That bass as a species is in urgent need of conservation is accepted by all thinking saltwater sports fishermen.
The problem is to convince those in a position to effect conservation measures to take the necessary measures, and what those measures should be. Too often the struggle for realistic conservation degenerates into an argument between ‘us’ and ‘them’, the latter being the commercial interests who should be prohibited from taking bass and the former being the angler who should be allowed to fish without restriction. The problem is not as simple as this, and the basic facts affecting the situation are lost sight of in the fog of controversy.
What are the basic facts? Bass on our coasts are at the northern limit of their temperature range and, compared to other species are not numerically strong. They are a slow-growing, late-maturing, long lived species. Female bass mature at a minimum fork length of 14 inches, attained when they are five to eight years old, and twenty year old fish are not uncommon. The exploitable stocks (The fish of acceptable angling size) are the accumulated spawning product of a long span og years. For example, the catch of mature haddock might be spanned by two or three consecutive year classes while a catch of bass might include fish from year classes ten or twelve years apart. Recruitment to the population varies greatly from year to year.
All this make the bass particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation. There are areas on the coasts of these islands which have already been overfished. Places which not so long ago gave good bass fishing no longer do so. Anglers are inclined to blame commercial fishermen for the harm done. The genuine commercial fisherman is not the culprit. He is in fishing for a living, and bass will not give him one. The stocks are not there to support a commercial fishery, and while they do take bass at times while fishing they do not seek them out. The part-time fisherman or weekender (many who are in it just for pocket money) who net creeks, estuaries and beaches do real damage and can clear an area of bass in a short time. The angler also does his share of harm – much more than he realizes. The slaughtering of large numbers of shoaling bass makes headlines in the angling press and quite rightly brings a torrent of denunciation on the big headed culprits. What passes unnoticed is the cumulative total of bass taken by the large numbers of anglers fishing regularly around the coasts. To bring it down in scale, there are many instances of good beaches which, once they were ‘discovered’ and publicised, attracted large numbers of anglers and rapidly deteriorated as bass beaches.
Nowadays any sensible angler who finds good bass fishing keeps quiet about it, enjoys his fishing, takes only the occasional fish for his own use and returns the rest to the water.
The osprey anglers series – BASS – Des Brennan 1974