Forwarded to - The Irish Bass Policy Group (David McInerny, John Quinlan, Shane O Reilly, Mike Hennessy, Dr William Roche, Dr Nial O'Maoileidigh,) Malcom Gilbert, several members of the IFI and other home based bass fishing customers.
I am writing this letter to call to your attention the serious concerns I have for the continued deterioration of the bass population as I have experienced it on the south and eastern coasts of Ireland. As you may know I have fished these coasts on a recreational basis since 1975, I am a bass fishing guide working and developing bass fishing on these coasts on a professional basis since 2002/03. My business South East Angling Ireland was established to provide both guided bass fishing services (fly and lure) and approved accommodation with a view to a holistic approach to the fishing, including airport transfers, provision of modern tackle and singularly strategic bass fishing solutions.
The profile of the traveling, affluent, adventurous and experienced European sportfishing angler was where my target customers lay and whilst historically Wexford may have had a small heritage in relation to bass angling the challenge for me lay in both attracting the correct customer whilst simultaneously demonstrating responsibly the remarkable accessible ‘new’ bass angling environment available in Wexford through my services.
This was a considerable business challenge as Iconic locations like the Kerry coast, the Dingle peninsula, still attracted by default traditional bass angling interests. Added to that challenge the profile of my customer needed to be correct in order to maintain a high level of ‘impact distance’. This meant that customers came to Wexford, fished for a week and left, simple. The likelihood of ‘local interest growth rate/impact’ was minimised.
Inclusive of the years 2003 – 2007 this was largely achieved through keeping a tight lid on advertising of services which was directed entirely at a European and US target audience through various magazine editorials. These were wide ranging and spread with the help of IFI and Failte Ireland between France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Belgium, the US and Denmark. Up to this time, end of 2007, both the Irish and UK markets were not where I felt large number of ‘profiled’ customers lay, the market didn’t exist in the UK at this time as ‘modern’ bass lure fishing techniques only began to develop there from late 2007 / 08 in both the UK and Ireland.
I made a considered business decision that any associated ‘local’ advertising would have had a negative impact on my business through creating access to awareness and hence increasing ‘local recreational angling’ impact. Wexford is easily accessible.
However I did feel it necessary at the end of 2007 (for many reasons) to begin to increase the public awareness of the actual existence of an approved bass fishing guiding service and expertise that was available in Ireland at this time. I did this through Irish Angler Magazine, 2007-20011 inclusive. This was also achieved through the active development of my website www.probassfisher.ie from the beginning of 2008.
The core strength of the business lay in the availability of the fish along the SE coast in a multitude of exciting and different locations. Coupled to that was the strategic angling solutions I provided in order to catch the fish effectively (based on thirty years of local experience), the quality accommodation I provided in Wexford town and the accessibility to local support services.
Pre business establishment ‘test cases’ were run to establish the validity of the availability of the fish across the multitude of locations along the Wexford coast - estuaries, current, rocky shore, deep water, sand bars, etc.
The rate of return was calculated very simply as I spent more and more days fishing with customers the key catch base was running at an average of fish per hour per customer. In some locations this could be as high as 8 in others as low as .5 – this depended on the type of location, timing and also the size of fish anticipated or targeted. This was communicated to the customer in relation to their expectations on a day by day basis, but always ‘under estimated’.
It is also important to note that years prior to opening the business this base was strongly in evidence.
The factor that most changed these numbers in relation to catch return at any time was weather of course but this was always a minimal impact on a general day by day basis with the odd exceptional week of complete wipe out.
Location footprint and location frequency was kept to a minimum as I fished across an empty coastline for five years.
The base calculated from 2002 (intro only), into 2003 (beginning), and through the following years 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 remained within 15% +/-25% of my expectations for customer returns. When it didn’t it was always attributable to other external factors.
The operational constraints of the fishery were recognised and established from year one of the business. Growth was restricted by the tidal environment but customer yield was kept high to maintain validity of financial return. There was always the option of an offshore boat to realise the potential of neap tides but this venture has not been pursued as yet. This would effectively increase the business by 50 %.
It is important to know at this stage the weekly guiding service only ran on optimum tidal times (alternate weeks) – approximately 70 days. This was extended at times to over 100 days when conditions were better earlier and later or combined with workshops. This is probably the fullest valid guiding window of opportunity for the south east.
One week June
Two weeks July
Two weeks August
Three weeks September
Two weeks October
On average a visiting group consisted of two people and the majority, 95%, up to this time (2007) were very experienced lure fishermen.
Fishing six days a week for two people at a base of 1.4 fish per hour averaged a seasonal return for 1200 fish. (+/- 200). Many of these fish occupied a similar size bracket. Taking into account the many variables some weeks consisted of only one angler some weeks consisted of three anglers and some weeks were more difficult than others from a perspective of weather, this high return rate NEVER deteriorated below a valid key catch base of average 1.0 per hour for nearly five years.
During 2007 the return rate for the second half of the season deteriorated suddenly by 50% and more (this was under normal expected angling conditions and customer profile) It was also the first of a sequence of very wet summers.
Based on catch returns during the years from 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 and including 2014 to date the catch rate has declined and has continued to decline on a yearly basis to the extent that the recreational bass fishery along much of the south eastern coastline has in my own experience suffered a complete ‘collapse’.
*During 2011 there was an indication of some improvement, however 2012 proved worse than 2010.
