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Bass groups angered by tournament proposal

A NATIONAL bass fishing tournament series that will see competitors compete on rivers as well as stocked impoundments has angered some bass fishers and angling groups.

Fisho was alerted to news this week that bass fishing tournament organisers B.A.S.S. Australia Nation is set to start up the new tournament circuit that will be associated with B.A.S.S. Nation in the US. Anglers Fisho spoke with have raised concerns about the potential added pressure on wild bass fish stocks and habitat as a result of the proposed tournaments.

Drew McGrath of B.A.S.S. Australia Nation, the group behind the proposed tournament series, posted on Ausbass.com.au: “We have basically been working on this for approximately 12 months and received the affiliation last month, so we can run tournaments over here and send people over to fishing in the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship (in the states) where if they do well enough they can get invited to fish the Bassmaster Classic.

“In my opinion this is one of the most exciting things to happen in tournament fishing in Australia for quite some time, as an individual can make a great living out of tournament fishing if they are successful. I really think we have the talent, work ethic and passion for fishing in this country to have a real crack if we support the anglers as much as we can,” McGrath wrote.

While news of the tournament series received praise from some members of the Ausbass forum, the majority of comments posted were against competitive fishing on NSW bass rivers.

“I will not support any competition ran on rivers there is enough pressure as it is. Shame on you for promoting this, I will raise this with fisheries,“ wrote Bass Whisperer.

“I hope that tournament fishing for Bass NEVER happens in rivers.” – Big Al.

“I too hope that the tournaments never get approval for river fishing, there is ample opportunity in the stocked dams. Leave the wild stock alone, they get enough pressure from the kill n grill brigade as is.” – Josh 84.

Despite the opposition to the proposed events, McGrath says B.A.S.S. Australia Nation is “purely dedicated to bass fishing and creating awareness to the public about the positivity that bass fishing can bring to the community, not just to the anglers”.

Alan Izzard, spokesman for Bass Sydney, an angling group dedicated to the conservation of the Australian bass and its habitat, told Fisho that “Bass Sydney is against professional style ‘Bass Tournaments’ being held on rivers which have enough pressure on them already”.

“We believe that there is ample opportunity for these type of events to be held on stocked impoundments,” Izzard said.

It should be noted that Bass Sydney has for many years run the annual Bass Catch event on the Hawkesbury/Nepean river system. This event is not a bass “tournament” but a fishing event used to monitor catch data for assessing the true population of Australian bass in these waterways.

Cameron Westaway, NSW DPI’s senior fisheries manager (Inland), told Fisho that his department did not regulate fishing competitions. As long as the organisers of such events adhere to “best practice” guidelines, Westaway said he did not see an issue with staging such events on NSW rivers.

According to Westaway, Australian bass are “one of our least threatened” species and are not under a great deal of pressure from fishing, with habitat issues like fish passage being the major issues for the species. He says, to their great credit many bass groups are actively involved in dealing with these issues.

He added that bass are protected in NSW via an annual closed season, conservative bag limits and are a recreational only species.

While Westaway acknowledges the great passion of many bass fishers and understands their need to want to “protect” the fish, he said these concerns can be misguided when directed against other responsible anglers.

While he acknowledges that there is a mortality rate associated with any form of catch & release fishing, Westaway said bass are resilient. He says their percentage rate of mortality after being caught & released is less than 5 per cent and with best practice closer to 1 per cent.

“We want to encourage people to fish, it’s our job to ensure that this is more than sustainable.” Westaway told Fisho.

“The small amount of fishing mortality from catch & release fishing is definitely not a sustainability issue for bass. People rightly love their bass and tend to say they are in trouble, this is not the case from fishing and populations are generally healthy.”

“Anglers can feel confident fishing for them if they abide by the rules,” he concluded.

Karl Schaerf, former secretary for the Central Acclimatisation Society (CAS) and a tireless advocate for inland fisheries in NSW, has strong views against tournament fishing and has many objections against staging events on more of the state’s bass rivers. Chief among the concerns Schaerf documented for Fisho were what he sees as a “further impact upon an already greatly impacted species”.

Schaerf also predicts degradation of the bass’s habitat caused “largely from the wash of the high-powered boats” commonly used in tournament fishing.

He adds that competition bass fishing on more rivers will eventually lead to proposed re-stocking by competition organisers “to off-set any possible ‘losses’ as a result of [poor fish handling]. Restocking is only undertaken in impoundments and never should be allowed to be imposed upon the remaining, self-sustaining, river populations”, Schaerf said.

“The existing [bass] populations are already under more than enough threats, due to the all too frequent fish kills, particularly in the northern part of NSW.”

While this issue is no doubt set to ignite a debate between supporters of competition fishing and those against, in Fisho’s view the real issue here is the long-term future of one of this country’s most iconic native fish. Should we put wild bass at risk simply to allow some so-called “tournament anglers” a chance at short-term financial gain and glory?

What do Fishing World readers think – should bass fishing competitions be held on rivers? Let us know your thoughts.

We will keep you updated on any further developments.

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