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Bottom fishing a good bet as winter begins

Without us hardly noticing any change, the weather has almost completed its shift into the winter pattern where periods of calm are followed by a length of time during which the winds and seas build up with the latter usually set to coincide with the weekend.

And so, for most of us, the angling season has effectively come to an end, despite that fact that there are still enough wahoo, tuna and dolphin offshore to make a day afloat worthwhile. There may even be a few surprises to be had, should anyone be out there: the cooler weather suits albacore, mako and white sharks and it is long past the time when we would have expected a sailfish to have been caught.

With reliable weather getting harder to take advantage of, many small boaters start looking nearer the shore for an opportunity to catch some fish for the table. Even over the inner bottom, good action can be had with barbers and coneys; both sources of great fillets, and there will be some yellowtail snappers, bonitas and turbots willing to please. It is getting a bit late for whitewaters but bottom-bouncing over the blue holes should start to turn up a few porgies. Maybe it is not exactly hyper-speed sport fishing but it is still action plenty good enough to provide a supply of nice, white fish. All probably fish that can be relied on for the next few months.

Oh, oh, the recent announcement and appearance in the mail of a Department of Environmental Protection fishing survey has been supported by a statement that this is as part of an effort to better manage local fish stocks. Aimed at boat owners, not all of whom fish by any matter of means, but the sort of move that usually gets alarm bells ringing in certain quarters.

This brings us to a new conundrum; one which has faced fisheries managers since the dawn of the field. In order to make sound management decisions, accurate information is needed and that is the one, huge stumbling block for those charged with controlling any fishery.

It is not so bad if the fishery in question is that of a single pond or stretch of river. In instances such as this, it is possible to stand there and watch to see what and how many are caught. Beyond this sort of simplistic view, things rapidly go haywire and by the time you get up to seas and oceans and fisheries that are spread over hundreds of thousands of square miles, they are almost totally beyond your ability to collect data. That is when you have to move into one or another of the alternative data collection methods.

Some agencies use port data collections. These are often enforced by regulations that force vessels to only land their catches at locations where the catches can be measured and verified. In some countries, there are designated ports for the landing of catches made both within the Exclusive Fishing Zone and from the high seas.

This method is pretty much designed to monitor and enforce laws that may be applicable to the species being landed. Yes, it is cumbersome and would be almost hopeless to utilise here in Bermuda where landing sites are pretty much everywhere and, in most cases, there isn't any reason to require vessels to offload their catch at a given point. This takes on a different approach when the vessels in question are actually ships and have to arrive at ports that can not only handle tonnes of fish; hence the need for storage and transportation systems, but which can also supply massive amounts of fuel, ice and other commodities.

The average Bermuda landing site for a commercial boat is any dock or jetty where the coolers can be left prior to being put in the back of a van and taken to a point of sale or home freezer.

To cover the commercial fishery alone would require an amount of manpower totally incommensurate with the amount of information that would be gained. Rather like the recreational fishery, the Bermuda commercial fishery covers a wide range with some operators considerably more effective than others. In fact, there are some commercial operations that point at the recreational fishery as being as effective an exploitation tool as the commercial fishery itself and, given the similarity in techniques and equipment, there may be a lot of truth in this.

The questions that come to mind in both the commercial and recreational fishermen usually start off with “Why?” and “How is this going to affect me?”. Lurking somewhere beneath the surface value of the questions might be a plan to get into my pocket and increase some form of taxation or, worse yet, a plan to cut off one of my more important streams of income.

And how to answer the questions. Therein lies a challenge. The truth is not usually a first choice; trying to second-guess the question-poser is more the object of the exercise. What should the answer be?

The obvious things that pop into mind are: what are the ramifications of catching too many fish? How many is too many? What makes a healthy fishery? Who decides what is a healthy fishery and what isn't?

For many of the pelagic species, this is the regional management body; in this case the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), to which Bermuda is affiliated. Each year, Bermuda has to be able to produce catch statistics for ICCAT that cover the tuna and related species that are caught locally. While there is a mechanism in place for commercial fishermen, there really isn't anything quite so definitive for recreational anglers.

Even the definition “commercial” and “recreational” have vastly different meanings the world over. Here a “commercial” fisherman is someone licensed to sell fish; recreationals can't sell. Elsewhere, it is not the selling of the fish that determines the commerciality of the operation but the type of vessel or the gear type used. The bottom line in most places is the scale of the fishery and the landings. One or two tunas might be recreational; four or five tonnes of tuna will be commercial. Plenty of grey areas and varying definitions to further complicate issues.

It may make you feel better but even other, big, ICCAT member countries have trouble collecting the relevant data and in meeting their obligations. Fishermen here aren't different to any other, the world over. Each one wants the distinction of catching the last fish and while acknowledging that some other people are entitled to a share, their particular share is nothing to do with any of them.

So, the onus will be on the weekend anglers to provide Government with the information that they need to make their decisions; however distasteful they may be and however far-reaching their effects might be. What might now be a highly reliable, successful local fishery might suddenly become over-regulated and a source of frustration, based on the interpretation of the survey findings. Misleading data could well lead to worse regulations and, to some extent, the outcome could well be decided by some faraway council. How such decisions eventually filter into local legislation will remain to be seen; but given the way the world seems to be moving and while we still can, right now might just be a most opportune time to go in search of some Tight lines!!!

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Published November 05, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated November 05, 2011 at 9:43 am)

Bottom fishing a good bet as winter begins

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