A Problem We Can Only Dream Of

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An Oslofjord cod

Every year hundreds of thousands of anglers from all over Europe head to the fish-rich seas of Norway to take advantage of the phenomenal sea fishing action to be found. Catering for angling tourists visiting Norway is big business but questions are now being asked about the pressure these visiting anglers’ catches are having on some fish stocks; So much so that the Norwegian department of fisheries is now considering proposals that would regulate angling tourism and its impact on Norway’s fish stocks.

It’s estimated that somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 recreational sea anglers visit Norway from abroad to fish each year. Cheap travel, the decline in the quality of fishing elsewhere and regular stories from Norway in the angling press has helped the country to become one of the go-to destinations for anglers looking for excitement and World class fishing. No one can say for sure how much these anglers contribute in total to the Norwegian economy but a quick calculation easily puts this at billions of Norwegian Kroner, or hundreds of millions of pounds each year. Tour operators, angling ‘lodges’ and a whole infrastructure has developed to service incoming anglers.

Angling is already a Norwegian national pastime with around two million Norwegians – 45 per cent of the population – fishing recreationally. Add this to the numbers of visiting anglers and there are concerns from within the Norwegian department for fisheries that stocks of some recreationally important species, such as cod and halibut, may be being put under too much pressure and that limitations on the amount of angling tourism, or on how much fish anglers are allowed to catch, might be required.

Generally speaking local Norwegian anglers are positive about visiting anglers with many having benefited directly through the jobs and wealth that they have brought to local coastal communities in Norway. However, in particular areas which are popular with visiting anglers, such as the South East of Norway, where angling facilities have been developed and there is already a high density of resident Norwegian anglers, there is a small but growing concern from locals and commercial fishermen ,presumably, about the impact of visiting anglers on local fish stocks such as cod which in the South West of the country, contrary to the common perception of Norwegian cod stocks, are struggling.

Very rough figures estimate that in localised areas visiting anglers could be catching as much as between 6,000 to 9,000 tonnes of fish every year. Many angling lodges in Norway offer the opportunity to take fish home and provide freezing facilities for storing clients’ catches for them. Anglers are allowed to take up to 15kg of fish home with them including one ‘trophy’ fish. However, this can be 15kg of filleted fish which might only account for 20 per cent of the total weight of the fish landed by each angler. You can get around this limit if you can provide a receipt that the fish has been bought from a commercial fisherman and rumours circulate that theslinage been obtained illegally. There have been incidences of anglers crossing the border to return home, to Sweden or Germany presumably, with several hundreds of kilos of frozen fish in their refrigerated vans. Whether or not these visiting anglers are having a local impact on fish stocks the freezers full of fish that they leave Norway with contribute to the perceived decline in localised stocks and threaten tarnishing the reputation of the recreational fishing sector.

In 2012 a hearing took place following a report produced by a working group set up to look at the issue. So far nothing more has been brought forward from this report although a number of other measures have been suggested that might come into force including a proposal for a ban on angling for halibut in the summer months and on where, or how, angling lodges that cater for tourists can operate.

Øyvind Fjeldseth, a Fisheries Consultant for the Norwegian Association of Hunters and Anglers (NJFF), was involved in the working group looking at the impact of angling tourism and possible regulations that might be required, “We think that there are good reasons for a regulation in the angling-tourism sector – at least when it comes to catches. The main goal for an angling tourist should not be to kill as many fish as possible so that he or she can take a lot fish back home; the main goal should be to have an exciting fishing experience. Because the number of anglers is so high in some areas it would also be wise to have some regulations on where one is allowed to build a “lodge”, based on what fishing pressure the specific area can take”.

However, the Norwegian government recognises the immense contribution angling tourism makes to the national economy and particularly to local coastal communities. There‘s a delicate balance that needs to be struck to ensure that Norway doesn’t kill the goose laying its golden egg either through the quality of fishing decreasing or restrictions on angling tourism stifling growth in a sector that even the Government recognises as contributing significantly to the country’s economy.

It’s a problem we can only dream of having in the UK where there is a net migration of angling tourists to more productive seas and a Government whose recognition of the economic value of angling hasn’t so far extended as far as doing anything to help develop it. Although this isn’t just confined to the UK. Managing fish stocks to include angling based on the better return to the economy that it generates, compared to commercial fishing, would need a paradigm shift in fisheries management policy across most of Europe.

Malcolm Gilbert, an Ambassador for the Angling Trust said, “The most crucial calculation the Norwegians need to make is what economic impact the Country derives from one tonne of recreationally caught cod against one tonne of commercially caught cod. If the returns to the Norwegian economy from recreational angling exceed those from commercial exploitation, then they should be looking at ratcheting down commercial catches in order to allow recreational angling tourism to grow. If that were to happen, it really would send a hell of a signal to the EU”.

What impact will any future regulations have on anglers visiting Norway to fish? According to Øyvind Fjeldseth, “As the angling tourism ‘industry’ is seen as important for the local communities, I don’t think that most angling tourists will notice any difference – unless they expect to take home a large quantities of frozen fish.”

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