The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was initiated WITHOUT any consideration of Recreational Sea Angling. Our activity wasn’t even on the radar screen. The CFP’s development (until very recently) took place without any recognition of RSA either for its social value, its economic/employment impacts, its impact on the environment (including fish stocks) or indeed its existence as a legitimate use of public marine fishery resources.
The ONLY user stakeholder input during the vast majority of the CFP’s life has been ‘commercial fishing’.
My very first visit to Brussels was in January 2000. I was accompanied by Bob Cox and the then European Anglers Alliance (EAA) lobbyist Gabriela Bianca. We had a meeting with a David Armstrong who was head of Directorate General 11 (fisheries) Conservation. He made it very clear that RSA was not part of the CFP and that the CFP was entirely and exclusively about commercial fishing. He looked me in the eye and with some amusement stated “You and your sector don’t even exist”.
It was a salutary lesson but also a wakeup call that RSA should have been better organised and resourced decades previously so that RSA was a fully recognised stakeholder playing its role in the CFP from inception. It became clear to me then that RSA was going to have a hell of a job to penetrate the CFP cultural mindset, especially as RSA was (and still is) abysmally resourced given the size of the RSA sector and number of participants across the EU.
He looked me in the eye and with some amusement stated: “You and your sector don’t even exist”.
Initially I was naïve to believe RSA ONLY had to provide the evidence of our legitimacy and RSA would quickly be afforded the opportunity to become a full player in the process of formulating marine fisheries policies and strategies.
I was monumentally WRONG!
No matter how many studies or reports are published about the economic and employment impacts of RSA [even when such studies are initiated, funded and tendered for research by Government – Sea Angling 2012, for example] the willingness to allow RSA to influence political decisions is curtailed by politicians for fear of incurring the wrath of commercial fishing, which enjoys such high levels of public sympathy.
In short, RSA’s problems are political and whilst scientific evidence in the form of economic evaluations are helpful, achieving decisions that favour RSA requires far greater levels of political representation than RSA is currently managing to attain.
We should be highlighting the fact that marine fish are public resources and that no one has more of a right to responsibly access those public resources for personal consumption than the public themselves.
I mentioned a moment ago the public sympathy enjoyed by commercials. How does the non-angling public view RSA? We’ve all heard our activity described in the following terms: “a fishing rod is a stick with a worm at one end and a fool at the other”. I think the quote dates from the 18th century. Unlike most coarse angling, a proportion of marine fish caught by anglers are taken for the table. This is something the general non-angling public can relate to. The growth in interest of foraging is well documented. Just spend some time googling ‘foraging’ and there are courses offered including hotels running foraging breaks, and some actually include sea angling. In short, catching and taking a fish to eat will be understood and supported far more by the public than catching and releasing a fish. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice C&R but I do not believe RSA should be drawing attention to this aspect of our activity as loudly or incessantly as we have. Instead we should be highlighting the fact that marine fish are public resources and that no one has more of a right to responsibly access those public resources for personal consumption than the public themselves.
The RSA community has far too successfully persuaded fisheries managers and scientists that we are content to practise C&R and that has made it easy for fisheries Ministers to ‘give’ us precisely that! It has also enabled them to hand over that portion of the public bass cake anglers no longer can take to the commercials, which is precisely what happened in 2016. We’re still paying the price with a further six-month non-retention period in 2017. If we’re not careful, this could become set in stone for the future…
Malcolm Gilbert | April 2017