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Undiscovered Value

Jul 06,2007 Leon Roskilly

They had been there for a long while, but no one seemed to notice.

A few figures trudging down the beach after the holidaymakers had abandoned the sands at day’s end.

No one noticed them out in the cold and hissing rain, when more sensible people were sheltered in the warmth and dry of their homes.

Sometimes the lifeboat would be called out to a lone boat, bobbing amongst the grey waves, to find a few of them cheerfully huddled as best they could from the worst of the elements, perfectly happy and apparently safe.

No one could have guessed that there were millions of them.

Nor how much they spend on bits and bobs, and trips and holidays to the places where they can pursue their passion.

It had always been that way, sea anglers catching and taking home a few fresh fish straight out of the sea.

And it might have stayed that way forevermore, except the anglers slowly noticed that the fish they were catching were getting fewer, and decidedly smaller, long before supermarkets and consumers started to express their angst at the way that fish are disappearing from the sea.

Of course they could have simply given up, found something else to do with their time.

But sea angling isn’t a mere hobby, for many it is a lifelong passion, something worth fighting for, if there is a chance to bring about any change for the better.

And so some began campaigning, trying to attract the Government’s attention to what really was being lost, something more important than just a few fish.

Probably more to quieten them down than anything else, the Government bowed to the increasing pressure and commissioned a study, now known as The Drew Report.

And what they found startled not only them, but shook fishery managers, and those from the catching sector who had previously assumed that all the fish in the sea belonged only to them.

In England and Wales alone, over 1 million participants (perhaps 2 million if you count occasional sea-anglers, many more if you count those who have said that they would like to give it a try).

Spending £538 million, with an overall economic worth of some £1.3billion.

Supporting the livelihoods of some 19,000 people; bait-diggers, angling charter boat skippers, angling guides, tackle shop employees, manufacturers of rods and reels and bits and bobs, bait suppliers and many others whose businesses and livelihoods depend upon servicing the needs of the Recreational Sea Angling sector.

Why, these figures rival estimates of the value of the commercial catching sector (who are quick to point out that it’s difficult to directly compare the two sectors).

But it’s not just about economics.

It is a powerful force that drags people of all ages, different religions, separate genders, varying races and ethnic origins, healthy and disabled, down to the sea to catch their own fish, often in atrocious weather and at great expense.

A deep and primeval force, buried in our very nature that, when it is allowed to express itself, brings us into close contact in a very personal way with the marine environment that surrounds our shores, driving a deeper thirst for knowledge of that environment and the creatures that live there.

And in giving reign to those instincts sea anglers attain a sense of purpose, a feeling of well-being, and an improved quality of their lives that feeds through into their relationships, and into an energy that helps them to deal with the stresses of their working lives.

Kids fishing piers with their mates, diverted away from less socially acceptable pastimes in the towns.

Fathers and sons forging stronger relationships that comes from sharing both the harshness of bad weather and fishless days, as much as the triumphant landing of a fish worth boasting about.

And yet realisation of all of this has come about at a time when the quality of the ‘Sea Angling Experience’ has never been at such a low-ebb, when its potential is so much greater than current circumstances allow.

An angler telling colleagues of a weekend adventure, in appalling weather, with only a tiddler or two to show for their efforts, is hardly likely to inspire others to follow them down to the beach.

And yet, as has been shown elsewhere in the world, when the quality of the ‘Angling Experience’ is deliberately improved by directed management of the stocks of the species which anglers favour, magic things begin to happen.

Not only do existing anglers go fishing more often, they also start spending more per trip.

After all, if there is decent fish to be consistently caught, it is worth spending more, travelling further, replacing worn out tackle with the latest technology, perhaps buying a boat of their own.

And when they come back and tell their friends of the wonderful time they have had, and the plentiful extremely fresh fish they have bought back (though many unneeded fish are nowadays returned unharmed), when they tell of the fresh sea air they have enjoyed, their friends, colleagues and relations are eager to give it a try too.

More anglers, going on more trips, spending more per trip than ever before, means more business opportunities, more livelihoods, and a better future for many coastal communities.

 (Following the recovery of the USA Recreational Striped Bass Fishery between 1981 and 1996, the consequential expenditure of anglers fishing for striped bass increased from $85 million to $560 million over the same period).    

And the other thing to remember is the great majority of all of that activity takes place either directly from the shore, or close inshore and involves only a few species, many of little interest to the catching sector.

So, what is the Government now going to do?

Well DEFRA are engaging a range of stakeholders including Recreational Sea Anglers, environmental organisations and fishermen’s organisations, to develop a strategy for the development of the Recreational Sea Angling Sector.

Having recognised just how much the Recreational Sector is worth, both economically and socially, it seems that it is fear of the remaining political power of the declining remnants of the catching sector that is holding back progress towards making the most of our inshore marine resources.

Undoubtedly, through the development of the Recreational Sea Angling Sector, it is possible to deliver a greater value to the people of UK PLC, the real owners of our marine resources, and who should expect more from their equitable management for a Best Value return.

Our Recreational Sea Fisheries are part of the nation’s essential wealth.

It would be a crime to let them wither away, when they have so much potential to deliver value to the coastal economies of these islands, and to improve the quality of life of such a huge number of people.

Further Information:

The Value of Recreational Sea Angling

The Golden Mile

Work Proceeding on RSA Strategy


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