The two main political parties spoke up for recreational sea angling (RSA) in the House of Commons annual fisheries debate.

In the midst of the debate on December 6, Robert Goodwill (Cons. Scarborough and Whitby) reminded MPs that recreational sea angling was “not merely a hobby: people earn their living from [it], and it is very important that they are supported.”

Many former fishermen, he said, now take recreational anglers out to sea. He warned against conservation areas being no-fishing zones or restricting sea angling from the shore “an activity that many people enjoy”.

Significantly, sea angling came up in the first five minutes of the three hour debate which centred mainly on commercial fishing. 

Not just once, twice or thrice but four times in his opening remarks the new fisheries minister, Jonathan Shaw, seemed anxious to launch his sea angling credentials because he is regarded by anglers with some coolness since reversing his predecessor’s undertaking to increase the minimum landing size for bass.

A shared plan – Fisheries 2027 – was being developed, he said, with “fishermen, anglers, processors, retailers, customers and environmental groups” so that “we can achieve sustainability together.”

Sustainable fishing meant rebuilding stocks and the right regulations “to enable the fishing industry, sea angling businesses and others who depend on this vital resource to operate efficiently, profitably and in an environmentally responsible manner.”

Then on the need for everyone to have access to fishing, he said it again.   “We must make sure that the economic and social benefits from fishing, whether commercial or recreational, are shared fairly,” he declared.

Just in case any anglers were still fishing from the public gallery for further indication that he really was their friend, he tugged their lines a fourth time. 

“Our seas…sustain extensive fishing industries as well as tourism, angling, diving, boating and other activities. We need to conserve these ecosystems to provide rich resources today and for future generations.”

Bill Wiggin, the Conservative shadow fisheries minister, swiftly confirmed his party’s support for the £1 billion sea angling industry and the 19,000 jobs it brought to the UK economy.

“We want anglers to be given greater representation on sea fisheries committees, and most of all we want effective management that will deliver more and bigger fish.”

A marine Bill was, Mr. Wiggin said, key to the sustainable management of the seas.  “We were supposed to get a marine Bill in draft form two years ago…Now we know that there is only a draft Bill pencilled in for the coming spring.”

Could the minister give a commitment it would be on the statute book before the next general election?   The minister didn’t take the bait.

The Bill, Mr. Wiggin continued, must deliver real reform of sea fisheries committees to ensure a million recreational sea anglers were involved in fisheries and marine management.

Labour, he said, had let sea anglers down. The “Net Benefits” report (of 2004) recommended developing the inshore sector including managing recreational sea angling interests. A recreational sea angling strategy was promised last year, but it was published only on the day of the debate.

Little progress had been made with the “Net Benefits” recommendations and little was likely to be made with the new strategy.

It would, he said, be difficult for Britain’s sea anglers to trust Labour when they had already been let down over bass, or when plans to introduce sea angling licences, bag limits and no-take zones could reduce RSA by 60 per cent, as happened when similar measures were introduced in Portugal.

Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, noting there was “clearly a strong bandwagon campaigning in favour of sea anglers” asked if Mr. Wiggin could reassure MPs about what the Conservatives did to support sea anglers during their 18 years of custodianship – by giving them a seat at sea fisheries committees, for example?

Mr. Wiggin regretted he could not for he was not in the House ten years ago but “we have called for strengthening of those sea fisheries committees.”