Opin­ion & Let­ters,

Why the an­gling cam­paign is flawed Sea An­gler reader John Tis­dale con­sid­ers why an­glers have lost out yet again to com­mer­cial shing in­ter­ests

Sea Angler (UK) - - Contents -

What next for UK sea an­glers? Specif­i­cally, those who en­joy both the an­gling ex­pe­ri­ence and re­tain­ing a few fish for the ta­ble. The re­cently an­nounced reg­u­la­tions limit us to a sin­gle fish over 42cm in any 24-hour pe­riod from July 1, and none at all in the pre­ced­ing months.

In prac­ti­cal terms, this could ac­tu­ally mean vir­tu­ally no fish re­tained by many an­glers, be­cause so many fish cap­tured are below the min­i­mum land­ing size.

By com­par­i­son, the com­mer­cial fish­ery has been sub­jected to min­i­mal changes to their fish­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. As our Fish­eries Min­is­ter Ge­orge Eus­tace has stated: “It will make al­most no dif­fer­ence to our in­shore com­mer­cial bass fish­er­men”. If then, there is no ap­par­ent need to re­strict com­mer­cial ex­ploita­tion, why should recre­ational an­glers be heav­ily pe­nalised?

The bass stock is a shared na­tional re­source, to which all cit­i­zens should have fair and equal ac­cess. We should con­sider the mo­ti­va­tion for this in­iq­ui­tous de­ci­sion.

As yet, there is no law ban­ning the sale or con­sump­tion of bass. We are free to buy as many as we wish from a com­mer­cial fish­er­man, or to con­sume as much as we can pay for in restau­rants. Is it, there­fore, rea­son­able or ac­cept­able that we are so se­verely re­stricted? I be­lieve it is nei­ther rea­son­able nor ac­cept­able. We need to con­sider sev­eral fac­tors.


The de­cline in bass stocks in re­cent years is well doc­u­mented, and marine sci­en­tists have ad­vised ma­jor re­duc­tions in an­nual ex­ploita­tion. All in­volved in stock ex­ploita­tion should there­fore be pre­pared to do their bit to re­verse this de­cline.

As an­glers, we have al­ready ed­u­cated our­selves in the need to prac­tice con­ser­va­tion. Most an­glers carry out a high de­gree of catch and re­lease; tak­ing just enough fish for your own needs is the new norm.

There are, in­deed, prece­dents for set­ting some re­stric­tions on our free­dom to ex­ploit our fish­eries. Wit­ness the closed sea­sons, bait re­stric­tions and bag lim­its im­posed on salmon an­glers. Trust­ing game an­glers to fish re­spon­si­bly has seen catch and re­lease rates rise to nearly 80 per cent. Fur­ther­more, in sit­u­a­tions where the EA has deemed it nec­es­sary to tem­po­rar­ily close a river to an­gling, dur­ing say an out­break of dis­ease, the same re­stric­tions are ap­plied equally to com­mer­cial salmon net­ting op­er­a­tions.

This in­di­cates then that there is a bet­ter bal­ance be­tween dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests com­pet­ing for ac­cess to the same scarce re­source. It might also in­form us how bet­ter to pro­ceed when ne­go­ti­at­ing ac­cess to the bass fish­ery. How did we sud­denly ar­rive at a sit­u­a­tion where we are de­nied fair ac­cess to our fish­ery?

WEak lobby group

The is­sue is com­pli­cated as de­ci­sions re­gard­ing ac­cess to the bass fish­ery are reg­u­lated at

“Fo­cus should move from sav­ing bass to sav­ing our an­glers”

three lev­els – Euro­pean, na­tional and lo­cal. At both Euro­pean and na­tional level, the over­rid­ing de­ci­sion is how to square the cir­cle of con­flict, be­tween what is rec­om­mended by sci­en­tists and by the de­mands of com­mer­cial fish­ing in­ter­ests. In­evitably, sci­en­tific ad­vice is wa­tered down to suit the needs of politi­cians who must present an ac­cept­able deal to their com­mer­cial fish­ing lob­by­ists. Wit­ness the words of our own Fish­eries Min­is­ter after De­cem­ber’s Euro­pean fish­eries meet­ing, when he boasted of get­ting in­creased ac­cess for the gill net fleet. There were no such con­ces­sions for recre­ational an­glers.

This im­me­di­ately in­forms us of a vi­tal fact. We are a very weak lobby group com­pared to the com­mer­cial sec­tor. This is de­spite the fact that we present ‘ev­i­dence’ to the con­trary about our num­bers and the scale of the so­cioe­co­nomic im­pact of recre­ational an­gling. Clearly, this is not be­lieved, or the politi­cians feel that it can be safely ig­nored be­cause we have no ef­fec­tive means of demon­strat­ing our con­cern or dis­plea­sure. Com­mer­cials can, by con­trast, threaten to dis­rupt mar­kets or block­ade ports.

Fur­ther weak­en­ing our po­si­tion is the lack of any iden­ti­fi­able uni­fied lobby group. We are a set of dis­parate fo­cus groups within which there are se­ri­ous pol­icy di­vi­sions. We do not pay a li­cence fee, as is of­ten pointed out by the com­mer­cial sec­tor. The re­luc­tance of sea an­glers to em­brace the li­cence is­sue prob­a­bly un­der­mines their claim to be taken se­ri­ously.

