Responsible Sea Angling

Unhooking wrasse
Anglers should ensure that fish are unhooked quickly and returned to the sea in good condition.

Angling is extremely popular with Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) calculating that 800,000 adults (1.6 per cent of the population) go sea fishing at least once every year. Despite, or possibly because of this popularity, the actions of sea anglers are coming under increasing scrutiny. Campaign groups and charities are keen to highlight the damage caused by the tiny minority of anglers who leave litter and act in an anti-social manner. This has led to some councils announcing crackdowns on anglers and issuing fines for anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, 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.

No Fishing This Side
Anglers should observe the rules and laws governing the places which can and cannot be fished.

When looked at in economic terms angling is generates large amounts of money for the British economy – substantially more than the commercial fishing industry – while taking an extremely small number of fish from the sea and causing minimal impact to the marine environment.

Undersized bass
Undersized fish, such as this bass, need to be returned to the sea if they are caught. It is up to anglers to be aware of the minimum size limits of fish.

This was confirmed by the large-scale government-backed survey Sea Angling 2012 which proved that tax revenue from the sale of fishing tackle is worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the UK government each year. However, anglers need to do everything possible to ensure that they are seen in a good light by the general public and reject the behaviour of the small number of ‘anglers’ who have the potential to cause all angling to be seen in a bad light. 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 undersized 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.
  • Used rigs and lures, rig packets and leftover bait and any other forms of mess or litter 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 do 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.
  • 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.
  • Most anglers are happy to keep a few fish to eat and then return anything else they catch. No one is impressed by seeing anglers walk off a pier with bags full of easy-to-catch fish such as mackerel. Some areas, such as the popular Devon angling mark Hope’s Nose in Devon have imposed bag limits on the number of mackerel anglers can retain and this could become more common elsewhere in the UK in the future.

Unfortunately, there will always be problems with a small minority causing anti-social behaviour, especially over the summer mackerel season. 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 distance themselves from such people and let the general public know they do not represent responsible sea anglers.

Angler Warning Sign
A sign at a popular fishing mark at the Mull of Galloway, Scotland, warning anglers that they may lose the right to fish certain marks if litter continues to be a problem.

Sea angling has a low impact on the marine environment and sea anglers can even help the coastline clean, clear and tidy, and also report issues such 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 anglers 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.

To report an environmental incident to the Environment Agency (including pollution, illegal fishing or poaching or damage to the natural environment) use the contact details on this government web page.