An Irish Anglers World

A Socio-Economic Review of the Atlantic Bass (Dicentrachus Labrax) Resource and its Benefit to the South East Counties of Wicklow and Wexford

The Bass (Dicentrachus Labrax) is a true sport fish highly prized by all sea anglers. Exempt in Irish inshore waters from commercial exploitation since 1990 and protected by specific bye laws, Bass can be targeted all the way along the east and south east coasts from Co. Louth to Co. Wexford.

County Wexford in particular is recognised both at home and abroad as being a first class Bass angling destination. Venues such as the Splaugh, south of Rosslare Harbour, and Kilmore Quay have been synonymous with Bass fishing since the 1960’s. First put on the map by the late Des Brennan, of the then Inland Fisheries Trust, the south east became the first port of call on a Bass angling trail which stretched from Rosslare in the south east to the Dingle peninsula in the south west. Promoted by angling journalists such as Clive Gammon, John Darling, and Peter Collins (then editor of Sea Angler magazine), and piggybacked on the Kerry scenery portrayed in the film Ryan’s Daughter, Bass anglers from the UK in particular flocked to Southern Ireland.

The demise of the Bass fishery, and subsequent loss of angling tourist revenue, due to commercial overfishing through the late 1970’s and 1980’s was halted in 1990 by the timely intervention of the then Minister for the Marine, John P Wilson, who put in place the current Bass conservation legislation. Today given the current state of commercially exploited fish stocks, the Atlantic Bass as a result of this measure would appear to be in good shape; however it is only in recent years along the south east coastline that there has been what one could call a visible improvement in stock levels. Year classes are a good indicator of stock improvement. Given that Bass are notoriously slow growing in Irish coastal waters, not reaching sexual maturity until at least 2.kgs in weight and ten years old, the first indication of a good year class along the south east coast since the fishery was closed is 2002. However the evidence of a strong 2002 year class to date is anecdotal with as yet no scientific study carried out to back up the experience in the field.

The closing of the fishery in 1990 enabled then juvenile Bass an opportunity to grow relatively unhindered, other then by localised poaching which still unfortunately remains a problem to this day. That said notable improvements in size and numbers of Bass became evident along the Wicklow and Wexford coastline from the late nineties onwards. Today the Atlantic Bass is the cornerstone of sea angling in the east and south east, for both indigenous and increasingly tourist anglers. Small business to include tackle shops, accommodation providers, angling guides, bait diggers, and charter operations would be seriously effected by a reduction in the present numbers of Bass, especially given the current state of traditionally exploited commercial fish stocks.

Parallel with the improvement in Bass stocks since 1990 the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board seeking potential new markets abroad to develop angling tourism, linked up with local Wexford Town based angling guide Jim Hendrick. A niche market was seen to exist in continental Europe allowing the potential to develop a high end angling tourism product based on lure and fly fishing for Atlantic Bass. Seven years ago after initial market research Jim Hendrick set up South East Angling Ireland, SEAi,, a dedicated guiding business aimed at progressive European and Irish anglers who wanted to catch Bass on lure or fly. Incorporating four star self catering, links to B/B accommodation, a Bass fishing school, and a world class guiding service, backed up by a purpose built and very effective website, SEAi has put not just south east Irish Bass angling on the map, but Co. Wexford also.

Figures released by SEAi to date show that visitors from eleven countries have used the service from countries as diverse as France, Ireland, England, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, South Africa, and New Zealand, with an average annual total of 270 visitor days. SEAi and Wexford Bass fishing has been the subject of numerous articles in the angling press of France, Holland, England, Germany, and the USA, to include De Roofvis, Beet, Voyages de Peche, Peche Mouche, Loop and Bar, and Fly Fishing and Fly Tying. The exposure these magazines give Bass angling and Co. Wexford cannot be overstated, given that their readership can number many tens of thousands and the articles are being constantly referenced.

Jim Hendrick and SEAi target the high end of the market. SEAi creates bespoke packages, and only fishes at the peak taking times to give customers the maximum opportunity to catch Bass. Jim’s customers can expect to catch up to ten Bass a day which is way above the average. SEAi utilises only ten weeks out of the year for Bass angling purposes. Customers pay for the privilege but get the results.Those that visit the SEAi website but choose not to avail of the service are left in no doubt as to the Bass angling potential of south Wexford.

Statistics relating to the SEAi website,, make for interesting reading. currently gets 1200 hits a day of which 600 viewers stay on the site for at least five minutes. The SEAi blog receives 1400 hits per day some of which stay logged on for up to fifteen minutes. On the 20th of December 2009 Jim Hendrick made available to down load a 250 page document based on seven years of SEAi’s involvement in Bass Angling tourism in Co. Wexford. To date, 8th January 2010, 1300 people have downloaded the document. Bass angling in Co. Wexford is definitely a hot topic.

As a result of the success of SEAi a number of guiding services have set up in the south east based on a similar format to Jim Hendricks business model. Latterly international angling journalist Henry Gilbey, having become aware of the quality Bass fishing available in Co. Wexford, has taken up the mantle and is now spreading the word to a wider audience, in particular the United Kingdom market. Co. Wexford in 2010 is well established as a Bass angling destination, recognised in numerous key markets around the world. Given that an average tourist angler spends €200 a day, and if utilising a guiding service such as SEAi considerably more, the seven thousand+ angling visitors who stayed in the south east during 2008, contributed at least €1.4 million+ to the local economy.

An opening up of the Bass fishery to the commercial sector based on the angling tourism product that has been developed and is now well established in the Wexford area would be a retrograde step. The view abroad in 2010 is that South East Ireland has some of the best Bass fishing in Europe and the conservation measure in place since 1990 is applauded as being progressive and far seeing in modern fisheries management. With farmed Bass providing a quality, uniform product, at a favourable price, there is no real need to introduce wild fish to the home or export market. Allied to the fact that there is still so little known about the Atlantic Bass, its biology and movements, an opening of the fishery it is clear based on recent historical evidence, could result in a marked reduction of the long term socio economic benefits currently generated and enjoyed by the tourist angling sector in Ireland’s south east counties, with only a short term gain for the country as a whole.

Ashley Hayden © 2009