More fish = more anglers = more profit

Boat

All the government reports show that Recreational Sea Angling (RSA) is big business. So why don’t decision makers manage stocks accordingly?

During the last 15 years, there have been a number of scientific studies to assess the economic impacts of Recreational Sea Angling (RSA). Some have been localised, such as the Invest in Fish project based in the south west, whilst others, such as the Drew Report, looked at England & Wales. The most recent and well publicised report  was published by Cefas in 2012 – Sea Angling 2012 – which looked at just England.

All reports consistently found that RSA is big business with large expenditures by sea anglers on a wide range of goods and services, which in turn generated thousands of jobs. Moreover, both the Drew Study and Sea Angling 2012 were initiated by Defra, funded by Defra and the research was placed by Defra with a suitably qualified scientific organisation.  Assertions about the validity and value of marine sectors are frequently published as a result of ‘research’ by the sectors themselves that are inherently unsound due to inevitable self promotion but in the case of RSA, the values are asserted by Government itself.

All reports consistently found that RSA is big business with large expenditures by sea anglers on a wide range of goods and services, which in turn generated thousands of jobs.

And yet, Defra who routinely clamour that research is required to enable them to make evidence based decisions have totally ignored all the RSA research that consistently shows RSA is so valuable, preferring to maintain their obsession of pandering to commercial fishing interests. Indeed, the evidence shows that Defra places the short term earning opportunities of commercial fishers way above the importance of looking after the nation’s public fishery resources. The irony of such a flawed default position is that over the long term, the very sector Defra consistently panders to has suffered enormous loss of fishing opportunities, profitability and of fishing livelihoods.

Graph 1

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These data depicts failure by Defra on a grand scale. I shudder to dwell upon whether other Government departments in charge of more serious sectors of our lives such as education, health and transport are equally as unfit for purpose.

Why does Defra (previously Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – MAFF)  display such a long term profile of abject failure in respect of discharging its responsibility to look after the nation’s fishery resources? The reasons are many and complex but at the heart of the problem is Defra’s cultural mindset that still perceives itself as the sponsoring Government department of producers rather than the environment or any other stakeholder.

So why haven’t Defra taken any steps to include in their remit, fisheries management objectives specifically targeted at maintaining the current levels of RSA or better still to develop and grow what is an incredibly valuable sector when considered against commercial exploitation of those resources upon which RSA is dependent.

Current first sale values (landing values) for the entire English commercial fleet comprising less than 5000 fishermen (including part time) are £160 million (all species) but 80% of that value (£128 million) comprises fishery resources of no direct interest to RSA such as crabs, lobsters, cockles, monk, lemon sole, megrim sole, hake and very many additional species. The species upon which RSA is dependent include rays, plaice, flounder, bass, mullet, pollack, cod, whiting, wrasse and others that generate just £32 million worth of landings for English commercial fishing.

Netting 3

For the sea fish species of interest to sea anglers, the value generated by RSA dwarfs that from commercial fishing.

The species that are worth just £32 million to commercial fishing at first sale value are exactly the same public fishery resources upon which English RSA depends and results in English recreational sea anglers pumping a whopping £1.23 billion into the economy generating 10,400 direct livelihoods according to Government.

Let’s be clear. One cannot and should not make direct comparisons between ‘commercial landing values’ and ‘RSA expenditure’. I’m happy to leave those calculations to suitably qualified and INDEPENDENT economists. But one does not need to be an economist to understand that the economic and employment impacts alone from RSA plus the quality of life provided for almost a million participants warrants a full and equitable role at the table when fisheries management issues are being determined. In short, the specific needs of RSA should be fully taken into account when formulating management measures for any species in which RSA has a direct interest.

Most sea anglers, including myself can enjoy a fishing trip even when unsuccessful in terms of catches. The crucial ingredient is the belief that at any moment a bite will be seen or felt on the rod.

Why is RSA given such short shrift?  Perhaps the economic values for RSA are perceived by Defra as being so healthy that they have concluded nothing needs to be done. I don’t buy into that position and believe that the decline of fish stocks over the last five decades due to Defra’s failures has done terrible damage to the sector.

The reasons that people acquire a rod to go angling in the sea are many. They include: getting out into the coast environment and enjoying fresh air, socialising with friends, the thrill of the hunt, developing technical ‘know how’ skills, competitive angling and the satisfaction of acquiring the freshest of seafood for family consumption with the certainty of knowing its source.

Most sea anglers, including myself can enjoy a fishing trip even when unsuccessful in terms of catches. The crucial ingredient is the belief that at any moment a bite will be seen or felt on the rod.

Experienced anglers will assess tides and weather and select a location where they believe the chances of success are highest. Optimism is essential. Once the belief that a bite is possible evaporates, the activity becomes pointless.

This leads to the question as to what is the linkage between fish availability and level of angling?  It is that linkage I wish to explore. And explore it I shall in the next blog.

malcolm-gilbert

Malcolm Gilbert | January 2018

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