The claim of BASS and the An­gling Trust to be the voice of 800,000 sea an­glers is patently un­true. What is the to­tal mem­ber­ship of these two or­gan­i­sa­tions? Politi­cians are wary of state­ments that stretch the truth and are un­likely to be per­suaded by the sub­se­quent nar­ra­tive. At present, there is no man­date for ei­ther or­gan­i­sa­tion to act for, or ne­go­ti­ate on be­half of, the ma­jor­ity of recre­ational an­glers. Un­less that sit­u­a­tion is ad­dressed and rec­ti­fied, then they will re­main sim­ply small fo­cus groups with nar­row ob­jec­tives.

Frothy Rhetoric

Hav­ing iden­ti­fied the strength of the com­mer­cial lobby com­pared to that of an­glers, what other fac­tors have led to the re­duc­tion in the rights of an­glers?

BASS and the An­gling Trust con­sis­tently pro­duce well-rea­soned, ev­i­dence-based, ref­er­enced pa­pers to sup­port their case. The ef­fort is well in­ten­tioned, but naïve. Is it meant to in­flu­ence the politi­cians, who may know very lit­tle about fish­ing or an­gling, but have the sup­port of their de­part­men­tal staff and civil ser­vants, who are there to brief them on all as­pects of the sub­ject, ren­der­ing fur­ther de­bate un­nec­es­sary? If so, it doesn’t seem to be ef­fec­tive. More­over, the politi­cians mak­ing prag­matic choices could re­gard it merely as frothy rhetoric.

The com­mer­cial sec­tor doesn’t seem to apply the same rea­son­ing. What the politi­cians hear is “our liveli­hoods are at stake”, “the sci­en­tists are wrong”, “there are plenty of fish out there”, and “it’s un­ac­cept­able”. Un­sci­en­tific, plenty of sen­ti­ment and a hint of threat. But it works, al­beit with some caveats and a few hoops to jump through.

Recre­ational sea an­gling may also be guilty of over­play­ing its hand. Claims of the ton­nage of fish taken by an­glers and the fish­ing ef­fort in­volved make us an ob­vi­ous and soft tar­get for re­stric­tions. By show­ing firm ac­tion against us, politi­cians can claim to be tak­ing ma­jor con­ser­va­tion steps with min­i­mal risk of a dif­fi­cult re­ac­tion.

By con­trast, the com­mer­cial sec­tor acts to re­duce the ev­i­dence of its im­pact on stocks. This is some­times aided by there be­ing no re­quire­ment to record small catches in some cases. It seems that a few ex­tra fish for com­mer­cials is ac­cept­able, but one ex­tra for an an­gler is a crime.

Flawed pol­icy

The tac­tic of press­ing for a catch and re­lease pol­icy is patently flawed. It has given ad­min­is­tra­tors, com­mer­cials and politi­cians the im­pres­sion that all an­glers are con­tent not to re­tain fish.

While most of us qui­etly prac­tice mainly catch and re­lease, it should never have been of­fered as a ne­go­ti­at­ing chip be­fore achiev­ing a com­pre­hen­sive con­ser­va­tion pol­icy from the politi­cians. In fact, we should have taken the same ap­proach as the com­mer­cial sec­tor by sim­ply say­ing we want more. We should have re­fused the three-fish bag limit and asked for six.

An­other way of demon­strat­ing our weak po­si­tion is the use of on­line, cut and paste let­ters and pe­ti­tions to politi­cians. These peo­ple are not fools, and the use of such tools is eas­ily recog­nised and car­ries lit­tle weight. All you get in re­turn is a mass mailed, mean­ing­less re­sponse.

It is clear that recre­ational an­glers are dif­fi­cult to mo­ti­vate, even given ex­treme threats to their sport and their civil rights. It may be very dif­fi­cult to re­gain what we have al­ready lost, but if we do not change our ap­proach, we may lose even more, as the strat­egy of re­strict­ing an­gling op­por­tu­ni­ties in favour of com­mer­cial in­ter­est has now been es­tab­lished. So how should we pro­ceed?

Save our An­glers

I would sug­gest that the fo­cus should move away from sav­ing our bass to sav­ing our an­glers.

The politi­cians al­ready know bass are in trou­ble and have no in­ter­est in see­ing them dis­ap­pear, but they al­ways have to make the same prag­matic de­ci­sions.

There­fore, let the sci­en­tists ad­vise and the politi­cians de­cide. At the same time, try to es­tab­lish a truly uni­fied voice, which can use dif­fer­ent tac­tics to fight for our rights to a fair share of the na­tional re­source. This may be dif­fi­cult, as we lack true pro­fes­sional ad­vo­cacy and we don’t have the re­sources to buy it.

An al­ter­na­tive strat­egy might be to em­ploy a cham­pion who could find cause in sav­ing both the bass and the bass an­gler. One celebrity chef and a cam­paign­ing news­pa­per (such as Hugh Fearn­ley-Whit­ingstall and the Sunday Times) would have in­fin­itely more im­pact with both the pub­lic and politi­cians than any­thing an­glers could achieve as a group.

In the mean­time, I know of an­glers who in­tend to ig­nore the reg­u­la­tions after con­sid­er­ing the risk of pros­e­cu­tion to be low. While this ap­proach has some at­trac­tion, it does carry sig­nif­i­cant risk, apart from which, I do not want to be crim­i­nalised for re­tain­ing a rea­son­able num­ber of fish for the ta­ble.

In con­clu­sion, we can only spec­u­late on what the con­se­quences of the ‘bass ban’ might be for the fu­ture of an­gling. It may have no ef­fect on the an­gling in­dus­try, or it may her­ald a de­cline. What we can be as­sured of, is that it will cer­tainly not im­prove its prospects.

From July 1, recre­ational an­glers will be re­stricted to just one bass over 42cm

A catch and re­lease pol­icy has given the im­pres­sion that all an­glers are con­tent not to re­tain fish

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