After a frank admission that British fish stocks have collapsed, the government has been warned that future actions to protect them must be “taken in the interests of recreational sea anglers as much as in the interests of our dwindling commercial fishing industry.”


Ted Tuckerman, chairman of the National Federation of Sea Anglers, wrote to Mrs. Margaret Beckett, secretary of state for the environment: “As one of your departmental responsibilities is for the commercial fishing industry, you may be unaware that the £1 billion recreational sea angling industry…is also entirely reliant on the recovery and conservation of our fish stocks. 


“More than one million men, women and children are active sea anglers.


“Recreational sea angling”, the letter said, “…contributes more to the economies of many coastal communities in the UK than does the fishing industry which has existed in those places for hundreds of years.”


Mrs. Beckett and nine previous Labour and Conservative environment ministers admitted in a letter to The Sunday Times on February 29:  “The collapse of our fish stocks in no longer a distant nightmare.  It is a present reality.”  Many stocks in the English Channel, the North Sea and the Baltic were in terminal decline.  Around the world fishermen’s livelihoods were threatened as pirates scooped up the harvest of the sea.


“Somehow we have to stop the destruction before it is too late” , the ministers wrote, and pleaded: “Please help to make sure there will be fish for ever and that we don’t let today’s greed destroy tomorrow’s stock.”


In The Sunday Times (March 14) Mr. Tuckerman said the government’s admission that fish stocks had collapsed was timely but had omitted that the sea angling industry contributed more than £1 billion to the economy, according to the government’s own figures.


Dr. Stephen Lockwood, a government fishery scientist until 1999, told the paper: “Perhaps we should rejoice that ten ministers, past and present, realise it is time to take drastic measures to save our dwindling fish stocks…I wonder why it has taken them so long to see the light.”


He said that since 1977 successive fisheries ministers of both parties chose to ignore scientific advice by setting total allowable catches 20-30 per cent higher than levels advocated.


Political expediency, said Dr. Lockwood, was easier than taking the difficult decisions that would ensure they did not “destroy tomorrow’s stock”.