Angling is one of the most popular sports in the country, and each year in the UK alone over two million people go sea fishing, meaning that sea angling has a massive positive impact on the UK economy. Despite the popularity of fishing, the calls for conservation of remaining fish stocks have meant that the historic right of anglers to fish unregulated in the sea has come under scrutiny. Indeed, some groups are so opposed to sea angling that they have attempted to sabotage fishing competitions and disrupt anglers, while other groups such as the international animal rights organisation PETA have used numerous hard-hitting campaigns in an attempt to turn the tide of public opinion against angling, which they consider to be an unacceptably cruel sport.
If we look at the situation in economic terms angling is much better for the economy than commercial fishing. As Charles Clover explains in his 2003 book The End of the Line sea anglers spend over one billion pounds on sea fishing equipment, bait and staying in hotels etc (which is more than the commercial fishing industry raises) but only take a fraction of the number of fish that the commercial fishing operations do.
Indeed, the large-scale government backed survey Sea Angling 2012 proved that tax revenue from sale of fishing tackle is worth over hundreds of millions of pounds to the UK government, and as we have seen, places that favour recreational angling over commercial fishing can reap the economic rewards, as the Irish authorities have seen with bass fishing. However, anglers need to do everything possible to ensure that they are seen in a good light by the general public and follow good practice. Most of the following points are common sense but are worth repeating:
- Anglers need to observe minimum size limits of fish (which can be found here). There is no excuse for taking undersize fish from the sea. Anglers cannot complain about commercial fishing operations if minimum sizes are not observed for shore caught fish.
- Certain species such as silver eels, allis and twaite shad and bass (for certain times of the year) are protected by law. Anglers are committing an offence and could be liable to prosecution if they are found retaining these species. It is up to anglers to know which species they are legally required to return.
- Litter, rig packets and leftover bait etc need to be cleared away from fishing marks (all responsible anglers already do this). No one wants to see angling-related mess strewn all over a beach, nor so they want to see cut up pieces of bait littering a shoreline.
- Particular care needs to be taken to take home used monofilament line and hooks. Nothing does more damage to the image of anglers than a marine bird tangled up in line, or a dog getting a fishing hook caught in its paw.
- Anglers should be aware of endangered species (skate, shad, rays, spurdog and silver eel to name just a few) and fish for these on a catch-and-release basis to preserve stocks. Most anglers now are happy to pose with a photo of their catch and return it to sea.
- It is sad to see that a minority of anglers believe they have the right to treat certain species (such as lesser-spotted dogfish) badly on the basis that they are a bait stealing ‘pest species.’ Some anglers believe they have the right to carry out a self-authourised cull of this species, whereas others yank hooks roughly out of the mouths of dogfish or leave this species on the shoreline to die slowly, rather than return it to the water. Again this creates a terrible impression of anglers and needs to be stamped out.
- Anglers should also be aware of the impact of taking large fish which are well over the minimum size limit. Taking a mature 10lb bass which is at peak breeding age will have much more impact on bass stocks than removing a smaller bass from the sea.
- By all means keep some fish for the table but don’t go over the top. Most anglers are happy to keep a few fish to eat and then return anything else they catch. No one is impressed by seeing experience anglers walk off a pier with bin bags full of easy to catch fish such as mackerel and whiting. Some areas, such as the popular Devon angling mark Hopes Nose, have imposed bag limits on the number of mackerel anglers can retain.
Unfortunately there will always be problems with a small minority causing anti-social behaviour and general chaos, especially over the summer mackerel season. These ‘anglers’ often go armed with a 12ft beachcaster, 8oz weights, strings of daylights and, usually, a case of beer. These groups have been known to make the end of piers and other popular marks virtual no-go zones for the general public. There is little real anglers can do other than give these people a wide berth and let the general public know they do not represent responsible sea anglers.
When done responsibly sea angling has a low impact on the marine environment and sea anglers can even help the coastline clean, clear and tidy, and also keep an eye out for things like illegal gill netting and pollution. Even prominent environmentalists such as George Monbiot believe that fishing with a rod and line is an enjoyable way of spending a day and gathering a source of sustainable food. By doing this we can maintain the good reputation of sea anglers and limit the impact of groups such as PETA, and protect the right to fish unregulated in the sea for current anglers and future generations.