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Angling Holds The Key

Jan 22,1999 David Bird

In an issue of Tackle and Guns, I outlined the problems for angling resulting from the disastrous European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). I also reported that the Angling Trade Association (ATA) had joined the Save Britain’s Fish campaign, which advocates our withdrawal from the CFP before it’s too late.

If we cast our net a little wider we are faced with a dismal vision of over fishing and illegal fishing world-wide. Global discards are the same percentage of total catch, 40 per cent, as in Europe. In one year this equates to l0Ibs of fish for every man, woman and child on the planet. Hard to take in isn’t it?

Here are a few more facts and figures to take into consideration. Blue sharks caught by Hawaiian based long-liners: 500,000 plus, quantity discarded: 465,000. The vast majority of the sharks are de-finned and returned to the sea alive, to drown, die a slow death or be eaten by other sharks. Japanese commercial long-liners hook and drown 44,000 albatrosses per annum. These dead birds tend to be of a single sex. As the albatross mates for life this is a double blow to world populations. We have seen a 60% decline in adult sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, due to poaching, in the last twenty years. Other than over-fishing these three examples of man’s unending greed have another common denominator. They are all in the pursuit of luxury foods, caviar, shark fin soup and sashimi (raw fish).

A few more examples for your delight; Reefs in the Indian Ocean have been severely damaged by dynamiting for fish, dredging and landfill. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is being killed by the run-off of fertilizers from Queensland’s sugar cane fields. Overfishing for lobsters and the collection of valuable shells for the Seychelles’ tourist industry has led to their virtual disappearance from the reefs. Finally, to prove that nothing is safe. Poaching in the seas around Antarctica has resulted in rapid depletion of fish stocks — notably the Patagonian toothfish. The list is endless.

By now you will be thinking ‘What’s this got to do with me and angling, I can’t do anything about it anyway?" Think again; don’t sell our sport short. Ponder the economics of recreational fishing on a global level. This planet has well in excess of 200 million people who fish for sport, with a total spend easily exceeding £100 billion per annum; this is real political and financial strength (if we choose to use it!). Couple this with Agenda 21 and the potential future of our sport might become a little clearer. In 1992, at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio, over 150 nations including the UK endorsed a 500 page document, Agenda 21, which sets out how both developed and developing countries can work towards sustainable development.

Agenda 21 says that sustainable development requires humanity to:

a) Reduce over-use of energy, raw materials and production of pollution and wastes

b) Protect fragile ecosystems

c) Share wealth, opportunities and responsibilities more fairly between North and South, between countries, and between different social groups within each country, with special emphasis on the needs and rights of the poor and disadvantaged.

Recreational fishing (angling) can answer some of these criteria. The sport provides a valuable platform for imaginative environmental action and sustainable economical regeneration throughout the world. Healthy fish stocks harvested locally are an important source of protein especially for poorer nations. Angling can, and does, make a major social and direct contribution to local economies world-wide. Angling acts as a barometer to the health of our aquatic environment. Commercial fishing activities cannot make the same claim. Neither can other water based sports or activities.

A comparison between incomes generated by commercial and recreational fishing in the USA helps to complete the picture.

  Angler Spend Commercial Dockside Finfish Value
New Jersey $746 million $5.6 million
New Hampshire $119 million $5.6 million
Massachusetts $221 million $104 million
New York $557 million $21.1 million
Maryland $308 million $10.0 million
Virginia $201 million $52.6 million
North Carolina $673 million $39.8 million

Britain’s commercial fishing operations annual catch is valued at around £600 million whereas the total spend for the recreational activity has been calculated at approximately £3 billion. With economic clout like this why has angling allowed itself to be ignored for so long. These figures really mean something but how can they be utilised? The answer is staring you in the face. If the commercial activities continue their search and destroy mission and fish stocks decline below the level of recovery angling will also decline. The subsequent decline in revenue for governments will be considerable when, added to the grants, they will have to pay to commercial fleet owners tied up in dock with no fish to catch. Of course, the additional unemployment payments will add up to quite a bit as well. Governments should be shown the error of their ways when they put the interests of the "commercials" above the sportsmen and the supporting trades.

We should expect, at least, equal consultation and consideration. Ask Joe Riley, Mayor of Charleston. Who? Where?

In the Spring and Summer of 1997, the recreational fishermen and women of the Charleston, South Carolina area in the USA, stood their ground against enormous odds to stop local politicians, the Bluewater Fishermen’s Association and the 30 longline vessels they represented from obtaining a permanent berth at the Charleston Maritime Centre. With the help and support of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), World Wide Fund for Nature (VVWF), other conservation groups and angling organisations, these concerned citizens took the initiative and showed the rest of the United States just what unity, direction and perseverance can accomplish. After "educating" Joseph Riley to the problems longlining can cause to the pelagic fishery off South Carolina, the good mayor changed his mind and refused to lease the maritime facility to the longline operation. The straw that broke the mayors back was when the protesters pointed out that the commercial activities could decimate the pelagic schools of fish offshore and bring the entire $75,000,000 sportfishing industry to its knees in a few short years.

Mayor Riley, now thoroughly educated on the longline issue, has promised his support to stop longlining in local waters and push it offshore to beyond the 200 mile limit. How many other mayors or chief executives would respond in like manner if given the facts and nudged in the right direction?

Why not removed damaging commercial methods for the benefit of first and third world nations, encouraging them to take back control of their fisheries 200 miles out from their coasts as prescribed under international law. Recreational fishing, if actively promoted, can offer long term economic stability and a long term, sustainable aquatic environment.

Extract from Big Game Fishing Journal (The Edge) USA

David C Bird 22nd January 1999

This article was previously printed in an Issue of Tackle & Guns


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