Bass protection has been given the ‘thumbs down’ by the majority of South West fishermen, with recently imposed measures described as ‘too harsh and too late’ by Cornish line fisherman, James (Shamus) Nicholls, reports Phil Lockley.

A time-served pole and live-bait fisherman, Shamus operates around the treacherous Manacle Rocks in Falmouth Bay; a region once scoured by few fishermen like him, those who navigate the rocks by landmarks.

“However, following the introduction of electronic track-plotters the Manacles is now surrounded with un-licensed angling boats and kayaks specially-designed for bass fishing, and capable of carrying quite a few fish,” he told Fishing News.

James Nicholls didn’t pull any punches on his attack against the rules, saying, “The new MLS of 42cm will never protect the bass, because tons and tons of bass measuring well under that size, even under the previous MLS of 37.5cm (Cornwall IFCA), will still be landed to restaurants and pubs by boat anglers and shore anglers alike. There are other buyers too, who will just pay cash under the counter for undersized bass. How often has the MMO or IFCA checked restaurants and asked to see the invoices? They may have done, but how often have they just turned up without warning? I haven’t heard of it. It would help put a stop to that practice if there were MMO or IFCA spot-checks on restaurants.

“Illegal landing of undersized bass goes on day after day; it has wiped-out our fishery on the Manacles and beyond, and an increase in the MLS won’t help one little bit.

“We are now coming to the time of our year when the Manacle bass fishery should be good; not big fish, but well over 37.5cm although not 42cm in length – that is quite a big bass. Many of the so-called ‘do-gooders’ may attack mono-netters, but we all have to make a living, and what they catch is a fraction of what the so-called sea anglers take.

Thumbs down to bass regulations

“It’s the same for the netters as it is for us; the new MLS of 42cm will lead to a mass slaughter of bass through nothing worse than discards. We might be able to unhook fish and return them, but often the bass take-deep and won’t survive,” he explained.

And at the other end of the spectrum is Scott Wharton, partner in S & P Trawlers Ltd, a North Devon firm having invested in its fourth trawler, Our Dylan Ben. He predicts that the latest bass restrictions may have closed the final door on the North Devon fleet.

He told Fishing News: “My brother Paul and I, owners of S & P Trawlers, are now forced to keep our boats nomadic, fishing in any area other than off our home port of Ilfracombe. At certain times of the year bass was our main fishery. It’s no longer available to us. Right over to Wales, the entirety of the Bristol Channel, it is rare to get bass over 42cm in length; the majority are under that size but are well over the previous MLS. We had a good fishery, and a sustainable one – with few discards.

“And with other species like skate and ray, while other EU boats fish-on, draconian UK regulations have taken away that fishery too. Also, the ban on spurdog has virtually wiped-out the once thriving North Devon inshore fleet, even line-fishers. What is left for them?

“Effectively, North Devon fishermen now have no bass, no ray and skate, and no spurdog. When will the authorities stop hitting the fishermen, especially coastal boats? Just look on AIS and find the nationality of all the boats fishing there – then try to find a UK boat – you will be lucky to find a local boat. The latest bass regulations will just force fishermen into other methods and on to other species too. It will increase the pressure on other stocks.”

Pole and live-bait bass fisherman Shamus Nicholls has stepped ashore to work on a local farm, and his anger toward illegal landings by bass anglers is growing. Further details in Fishing News soon.

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