On a ‘thread’ on the Total Fishing Internet Forum, someone wrote: ‘If the NFSA want me to become one of the many volunteers, I’m here. I’ll gladly help to get gill nets banned. Just tell me what to do. There must be more to it than just getting one of my friends to join the Federation.’
A small question, but one with an answer too big to post on an Internet discussion group.
Anyway, here goes:
There was a time when the majority of anglers could set out on a fishing trip in the full expectation that they would end the day with a good catch.
And they could be sure that, during the season, there would be those fish that would be worth boasting about, fuelling their reasonable ambitions to catch something even bigger.
Now, catching anything is sometimes an event, and fish of a size to be special are routinely described as ‘a fish of a lifetime’.
That’s not what nature intended, and every angler is aware that what man is doing to our fish stocks, and to the marine ecology, is wrong.
And because the unfolding disaster of our seas is largely man made, every angler is aware that it can be dealt with, if only enough people care enough, enough people do enough, to start reversing the damage that is being done by a relatively few people.
But what can one individual do?
Firstly, strangely, just going fishing helps!
Those who champion the cause of Recreational Angling point to the huge social and economic contribution that angling makes to the life and economy of the country.
Those claims would ring pretty hollow if officials and politicians only ever saw piers and beaches empty of anglers.
Anglers’ lamps, lighting darkened beaches along the coast, small forests of rods sprouting from piers, groups of men carrying angling luggage waiting to board bobbing craft. These are the signs that they can see for themselves that drive home the previously unsuspected popularity of angling.
Millions of votes, demanding to be heard. But just going fishing isn’t enough. Someone has to say ‘Look, this is happening, and it’s important!’
At the end of the day, change will be bought about by political and legislative action and angling needs representation in the corridors of power to bring that about.
All the arguments, all the letters written, all the articles setting forth angling’s case, will only make a difference if, at the end of the day, when people with real knowledge can sit around a table, with the men of power and law, and present a case.
It means sending knowledgeable and well briefed representatives along to meetings and conferences. It means seeking expensive advice from barristers, experienced professional political lobbyists, and in some cases engaging them to produce reports, or to take up angling’s case professionally.
That, along with the entire infrastructure needed to support our champions, and to communicate with clubs, individual anglers etc. can take a lot of funding.
Just as it’s so important to get Recreational Angling representatives along to the various conferences, workshops, management meetings etc, it has a serious negative effect when we can’t get someone along, either because we don’t have the people, or the funds to support them.
That sends a message that Recreational Angling isn’t an important player; that angling is unable to back up fine words and persuasive arguments with real resources.
Our claim to have millions of participants, generating billions for the economy, however good the evidence for that, begins to sound hollow.
And our better funded and politically adept enemies can be relied upon to make the most of our weaknesses.
So the second most important thing that every angler needs to do is to support the cause financially.
Join the NFSA. Measure the cost of a full year’s membership in everyday items. Bait for a trip, the price of a round of drinks, a tank full of petrol, breakfast at the café, and the cost of such membership becomes a joke, considering what is expected in return.
Everyone who wants to fish, with a reasonable expectation of catching fish into the future, not only their own, but their children’s and beyond, needs to support the one organisation that has widespread recognition from government as being the voice of the recreational angler in Britain, able to legitimately negotiate on behalf of all sea anglers.
The NFSA can only achieve what it can afford to achieve.
Funding of the NFSA comes from you. And as well as the funding that your membership provides, there is political authority.
When the Minister asks ‘How many members do they have?’, the answer may decide whether he puts off seeing our representative to another time, or how much credence he gives to the demands of recreational anglers when weighing the political damage that can occur by upsetting commercial fishing interests in acceding to the fair and legitimate demands of anglers. That is life.
But even more important than the finance and political authority supplied by your membership, is your support.
Even if membership of the NFSA was doubled, perhaps trebled; even if the cost of membership was doubled or trebled; it still wouldn’t match the value provided by a relatively few individuals giving up their own time, often at their own expense, to the detriment of their family life, careers and businesses, so as to present the case for all anglers.
At times, each asks themselves the question ‘Why am I doing this?’. And there’s never a satisfactory answer.
When faced by a seemingly apathetic response from the majority of anglers, and critical carping from others, some simply give up and get back to their non-fishing lives. Others may not feel so motivated to put in quite as much effort as they could.
But when support is strong, as well as the need to work toward their own agenda, there is the added motivation of not letting down all of those who support them with their own efforts, and with money from their own pockets.
