In the 1960s Ireland was famous for its bass fishing. Specimen size bass were caught in huge numbers all across the south and west of the country with County Clare being especially notable for its bass fishing. However, commercial fishermen targeted bass throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and stocks were almost totally depleted. This led to conservation laws that stopped commercial fishing and prohibited the sale of bass. While stocks have not returned to 1960s levels they have increased significantly in Irish waters.
Recreational anglers have benefited hugely from this, as the average sized bass is now around the 2 to 4lb mark, with fish up to 8lb common. This compares with the average bass caught in the UK weighing 1 to 2lb (1). As catches and stocks have improved recreational bass fishing has become big business in Ireland – people from all over the UK, and indeed the world, visit to fish for bass, spending money in the shops, bars and pubs, restaurants, hotels and tackle dealers. The website Irishbass.org explains that bass fishing tourism was worth at lease €8m per year, while the entire catch of English and Welsh bass caught in a year is only worth €3.5m (2). The ideas Charles Clover outlines about recreationally caught fish being worth more to an economy than commercially caught fish are being put into practice in Ireland.
The results are clear to see – far less fish are caught which allows stocks to recover leading to much improved recreational angling and a local economy which gains much more money. However it must be noted that the Irish protection of stocks extends to recreational anglers – they must also play their part in protecting stocks via strict regulations. A maximum of two bass can be taken in any 24-hour period and all others must be returned, the minimum size limit is strictly enforced and there is a close season on all angling between May and June to allow breeding. Failure to observe these regulations can result in anglers being fined heavily or even having fishing equipment confiscated (3).
In 2011 there was talk that bass stocks had recovered so much that the Irish commercial fishing lobby in the form of the Federation of Irish Fishermen began putting pressure on the Irish government to allow commercial fishing for bass to be re-started. They claimed that as fishing would be taking place 50km off the coast this would have no effect on the sustainability and numbers of inshore bass. Thankfully, the Irish Government saw sense and Minister Simon Coveney announced in October 2011 that the commercial ban on fishing for bass would remain (4). It was also revealed that in 2012 Northern Ireland was adopting similar policies to the Republic in order to protect its own bass stocks and encourage tourism as well. In late 2010 a debate was held between politicians as part of the debate on fisheries at Westminster Hall. Oliver Colvile MP asked questions about the feasibility of creating Irish-style protected areas to promote recreational angling and expressed his concern that the UK was falling behind Ireland by not having these areas. He said:
“In the run-up to this debate, I heard from a number of recreational anglers who are very concerned that the UK is losing out to the Irish. Some twenty years ago, the Irish decided to ban all commercial fishing for bass, and chose instead to focus on the substantial value of bass fishing as a recreational sport. Last night, one of my constituents wrote to me, telling me how he and many other British residents travel to the Republic of Ireland to spend up to sixteen weeks a year angling for sea bass. He noted that the Irish Government are delighted with the huge revenue that visiting anglers produce, and he suggested that I ask the Minister if there were proposals to introduce similar legislation in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK” (5)
Irish bass fishing is a perfect example of the ways in which making a species ‘recreational sea angling only’ can benefit local economies, anglers and allow fish stocks to recover. It also depressingly shows the lobbying power of the commercials and the intense pressure they will apply on government to catch any fish that are available. Happily, the news that Northern Ireland is adopting similar policies, means that this model for protecting stocks and boosting economies through tourism may be catching on. The example set by the Irish may be catching on, in October 2015 a consultation was launched in the Isle of Man with the intention of changing laws to aid the conservation of the species and make the island more attractive to anglers.
Decline of Bass Stocks
Between 2010 and 2014 Europe’s bass stocks have decreased by around 40% due to commercial over-exploitation, particularly French pair trawlers which target bass as they gather to spawn in the English Channel. This practice has been banned and the minimum landing size of bass has been raised across the EU and some restrictions have been placed on commercial fishing. However, one of the most stringent measures has been to limit anglers to fish for bass on a catch and release basis only on an EU-wide basis for the first six months of 2016, and then only retain a single bass per day for the rest of the year. As a member of the EU Ireland has had to accept these rules. Despite these measure Europe’s bass stocks have continued to decline and a total ban on all commercial and recreational bass fishing could be imposed by the European Union in 2017.
Related article: Europe’s Bass – A Species on the Edge of Collapse?
Ireland’s bass stocks are believed to be separate from the rest of Europe’s and the Irish government has provided the legislation to protect bass within Irish waters and prioritised the economic benefits of recreational fishing for this species. Unfortunately the rest of Europe has not been able – or willing – to do the same. It remains to be seen how much of an impact Europe’s failure to protect bass stocks will have the Ireland’s bass fishing.
1. Misslbrook, I. Are You Willing to Work for Better Bass Fishing? Sea Angler Magazine, Issue 475 , Jan 19-Feb 15, 2012.
2. The Main Issues – Irishbass.org
3. Irish Fishing Regulations – Fishinginireland.info
4. The Irish Times, ‘Welcome for Fish Permit Refusal’, Wednesday 19th October 2011
5. Westminster Hall, Backbench Business, Fisheries [Bass Fishing Regulation].