Aug 16,2006 00:00
Engaging with Sea Fisheries Committees
Prepared by the Sea Anglers Conservation Network
Last Updated: August 2006
Ask any angler ‘Who makes the rules and who enforces them?’ and many will be stumped, though all will probably agree that much more needs to be done.
That the making and enforcing of rules regarding the management of fish stocks significantly affect the quality of fishing available to Recreational Sea Anglers is understood by all, yet few would consider that they could have a say in the making and enforcement of those rules.
True, many of the regulations come from the EU, and others from DEFRA, but many are purely local byelaws, created and enforced by local accountable committees, and those committees are also responsible for enforcing all of the rules and regulations, not just local byelaws.
Sea Fisheries Committees (SFCs) were created over 100 years ago.
Many of those serving on SFCs are county councillors. Most of the committee’s money comes out of the local ratepayers’ pockets and the councillors can keep an eye on the spending, ensuring value for money for ratepayers from the activities of the committees.
Others are appointed by DEFRA, representing the local fishing industry, the environment, and Recreational Sea Angling, although once appointed they are charged with ensuring the welfare of ‘the fishery’ above any other interest they might have.
Currently the government is reviewing many aspects of the structure and operation of Sea Fisheries Committees, intending to more clearly define their duties and make-up in a process of ‘modernisation’.
One criticism of SFCs as they are currently constituted is their inbuilt bias towards the needs of the catching sector above the interests of other stakeholders and the local marine environment itself.
County Councillors who gravitate towards serving on SFCs are often those with a direct or indirect interest in the catching sector, in some cases active fishermen and/or trawler owners etc.
So it is unsurprising that, given the number of DEFRA appointees also with a catching sector background, other stakeholders find difficulty in representing their own interests or to vote effectively on any issue which might seem to be contrary to the (often short term) interests of the catching sector.
That situation primarily exists because, apart from catching sector interests, no one else takes a great deal of interest in Sea Fisheries Committees.
Even in districts where relatively little commercial fishing takes place.
And yet the region may benefit tremendously from Leisure and Tourism activity generated by the Recreational Sea Angling Sector and you would expect county councillors to be concentrating on developing the RSA sector for the greater good of their constituencies. Instead the SFC often seems to be run as some kind of private club looking after only the interests of catching sector fishermen.
Because that is what is assumed to be the purpose of SFCs, and no one is saying anything different.
How can that be changed?
By anglers (and other stakeholders) taking a greater interest in the running of SFCs and holding them to account.
Sea Fisheries Committees hold four statutory meetings each year, and there may be any number of ‘technical’ committees and technical committee meetings outside of the main committee meetings.
The statutory meetings themselves are run very much like council meetings, with usually facilities for ‘the public’ to observe the meeting.
In some instances, the chairman may allow members of the public to address the meeting.
It is significant that if ‘members of the public’ do turn up, they are likely to be fishermen, perhaps a delegation of fishermen concerned about a particular issue which is to be debated.
And if that issue is an RSA issue, raised by the two, or perhaps one RSA representative on the committee, speaking to a committee primarily constituted of members with an interest in the catching sector, and with the ‘public gallery’ full of fishermen, however good a case they may make, however assertive they may be in their arguments, the result of any ballot is usually a foregone conclusion.
It needn’t be that way.
It’s only that way because it’s only the catching sector who show any interest in the affairs of the SFC.
Anglers, Angling Clubs, and those whose livelihoods depend upon a thriving RSA sector in the district; tackle shops, angling charter skippers, bait suppliers etc could do a considerable amount more in ensuring that their interests are fairly represented.
By taking an interest.
- Contact the clerk and ask to be sent details of forthcoming meetings, venues, times, minutes and papers (very often an interesting read with surprising information about what is happening to fish in the district, not otherwise available to anglers).
- Get along to the meetings (unfortunately usually held during normal working hours). Get others to come along with you, see what goes on. As well as sitting at the back of the meeting, the chairman may allow you to speak, and there is usually a chance to mingle and talk to committee members over coffee once the meeting has finished.
- Write to the clerk commenting on issues being discussed by the committee, and asking that your views be put before the committee
- Raise proposals and write to the clerk asking that the committee consider your proposals. Suggest the making of specific byelaws that will increase the protection of species of fish, or important areas etc
- Contact the RSA representatives on the committee (the clerk should be able to give you contact details) and contact them, offering support, perhaps asking them to talk to your club and explain what the SFC is, and what it is doing in your district.
- Contact the County Councillors and remind them that they are expected to be representing the best interests of all the people in the district, not just the catching sector, and again suggest how they can better do that.
- Publicise the activities of the local SFC amongst anglers and others, so that they might also start to take an interest.
- Some SFCs already hold meetings, usually twice a year and when there are issues that arise that need discussing, with local anglers and angling organisations. If yours doesn’t, see if you can interest ten or so anglers/clubs in your district and ask for such meetings to be set up.
We can all moan about the way things are, changing things is more difficult but can be done. If you don’t do it, no one else will, apart from those who you might prefer not to be in charge.
Contact details of SFCs can be found here:
Some have their own websites with information about byelaws, current activities and minutes of previous meetings etc.