For a typical example of this, as it has continued from as early as last week, - Two UK anglers from Wiltshire – lure fishing for six days guided by myself under the best times locations and conditions in Wexford, Waterford, and Cork investing a combined 120 hours of fishing effort for one fish caught – TOTAL. This is now not unusual.
Prior to and including 2007 for the same investment of 120 hours somewhere in the region of 120 fish could easily be expected as a return.
The above scenario is repeated time and time again and the expected return rate has gone from
1.3 fish for one hour investment
1.0 fish for thirty hours of investment – this varies but never significantly increases and hasn’t done so for more than seven years. The fishery has continued to decline very quickly.
Notes - Anglers
• Fish can be caught at times in much localised areas (for instance Splaugh rock) – reefs, current and structure at very specific times. This is not testament to the fishery as a whole. In other words vast areas of coastline hold no fish where previously there was a healthy population
• Local ‘expert’ anglers can have access to these fish but this should not be confused with the ‘general’ bass angler who should at least be enjoying a modicum of success
• Similarly boat angling over offshore reefs or at the mouth of estuaries with soft plastic techniques is not representative of the fishery as a whole
• Depending on the year of beginning to bass fish (the new generation of anglers) the entry was made on a sliding scale if made post 2007. In other words I encountered very few if any bass anglers on the Wexford coast prior to 2007 whilst post 2007 this number increased locally year on year – valid comparisons regarding the fshery need to be made over valid time frames.
• It’s possible for an angler to express ‘good bass angling experiences’ say in 2012 if he started in 2010 – this is not a valid comparison
Notes – Locations / habitat
• There are two extremely special locations on the Wexford cost that still have a population/ number of very big fish – these are very small and difficult to determine locations which may in time help preserve them from rampant local recreational pressure.
• I have guided on these locations once a month for two hours on previous years but will no longer continue to do so
• Modern lure fishing techniques create easy access to larger mature breeding fish of which there is a high angling impact
• All possible high yield locations on the south eastern coasts are now common place knowledge
• Social media quickly highlights any availability of fish on any location
Notes- Illegal fishing and retention
• Whilst there is a lot of catch retention I do not believe it is responsible for the decrease in numbers (there is a high recreational impact however both from poor C+R and retained fish)
• Whilst there is a lot of continued localised illegal netting this has been in existence for many many years, it does have an impact but I don’t believe this has increased by any significant level to cause such a decline in the Wexford region.
• There is evidence of increased and continued illegal netting on the East Cork coast
• Spearfishing is also increasing in popularity
• There remains the extended periods of bad summers 2007 2008 2009 and 2010 combined with two significantly extreme winters which amounted to an extended period of five years ‘poor’ conditions. Whilst I have no scientific evidence of the possible impact on the dynamics of the fish my instinct is that the SE bass population may have moved as a result and to where it was subsequently impacted upon commercially.
• Certain sections of the angling media will portray the quality of the bass fishing as being extremely good whilst neglecting the valid unit of effort (often extraordinary)required to produce any fish. There is often no management in respect of these special locations where large fish reside and a tendency to ‘forget’ the lack of fish on the wider coast.
• Genuine anglers on the ground with good and valid experiences are recognising similar instances.
Since 2003 over three hundred tourist anglers from Europe and the US have used the services of SEAi for guided bass fishing in Wexford. Easily twenty different publications have published positive editorial of their experiences distributed throughout many countries. Video footage has been made and distributed. Many Irish and UK people have attended intro Bass fishing workshops and perhaps as many as half again have partaken in bass fly fishing workshops. Numbers of guided Irish and UK customers remain small with less than ten active people.
Recent 3- day workshops include partnering with Irish fly casting and fly tying experts providing a total saltwater fly fishing solution.
The current situation is certainly a very difficult challenge for me and my business due to the decreasing numbers of fish. And to be honest here there’s no avoiding it, bass are largely absent from our coasts at this time. Talking about it openly has its risks and of course its own complications regarding the possible reasons any or all of which could be a cause for their absence.
Whether it be a natural phenomenon, a change in behaviour or something more serious it’s largely extant around the normal prolific ‘bass coasts’ at this time. For me I need to strike the balance between fairness and expectation with customers currently arriving at my door.
Again yes there are fish to be caught but the unit of effort is enormous, has been for weeks and weeks, in fact years, seasons. I have been personally motivated over the last twenty day run by the positive attitude of my customers, their eagerness to learn new techniques, presentations, casting, and even new locations. As a bass fishing guide I have had to push all my timings, options, variations in equipment and solutions, techniques and experience to be at its very best.
But two anglers for 120 hours of effort for one fish doesn’t make any sense from an angling business perspective. And this is not a singular story but commonplace at this stage.
As a person who largely makes his living from Guided Bass Angling well I guess it’s a very different and worrying perspective than that of a recreational angler. In an unregulated environment mercenary guides from both Ireland and the UK appear and disappear often offering various business models founded on reduced rates or a no catch no fee basis – this does nothing for the guiding occupation as a whole and in fact has a further negative impact on the environment and the fishing.
Having invested heavily in personal development and in the business (just completed a four year BSc degree – Tourism enterprise management at WIT) As a way of trying to ‘manage’ the decline I have reduced guiding days over the past few years, but now I am faced with little or no option at this time but to consider closing the business permanently at the end of this season.