Can We Help Save Bass By Eating Them?

Take a look at the video below, The Blitz 2012 – Fall Fishing In Montauk by Sergio Diaz, to get an idea of what quality sea angling can be like. Don’t fall into the trap that all striped bass angling is like this – it isn’t. Generally, one has to work hard to find fish, and blitzes as depicted in the video are considered ‘red letter’ days. Given that striped bass stocks were almost fished to commercial extinction back in the 1970s and early 1980s, how on earth did stocks recover so quickly and so dramatically?

As with most things in life there is no one simple answer but one aspect was that recreational anglers exerted considerable influence on politicians and fisheries managers. Their voices carried weight. Recreational anglers weren’t just ‘stakeholders’ in theory but more importantly they were widely regarded as direct user stakeholders by the decision makers.

Anglers, taking some of what they catch for personal consumption, resonates with the public and decision makers. The importance of providing sufficiently abundant stocks that sustainably supports a level of catch and eat angling isn’t just confined to striped bass. Scientifically sanctioned harvest levels of other species are also allocated very much for recreational exploitation. For example, here are some popular recreational species with the current percentages of total harvest (commercial & recreational) enjoyed by recreational anglers.

  • Striped bass 75%
  • Black Drum 80%
  • Black Sea Bass 59%
  • Bluefish 60%
  • Red Drum 90%
  • Spotted Sea Trout 83%
  • Tautog 90%

We have to assume that eventually our sea bass stocks will improve and at some point fisheries managers, instead of determining where they can achieve cuts in catches will have the task of allocating increased levels of take to the different fishing sectors.

If recreational anglers have demonstrated they are content for the most part to just fish catch and release, that is precisely the fishery we will have for the foreseeable future. Now, if that resulted, over time, to an improved angling experience in terms of far more abundant sea bass represented by a more natural age structure that included a reasonable proportion of older trophy fish, some bass anglers wouldn’t be apoplectic that RSA was denied taking a sea bass to eat. But it won’t happen like that!

Commercial fishers will continue to be regarded as the all important stakeholder and their influence will continue just as it has since time immemorial. If recreational sea anglers dare to suggest any conservation orientated management measures, such as, a closed spawning season, an increased minimum landing size or a reduction in fishing levels in order to achieve a high level stock strategy we won’t be listened to just as we haven’t been listed to since first making representation back in 1973 when BASS was formed.

RSA has never been allocated a harvest and prior to recent measures our take was alleged to be 25% of total harvest. Even though that was a huge reduction (as a proportion) from when RSA was the only sector interested in bass and the commercial take increased from zero to 75%, it was our 25% that was highlighted and regarded as ‘significant’!

Whilst commercial fishing dominates management policies and recreational angling is perceived as an activity that is thankful for any crumbs that fall off the commercial’s plate, sea bass stocks will NEVER be managed in a manner that will provide high quality recreational angling and even more importantly in a manner that ensures high stock abundance to mitigate against variable annual recruitment, so as to avoid a repeat of what has happened during recent years.

In short, anglers have a stark choice to either:

  • Preach and practise 100% catch and release, and remain overlooked in the management process. In which case one will be able to at least gaze into the mirror to smugly reassure one’s self that the ongoing scarcity of bass is most definitely not of their making or:
  • Insist that recreational exploitation is allocated a reasonable share of the bass pie, be regarded as a stakeholder with harvest rights that justify an equitable place at the table where decisions on management are made and work like hell to achieve a bass fishery that places the wellbeing of the sea bass resource as the single highest priority.

I want to see sea bass stocks rebuilt and flourish to the extent that a few times a year I can take a fish for dinner, how about you?

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