Sea Anglers assist Scientists to tag Bass

| May 17, 2016

Between March and October, large shoals of Bass visit the inshore waters and estuaries of the Essex & Suffolk Coast. The species have declined markedly in recent years, through a combination of high levels of fishing and consecutive years of poor survival of juvenile fish, thought to be due to low winter water temperatures. As a response, the EU introduced emergency protection measures in 2015, These have been extended into 2016. The measures have been challenged both nationally and regionally by anglers, fishermen and marine conservation groups.

Knowledge gaps in the understanding of Bass biology and behaviour -  where they migrate to, when they breed and how their behaviours are influenced by the environment - prompted the government to fund a four year research project called C-Bass. This project is helping marine scientists from Cefas (The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) to gradually close that knowledge gap.

On the 10th May 2016, Essex Wildlife Trust invited Cefas to present the latest results of their work at The Naze Centre, their new visitor centre at Walton on the Naze, which opens to the public soon. The results from tagging larger bass with electronic data tags (DST’s), which, when returned, can be used to reconstruct the migration patterns of those fish, are already challenging established wisdom. And, by linking local observations with commercial landing data and the latest tagging results, we are beginning to see that the southern North Sea, and its rivers and estuaries, play an important role in the life cycle of Bass, including local spawning and feeding.

As well as a presentation and question and answering session, Cefas also delivered a workshop demonstrating the value of carefully planned mark and recapture experiments in determining the annual movements of Bass. The workshop delivered hands on training package in T-Bar tagging for five volunteers and included demonstrating the animal welfare considerations which are paramount in all fish tagging experiments.

With limited funding for regional tagging work in Cefas, Essex Wildlife Trust stepped in by purchasing eight hundred T-Bar tags and equipment to support the three volunteer angling charter skippers boat and the two private angling boat skippers. The volunteers fish from Suffolk, mid Essex and south Essex giving a good spread of the coast. It is anticipated that this support from the volunteers and the Essex Wildlife Trust members will provide an important boost to our knowledge of Bass movements off East Anglia.

Essex Wildlife Trust, in partnership with Essex University and the Institute of Fisheries Management conduct small fish surveys on key habitats like salt marsh, rivers and creeks collecting valuable information on juvenile Bass behaviour. The Trust aims to ensure that these valuable habitats are protected.

Sarah Alison, Living Seas Co-ordinator from Essex Wildlife Trust and Mick Sharp, an independent recreational sea angler from Southend on Sea, said: “By combining resources with scientists, academics and practitioners, we can collectively improve the scientific evidence available for improved fishery management decisions.

Anglers and wildlife trusts across the UK should not be put off from forming partnerships and approaching their respective IFCA’s (Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities) or the local government groups responsible for conservation, and bid for a slice of any research budgets that could support important work like this. It has an added benefit of engaging the local community in important scientific experiences.

The challenge now is for our trained volunteers to incorporate T-Bar tagging into their catch and release angling activities.

Aside from the practical element, we are also in contact with Essex University to see if any students would like to join in with the research.

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