets for reopening the fishery had to be set.

5) Despite doubts as to full recovery at the time of reopening, further delay was politically unacceptable, so extra catch restrictions were made to protect stocks after reopening the fishery.

Related to this another recent study showed that (in brackis-fresh waters) about seventy percent of striped bass caught on livebait survived after release (probably more in the sea). Deep hooking was a major cause of mortality so handle your fish with care and strike early to give them the best chance of survival. If you want to keep a couple, kill any that are bleeding or badly hooked and release the others.

Now I know that our bass is different to the striped bass. It does not spawn in estuaries and it grows more slowly for a start; but surely the same principles must apply. We've done the first bit by protecting nursery areas so for heaven's sake stop the slaughter before it is too late or we'll be fishing for schoolies for evermore.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


The future of bass stocks.

Nicely hooked.

With careful handling and quick rlease there is every chance that this fish would survive to breed.

A bait caught fish.

These are the sort of bass we all like to catch.  Overfishing could mean that sights like this become rare.

Another small bass.

Even on lures fish may be deeply hooked.  If the hook is in the gills or the fish is bleeding badly it may be doomed and could be the one to keep.

Fly caught schoolie.

Little fish like this give good sport on fly gear but even the keenest saltwater fly man would hate to think that there were no big fish out there.