So, support of the NFSA by individual anglers is vital, if Recreational Angling is to achieve any of the things that must be achieved to give our fishing a future.
Ah! But still the floats of the gill-netters are bobbing off the beach that used to be productive, and still the undersized bass are being sold at the restaurant back door, and still the question, the question that is being asked by increasing numbers of anglers has not been answered. ‘But what can I do?’
Well, I’ll come to that, but please bear with me for just a little bit longer, because this is important.
Letter writing (Groan!)
At some time, most anglers who have a care, have been persuaded to sit down and write a letter. It doesn’t come easy to many, to put into words to some mostly faceless politician or official, what you are thinking and what you want them to do about it. And the long (sometimes very long) awaited replies, aren’t that encouraging either.
Often dismissive or patronising, usually ‘standardised’, the would-be communicator is left wondering whether it’s been worth the price of a stamp, let alone the time and effort.
The very emphatic answer is YES it is!
When doors have opened for angling’s champions, it’s usually not been the weight that an individual or organisation has put against that door, it’s been the pressure of all of those letters, seemingly dismissed, written by individual anglers.
The voice of ordinary anglers, often drowning out the voice of commercials, has been the primary reason that angling obtained recognition as a stakeholder in the management of stocks during the recent consultation regarding the newly revised Common Fisheries Policy.
Letters from anglers has helped to stiffen the resolve of officials in implementing conservation measures against the wishes of reckless and politically powerful exploiters of our commonly owned fish stocks.
Sitting down to write a letter is never a waste of time.
If you’ve never written before, make a resolve to start. And remember, it’s not what you say, or how you say it that’s of most importance, it’s the fact that you have written that eventually brings results.
If you’ve written in the past, and been discouraged by the response, sometimes lack of response, please don’t give up. Some of us have been amazed at how much headway Recreational Angling has made politically in the last few years. That’s only come about by the gathering voice of many individual anglers as pen comes into contact with paper.
Just a quick pointer. Try to make your letters brief and to the point. And try to say what you want the receiver of your letter to actually do, not make it just a general moan.
That way you’re less likely to receive a dismissive reply, or simply have your letter passed on to be answered by some minor official.
Although a general hubbub of letters is a good thing, a focussed campaign is even better.
But even better than everyone copying and sending in a ‘standard’ example letter, is for each individual to write his own. Ten individual letters will bring more results than a thousand signatures on a petition.
Letters, polls, responses to consultations. All are vitally important.
And whenever you write or respond, make sure that you do so as an angler; and make sure that the recipient knows that you are an angler.
To learn more, and to be kept informed by email, sign up for membership of the Sea Anglers’ Conservation Network (SACN), at the SACN website http://www.anglersnet.co.uk/sacn. It’s absolutely free to join!
Now down to the hardcore, how you individually can really start to make a difference.
Firstly we need to recognise that every individual has strengths and weaknesses. Some can express themselves competently through the keyboard; others are much better face to face. Some can make a telling contribution at meetings, others achieve miracles phoning around or talking over a pint or two. Some are good with the press, speaking at conferences, appearing in front of the cameras, others are better at fund raising, or directing the talents of others. Some can recall an amazing amount of knowledge, facts and figures; others can cut straight to the point.
No one can do any of it perfectly. No one can do it all.
Some people have plenty of time or personal financial resources to fall back on, others struggle for both. Whatever your skills; your strengths and weaknesses; we all have the opportunity to make a vital difference somewhere along the line.
Everyone doing their bit, big or small, can make a difference.
Only those who do nothing but moan amongst themselves, or worse still moan about the efforts of others, achieve nothing, or worse.
If you take up the challenge, it’s inevitable that you will at times feel despair, become disillusioned at the enormity of the tasks that need doing, and the puniness of your own efforts in meeting those tasks, depressed at all the things calling for your attention that you can’t handle.
Remember always that however little you end up doing, however little you feel that you are achieving, that’s something that has been done, something that has been achieved that otherwise wouldn’t have been. That’s far more important than all the things that didn’t get done.
Remember too it’s about fishing.
Don’t ever feel guilty about taking time off from all of the things that you’ve landed yourself with, to spend time standing on a beach, or upon a moving deck with a rod in your hand.
That’s what it’s all about, and it’s amazing the energy you get from that, and the problems that solve themselves, by themselves, whilst you take time out to get back a proper perspective on the world.
And don’t neglect your family and friends and all the other important things in your life. Too many have burned themselves out, trying to achieve the impossible.
