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UK sea anglers fight to protect £2 billion industry

The battle continues for the UK’s recreational sea anglers to gain the recognition and support they deserve. In an industry worth £2 billion a year, the time has come surely to include them as a key stakeholder in the management of European fish stocks.

Leading the fight is The Angling Trust Campaigns Chief and former Member of Parliament, Martin Salter, who wants recreational sea angling involved in the parliamentary scrutiny of his government’s new Fisheries Bill.

Frustrated that anglers feel left out in the current discussions, Martin has presented evidence to the Fisheries Bill Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committees who are scrutinising the proposals in detail.

In written evidence to both committees the Angling Trust said, “Recreational sea fishing contributes an overall economic impact to the UK of well over £2bn each year as well as employing over 20,000 people. Yet, despite this, recreational fishing has never been considered as a legitimate stakeholder in the management of European fish stocks through the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This is at odds with other World-leading countries in sea fisheries management such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

“As a direct user stakeholder of UK fish stocks, recreational fishing is reliant on access to abundant and sustainably-managed fish stocks, there must be a binding duty in the Fisheries Bill for fishing limits to be set using scientific advice.”

Bill Amendments

The Angling Trust wants two amendments to the Bill, which MPs have already agreed to vote on. The first argues that recreational sea angling must be formally acknowledged as a legitimate stakeholder in future fisheries policy with a full seat at the table. The second calls for commercial overfishing to be ended through a legally binding duty placed on ministers only to set fishing limits that do not exceed best scientific advice in order to rebuild and sustain fish stocks.

On the formal recognition of recreational sea angling on the face of the Bill, Martin told MPs: “Your constituents who fish recreationally will tell you that, for many years, they have been sick and tired of seeing their recreational sea angling experience fall off a cliff edge as stocks are overfished and, in some cases, get driven into parlous conditions. They feel that the recreational sector, despite its economic significance for jobs and for coastal communities, is basically being left to feed on the crumbs left over after commercial exploitation has had its whack.

“If you look at quality fishery management, at the American and New Zealand fishery conservation legislation, shares are allocated to both recreational and commercial sectors. There is proper resource sharing. There is consideration in a sensible, grown-up, policy development way – recognising the social and economic impacts of the exploitation of different stocks for different purposes… Yes, putting it on the face of the Bill would send a strong signal, and would also mean a change from the much discredited policies of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). What I think this

Bill is really about is recognising that this is a new chapter for fisheries management. That is why I would urge you to support our amendment.”

David Mitchell, Head of Marine at the Angling Trust, added: “As a direct user stakeholder of UK fish stocks, recreational fishing is reliant on access to abundant and sustainably-managed fish stocks. The Common Fisheries Policy has consistently failed to manage stocks sustainably and the new Fisheries Bill is a once in a generation opportunity to put this right and to usher in a new deal for sea anglers. That’s why we have been working so hard to have our voices heard in Parliament.”


Recognition of Recreational Fishing

The sovereign right of the UK public to fish for publicly-owned fish stocks and the livelihoods of thousands of people supporting the multi-million-pound sea angling industry are wholly reliant on access to sustainably managed fish stocks.

In some areas, evidence suggests that recreational fishing is actually the largest economic stakeholder, generating more money and supporting more jobs per tonne of fish removed than commercial fishing.

It is critical that recreational fishing is explicitly included in the Bill as a direct user stakeholder of UK sea fisheries and considered part of the catching sector. Failure to do this will only serve to repeat the failings of the CFP which excludes recreational fishing from being considered as an equal and legitimate stakeholder in the management of EU fish stocks.

It’s been well documented over recent years how the European Union has focused intensively on the ‘significant’ impact of recreational fishing on European bass yet has not taken on board its socio-economic contribution. According to evidence, each tonne of bass recreationally caught generates more money and supports more jobs than commercial fisheries. This failure to recognise the most significant employment and economic segment of the catching sector is not an example of world-leading fisheries management.

The Modern Fish Act

Meanwhile in America, its saltwater recreational fishing industry is enjoyed by over 11 million Americans and, as an industry, contributes over $70 billion to its economy, while also supporting 455,000 American jobs.

However, in spite of these impressive numbers, when it comes to federal management, again, the sport is frequently overlooked. Much like the current state of play in the UK, America’s federal laws have never properly addressed the importance of recreational fishing which has had a negative impact leading to shortened and even cancelled seasons, a reduction in bag limits, and unnecessary restrictions, all of which is not good news for its recreational fishing industry.

The Modern Fish Act (MFA) will not exempt the recreational sector from annual catch limits or accountability measures, instead it would simply allow for more appropriate recreational fisheries management measures.

Funding for Recreational Fishing

The Angling Trust is pleased to see that the Fisheries Bill proposes financial assistance for the promotion and development of recreational fishing as part of replacement funding for the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

Under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), funding was not allowed because of the lack of recognition of recreational fishing. A report produced for the European Parliament concluded that the total economic impact of marine recreational fisheries was estimated at €10.5 billion, creating almost 100,000 jobs and is significant at a European scale.

However, this is not the only benefit that may arise from recreational fisheries, with significant social benefits in terms of human welfare, these jobs and businesses are reliant on the sustainable management of publicly owned fish stocks. The recreational fishing sector is therefore a highly important and significant component of UK sea fisheries and a legitimate part of its catching sector. On this basis it is seen as right and proper that recreational fishing should benefit from financial assistance in the same way that aquaculture and commercial fishing activities do.

The Value of Bass

It was in 2004 that the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Strategy Office conducted two years of research into the UK fishing industry with the report recommending that the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) should look at designating some species as recreational-only.

Further evidence of greater benefits from utilising some species for recreational exploitation is provided in a more recent report commissioned by Blue Marine and carried out by consulting firm MRAG who are dedicated to promoting sustainable use of natural resources through sound integrated management policies and practices.

The research focused on the bass fisheries in Sussex and concluded that sea bass caught recreationally are at least 40 times more valuable to the economy than if caught commercially. Both the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man now manage sea bass stocks exclusively for recreational exploitation.

Recreational fishing is considered to be an equal and valid stakeholder in other parts of the world such as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If the UK truly wishes to develop ‘world leading’ fisheries management then the UK Fisheries Bill must do the same.

Author: Simon Calvert

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