Who do the nets benefit?

malcolm-gilbert

Malcolm Gilbert – RSA campaigner

In 2004 a report to Government called Net Benefits was published. This report was the result of research by the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit into the whole marine fisheries sector and was researched and assembled by some of the country’s top economists. The report made some stunningly welcome recommendations in respect of Recreational Sea Angling (RSA) amongst its 200 plus pages, including: “Fisheries department should review the evidence of supporting arguments for re-designating some commercially caught species for wholly recreational sea angling beginning with bass”.

It went on to say: “Management to maximise opportunities for recreational anglers means reducing commercial fishing pressure to allow species such as bass, favoured by sea anglers, to grow to much larger sizes. Management for multiple uses is possible.” The report also confirmed the value of the RSA sector when it stated, “Recreational anglers spend around £1 billion per year on their sport”. Perhaps the most controversial inclusion was “The overarching aim of fisheries management should be to maximise the return to the UK of the sustainable use of fisheries resources and protection of the marine environment”.

netted-sea-trout

A waste of marine fishery resources. Image credit: Simon Toms (Environment Agency).

“Management to maximise opportunities for recreational anglers means reducing commercial fishing pressure to allow species such as bass, favoured by sea anglers, to grow to much larger sizes.”

In 2005 the Government published its response to Net Benefits called Securing the Benefits and one of the recommendations to be accepted by Government was the overarching aim of achieving, “A fishing sector that is sustainable and profitable and supports strong local communities, managed effectively as an integral part of coherent policies for the marine environment. (The ‘fishing sector’ in this instance means all aspects of catching, processing, retail and associated industries that rely on wild-fish catch, including shellfish. This includes the recreational sector.)”

Securing the Benefits then listed a number of ‘Objectives’ that would be used to achieve the overarching ‘Aim’. These included: “To secure the management of fish stocks as an important renewable resource, harvested to optimise long term economic returns.” And to help achieve the objectives the Government undertook to, “Develop policy based on the best available biological, economic and socio-economic evidence”.

“Our public fishery resources should be managed to provide the best possible return to the UK plc on a long term sustainable basis and management should be evidence based.”

So there we have it. Our public fishery resources should be managed to provide the best possible return to the UK plc on a long term sustainable basis and management should be evidence based. Are you reassured? Well if you’ve been fishing for a few decades you will have seen first-hand how many fish stocks are scarcer and consist of far smaller fish. You will undoubtedly ponder on the Government’s interpretation of “long term”. According to many expert commentators and the Governments own strategy document for long term sustainable fisheries management, Fisheries 2027, the greatest negative impact on the marine environment as a whole is caused by unsustainable fishing.

So Government, (who fully acknowledge they are the Nation’s custodian for public marine fishery resources), knows it should be managing them for the ‘long term’ but doesn’t actually deliver management on that basis, preferring to take the easy route of short term appeasement towards the powerful commercial fishing lobby. If, despite knowing they should be managing for the ‘long term’ they are not doing so, what about their stated goal of managing for ‘best possible return’ and making decisions based on ‘evidence’?

Which type of exploitation generates ‘the best possible return’? Recreational or commercial?

In my next post I’ll explore some of the arguments, debates and ‘evidence’, surrounding the complex issue of utilising public fishery resources for the best return.

Malcolm Gilbert | RSA campaigner, sea angler and Conservation Officer for the Cornish Federation of Sea Anglers | May 2012

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