Bass boom raises fears of plundering

Roy WebsterProtect our inshore bass populations from the ruthless marketeers. That plea has gone out from angry anglers who are up in arms over an apparent growing number of rod and line fishermen who allegedly are plundering this sport fish to supply a ready demand in local restaurants.Roy Webster

Protect our inshore bass populations from the ruthless marketeers.

That plea has gone out from angry anglers who are up in arms over an apparent growing number of rod and line fishermen who allegedly are plundering this sport fish to supply a ready demand in local restaurants.

Beach anglers who have adopted 'a put 'em back' policy to conserve what they believe is a dwindling number of the slow-growing species, were outraged last week by reports that the belated bass boom along the Norfolk and Suffolk coastline had prompted the commercially-minded to take advantage of a demand for a fish that is prized among seafood gourmets.

The latest report that up to 40 bass have been taken on lures from Cromer Pier and barrowed to the tradesman's entrance of local eateries in exchange for a sizeable three-figure cash sum, poured even more burning oil on these troubled waters.

At present, numbers of bass exceed the 35cm statutory size limit but the main concern is for the breeding stock class around the 5lb mark or more.

Although the practice of rod and line angling for financial reward rather than for recreation is frowned on by the majority of beach anglers, there are no fishery laws to stop an angler from retaining every sizeable bass caught.

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The Bass Angling Sports Society (BASS) has campaigned vigorously for the authorities to beef up bass protection legislation, not least raising the size limit to 45cm and bringing in catch limits and other protection measures on the Irish model.

However, proposals that east coast anglers should be subject to a quota system were recently abandoned because of the manpower required to enforce a bylaw that would be accepted voluntarily.

Enlightened beach anglers are aware that sea fish conservation is a major issue worldwide and BASS recommendations have resulted in more of their favourite North Sea species being returned alive, while others point to the success of cod conservation measures that have resulted in the commercial quotas being increased by 16pc this year.

Dedicated North Norfolk beach angler Tony Thomas, of Sheringham, who runs local beach leagues, said he and his colleagues were appalled by the relentless toll on critical bass stocks.

'The people who are catching bass for market appear to be unemployed and are fishing every day during the week.

'They should realise that this attack on vital breeding fish can seriously affect the future of this species and we need to follow the example of the Irish, who have brought in regulations,' he said.

John Lambert, who caters for sea fishing enthusiasts at his Avenue Angling shops in Norwich and Beccles, said he was concerned about the future of North Sea bass.

'Many of my customers return most of the bass they catch, perhaps taking just one sizeable fish for the family table,' he said. 'Caring sea fishermen who visit my shops are angry over the reports of dozens of bass being sold to the catering trade and I would urge these people to treasure the breeding stock that represents future sport.'

A BASS management plan makes seven recommendations to support and conserve the species: a commercial licence for retention; the introduction of a tagging system; bag limits for unlicensed fishermen and anglers; a close season to protect spawning stock; an increase on minimum landing sizes; no-go fishing in nursery areas and further near-shore netting restrictions.