Save our Saltwater Sportsfish

I guess it wasn’t until I returned from my fishing sabbatical in Australia that I started to think about the concept of British sportsfish. After all those of us who come from a coarse angling background, where catch and release is very much the norm, tend to regard what we do as a sport whereas the average Aussie ‘fisho’ has, for a long time, seen a day on the water in terms of ‘going out for a feed’. To be fair this attitude has shifted in favour of conserving fish stocks with tougher bag and size limits, something the UK could learn from, and a greater proportion of fish are now being returned to breed and grow bigger. In fact some species, such as barramundi, marlin and giant trevally are now widely considered as sportsfish in many locations and it is rare to see them taken for the pot.

The barramundi is definitely one of the world's great sportsfishes
The barramundi is definitely one of the world’s great sportsfishes

Now I like to eat fish as much as the next person and I will occasionally bring a home a trout or a bass but my prime motivation for going fishing is for the sport and the experience of being close to nature – not to put food on the table. So yes, I am a sports fisherman, as are, I suspect, most of the people reading this right now. But which are the UK sportsfishes and what are we doing to ensure they have a future in these ever more crowded islands?

This is an entirely personal and subjective judgement but I’m going to argue that a sportsfish has to be capable of making the heart pump and the reel sing so, much as I love catching roach, dace and bream they are definitely not going on the list. I also think it makes sense to apply the term to fish that we could eat but choose not to in deference to valuing their sporting qualities and the need to conserve the species over any short term culinary ambitions. That knocks barbel and carp off the list and indeed all the coarse species that are now protected in law. I’m also going to exclude those species such as cod which are primarily exploited for commercial harvesting. As you can this leaves a thinner but rather exclusive list of ‘sportsfishes’.

My vote goes to the following: bass, sea trout, salmon, mullet, tope, sharks and wrasse. All these fish are great fighters with a significant economic value as sportsfish and all are in need of greater protection.


The Angling Trust is working hard alongside the Bass Anglers’ Sportsfishing Society (BASS) to press for greater conservation of these wonderful fish. We have secured a commitment from Fisheries minister Richard Benyon to review the ludicrous minimum landing size of 36 cms when the species doesn’t reach maturity until at least 42 cms. We want a full scale management plan for bass in UK waters but things have got bogged down in the latest European initiative following some pretty damning studies into the parlous state of future bass stocks. You can read more here. and there was a great piece recently on Tight Lines featuring Austen Goldsmith which you can view here


This cracking  six pound South Coast bass came to well known lure angler Paul Parnell. There won't be too many more of these around unless stocks are helped to recover.
This cracking six pound South Coast bass came to well known lure angler Paul Parnell. There won’t be too many more of these around unless stocks are helped to recover.

 Sea trout

There’s certainly some evidence of improving runs of sea trout on a few rivers including on my local River Itchen. A handful of the more hardy specimens have even made it through the horrors of the Thames Tideway and have been seen and occasionally caught in the Kennet, Loddon and Wandle. However, overall the species is in trouble from a combination of estuary netting, poaching and the damaging lice that emanate from those dreadful farmed salmon cages that have all but destroyed the runs on some of the West coast rivers.


It’s been a poor year for salmon catches on many rivers but that has had much to do with the lack of water. The Wye continues to impress however, and much credit must go the Wye and Usk Foundation for the work they have done on habitat restoration and the removal of barriers to migration in the headwaters and spawning tributaries. There are still huge problems with mixed stock and estuary netting on many rivers and the sooner we get governments to recognise the economic value of this great sporting fish the better its future will be. Check out the latest from the European Anglers Alliance on salmon farming here


As regular readers will know, I am a massive fan of the British Bonefish. In fact this week I shall be joining my friends Hugh Miles and Trevor Harrop on a trip to Christchurch Harbour. I’ve caught a few nice fish this summer but I’m hoping for my first five pounder from this challenging but rather special venue. Here at the Angling Trust we are putting our full weight behind the campaign by our friends at the national mullet club for these fish to be granted recreational only designation.

I was really pleased to help my old friend Nigel to catch his first mullet this summer. Another convert made for the 'British Bonefish'!
I was really pleased to help my old friend Nigel to catch his first mullet this summer. Another convert made for the ‘British Bonefish’!


Tope are protected by the 2008 Tope Prohibition Order which was reviewed in 2010, and applies to England and Wales, which bans the landing of tope caught from a boat – including recreationally. This was a rare but welcome  pre-emptive move by Defra at the time in response to concerns over stock sustainability.


Internationally sharks are pursued and persecuted without a care for their conservation status. However, in the UK Spurdog and Porbeagle are both protected with a zero Total Allowable Catch (TAC) meaning they cannot be landed commercially. Details of protected species and the Angling Trust recommendations are HERE and on Defra’s shark conservation plan can be viewed HERE


My best wrasse by some way. Definitely a fish that should be reserved for recreational fishing.
My best wrasse by some way. Definitely a fish that should be reserved for recreational fishing.


I had never had a UK wrasse big enough to warrant putting a net under until a few weeks ago when a lovely four and a half pound fish tried to pull my arms off whilst jigging rubber sand eels for bass off the South coast. What splendid fighters they are and their propensity to take lures make them a truly sporting quarry. As with mullet I would love to see the wrasse reserved for recreational sector fishing. There is currently a very limited commercial market for either of these species which is why now is a good time to be pressing this case.

Bringing it all together

Following the significant contribution that the Angling Trust made to the Severn Barrage campaign other environmental groups have expressed an interest in working with us on further marine conservation issues.

We will shortly be launching a new campaign which aims to restore depleted marine and migratory fish stocks by protecting them from unsustainable exploitation during key periods in their lifecycles and when they are most vulnerable.

It will promote sustainable fishing and best practice fisheries management measures at regional, UK and EU levels that allow species to complete their lifecycles thereby creating resilience in fisheries and securing a healthy environment and fish stocks for future generations of sea anglers.

We plan to include:

  • Spawning/Reproducing (bass minimum landing size, seasonal protection of spawning grounds for black bream and other species).
  • Aggregating (closure of offshore bass fishery at EU level, an end to all targeting of pre-spawning, aggregating stocks)
  • Migrating (barriers to and extraction of migratory species such as salmonids, bass, European eel and many more marine species…)
  • Nurseries (protecting of estuaries, inshore habitat and protection of nursery areas for juvenile fish from inshore netting)
  • Habitat/Environment (marine spatial planning, Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Marine Conservation Zones, creating more intertidal habitat for nursery areas and fish production/recruitment, impact of destructive activities such as bottom trawling)


Nobody owns the fish in the sea but we all have a responsibility to ensure that there is a fishing future for the next generation. If you care about our sporting fishes and want to see them protected, isn’t time you joined the Angling Trust ?

Call us on 0844 77 00 616 (Option 1) or go to

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