Slim pickings begs question of value for money

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  • This past week, the weather has been more than acceptable for fishing: calm seas, sunny skies — just what the angler wants

    This past week, the weather has been more than acceptable for fishing: calm seas, sunny skies — just what the angler wants

It goes that just when one thing sorts itself out, something else goes wrong. Put the tropical systems, onset of winter gales, passages of lows and fronts behind us and what do you have? Admirable fishing conditions, one would like to say, but there always seems to be a fly in the ointment.

This past week, the weather has been more than acceptable for fishing: calm seas, sunny skies — just what the angler wants. Almost idyllic conditions, so what could go wrong? The fish, of course.

Suffice it to say that things are slow, slow and slow. If last Sunday is to be taken as a fair example of what is going on offshore, then it doesn’t paint a very pretty picture.

A fair representation of the commercial and recreational fleets covered most of Bermuda’s Edge, the Banks and a bit of the in between. The net result was approximately one wahoo per boat for the day’s effort. Happily, in at least a couple of instances, these were respectable fish in the over-40lb bracket, but that can translate into an awful lot of fuel and time for not much return.

The techniques used by the various boats also allowed for some leeway. Some stuck to traditional trolling, while others used a variety of live baits. The bottom line was that neither method showed an advantage over the other. Apart from the “few and far between” wahoo, there were a few barracuda but considering the time of the year, even those were not living up to their reputations.

Even the smaller species such as the mackerel, which are often nothing short of abundant at this time of the year, were few and pretty far between. Such circumstances just have to force anglers to ask themselves if this is a result of our overfishing.

The short answer is probably yes; we are contributing to the overall reduction in the stocks. But, on the other hand, we are as entitled to them as is anyone else and maybe even more so that certain others.

But that is only one factor that needs to be taken into consideration; there are lots of mitigating ones. When put into perspective, the amount of pressure put on pelagic species such as wahoo, mackerel and tuna by this island is minuscule compared with just about anywhere else in those species’ full geographic range.

Consider what a really good day’s fishing looks like: say, 20 or so wahoo at 35lbs apiece — that’s only 700lbs of fish. As a very rough figure, in a good year Bermuda catches something in the neighbourhood of a couple hundred tonnes (est 400,000lbs), if that.

While that might sound like a lot, and you certainly would not want to carry it all on your back, it is almost negligible compared with the total Atlantic landings. In fact, some of the islands to our south manage more than double what we catch here. An island nation such as Cuba actually has supported large-scale commercial fisheries for some pelagic species; something that has never been truly approached here.

One of the reasons for this is that the Bermuda fishery is a bit of a chimera. Even the recognised commercial fishery is more an adapted recreational fishery. The tackle is pretty much the same, expect maybe for the line tests used. Rods and reels are pretty well standard. There aren’t any purse seines or other forms of trawling. The very limited longlines are relatively short and so few in number as to be lost in the sheer mileage of lines being deployed throughout the Atlantic at any given time.

The hours kept by commercial fishermen are not all that different to recreational anglers; it is just the number of days that each puts in. Contrast this with real commercial fisheries that have boats at sea for anything up to weeks at a time. Commercial fishing ports boast industries that are supported by their respective fleets. The entire scale is so far ahead of anything that Bermuda has, it makes it difficult to really put things in perspective, but here is a shot.

Yes, Bermuda’s offshore fishing does contribute to the overall reduction in fish numbers. On a proportionate basis, it is negligible. That does not mean, however, that we should not take responsibility for our share. This island has been good at that. What is harvested is intended and used for food as it is meant to. Many, many fishermen and anglers practise sustainable fishing: releasing undersized fish and not using destructive fishing techniques. Most frown on any wasteful tactics and there really is a level of stewardship that is the envy of many other jurisdictions.

All this brings us back to the original question: so why aren’t there any fish out there now?

It could be overfishing but that is unlikely. When that happens, there will be a steady dropping-off of catches throughout the fish’s range. Something like a poor blue marlin year here often corresponds with a bumper year in Madeira or the Virgin Islands. As the old-timers used to say “they have tails and go where they please”.

And if, at the moment, they are simply not here, then that is why we don’t have much in the way of Tight Lines!!!

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Published Nov 5, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 4, 2016 at 11:56 pm)

Slim pickings begs question of value for money

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