by Malcolm Gilbert of Ammo Baits
Fisheries Liaison Representative for The National Federation of Sea Anglers & European Liaison Officer of The Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society.
In the last issue of "Get Hooked", I outlined the problems facing the recreational sport fishing industry because of the traditional mindset that fish stock resources are exclusively for commercial exploitation, and as such the entire management process both nationally and at European level has sought to manage from a commercial exploitation perspective only. The appalling degradation of the commonly owned fish stocks (described by the United Nations as one of 'humanities natural heritage') shows clearly and unequivocally how this approach has failed.
The resources themselves have been sacrificed for the short term benefit of the commercial fishing industry who are now suffering the consequences. Unfortunately, the recreational sector who also support thousands of livelihoods are also suffering the consequences. The resources should have been and must become the priority. This is the only way that the long term harvesting of resources will be achieved. I pointed out that in other parts of the globe the sport angling industry was perceived as being socially and economically important enough for some fish stock species to be managed either primarily or in some cases exclusively as 'sport fish'. During the spring of 1999, MAFF civil servants clearly stated that they had no responsibility for sport angling. Now, in late September 2000, MAFF is singing an entirely different tune and claims to have responsibility for recreational sea angling matters! Why the change of heart?
Clearly, political pressure from MPs, MEPs, the Recreational Angling Conference at Aston, are all beginning to focus the need for some serious and innovative alterations to traditional mindsets. However, being a sceptic I believe there is one single factor that is concentrating the minds of senior MAFF civil servants more than any other, and that is the assertion that the management of some fish stocks should be contributed to, by other government departments such as Tourism and Sport. The notion that specific fish stocks can generate significant socio-economic benefits as sport fish is overwhelmingly supported by some of MAFF's own research, and many examples around the globe. By far the biggest beneficiary to a healthy, robust sport angling industry is tourism, which is a seriously large industry with immense political clout. The suggestion that both the Minister for Tourism and the Minister for Sport should become more involved in the decision making process about what happens to fish stocks is, I believe, bringing about abject panic amongst senior MAFF civil servants, and in an attempt to protect their territory, their response to the growing suggestion that they will no longer have exclusive control over fish stocks, they have now accepted responsibility for sea angling matters.
The National Assembly for Wales commissioned Nautilus Consultants Limited to produce a study into inland and sea fisheries in Wales. Nautilus Consultants Limited are well respected and regularly used by the European Union for similar work. Their findings are wholly supportive of the arguments that the proponents of sport angling have been proffering for many years. Nautilus concluded, amongst other things, that the gross economic impact of salt water sport angling was