The other danger is that too many people, operating on their own initiative, can cause confusion, undoing the careful work of others, damaging carefully natured relationships and providing ammunition for those who think that Recreational Angling is becoming too big for its boots.
But even so, there is a tremendous amount that can be done by individuals, using their own initiative, at grass-roots level.
And whereas organisations such as the NFSA, the National Angling Alliance, and the European Angling Alliance can evolve and deliver the all important strategies at Government level, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that action at local grass roots level, by individuals and local organisations, is equally important to the overall aims and objectives.
So, where to start? Knowledge is the key, and the first great hurdle. And so is experience.
It’s lack of real knowledge and experience that can be so daunting at the beginning.
And it’s too easy to say, ‘Don’t worry, both will come (and surprisingly quickly!) once you get started’, but it’s true.
Let’s see, there’s ‘illegal’ gill nets being set off your favourite angling beach, and you want to do something about it.
Write down some questions, the things you need to know. Are they really illegal?
Who controls the fishing? How many fishermen are involved? How much fish, and what species are being taken? What is the impact of that, economically and ecologically?
Who else is likely to be interested?
Do the nets cause a hazard to swimmers, jet and water skiers, or any others?
And so the list goes on………..
This list is your starting point. Finding the answers will lead you into gaining the knowledge you need; identifying other issues, making alliances, and starting to see just what can be done.
An action plan will come out of your investigations, almost by itself, as you gain knowledge of the situation and start exchanging ideas with new contacts.
There will be no simple answers, no simple solutions, and you may not get the outcome you want, but you will have started to make a difference and, just like a pebble, the small waves that your questions and subsequent actions generate will tend to grow, and have effects better and higher than you can imagine at the start.
Sources of information and interest will include:
The local Sea Fisheries Committee (ask them to regularly send you a copy of the minutes). Who is the person who most represents the interest s of anglers on the SFC? Contact them.
The local Environment Agency office (is there a Local Environment Action Plan for a nearby catchment area, covering a nearby estuary? If so ask to be sent a copy, and to be included in future mailings.
The local and county council (in some instances they may have some control over fisheries). The local harbour master. Local Sea Angling Clubs, the NFSA division for your area.
In some areas, particularly estuaries, there may be a ‘partnership’ of stakeholders involving the local authority and NGOs. Try to get included on their mailing list for minutes and reports. NGOs such as the Wildlife Trust, English Nature etc.
Local Tourist Offices – make sure that they know how important Recreational Angling is to the local economy, and how much it is being damaged.
There may even be a local commercial fishermen’s guild who are as concerned as you at illegal netters, desecration of nursery areas etc. Work with them.
And so the list goes on………..
Making contact with people and organisations at local level puts you ‘in the loop’, brings you information and alerts you to issues.
Even if some of the information and issues are not of interest to you, you can sometimes be instrumental into getting them into the hands of those who are interested, and who can move things forward.
What you may find is that there is already angling interests, or individuals, at work locally, and teaming up with them is the best way of going forward.
If there isn’t, then try to generate a network locally, even if it’s just two or three of you getting together over a pint once a month. Make sure that such get-togethers don’t just become general brainstorming/moaning sessions. Make sure that everyone coming along leaves with an action point to report back on, a job to do.
Does your club have a Conservation Officer? Probably not. Suggest that the committee appoint someone as a Conservation Officer. Their job being to identify local Conservation issues, inform the membership and get them involved as appropriate, acting as a point of reference for any issues that the membership has.
At this point, I could go on to write a book, but hopefully you have the idea, and how you go about it will depend upon your particular skills, availability and resources, along with the type of area you live in, and how much is possible/already happening locally.
Very often, it just takes just one committed individual to start a ball rolling that becomes unstoppable.
And however big the problem, always remember that things only ever become impossible once you start to believe that they are impossible.
At times you will get stuck; sometimes you’ll need support from the ‘big guns’.
That’s when your NFSA membership comes in handy! Give the NFSA Conservation Group a call (you can get contact details from the NFSA website), and/or talk to the SACN.
Similarly, if things go well, you might like to share knowledge of your success and how it’s been achieved, as an inspiration to others. Let the NFSA know what you are up to.
The only note of caution I’d sound is that everyone involved is up to their eyeballs in things to do, please don’t get too frustrated if getting the response you’d like is slow in coming. Contrary to popular belief, head office aren’t just sitting around with nothing much else to do, waiting for the phone to ring!!
Sea Anglers’ Conservation Network (SACN) at http://www.anglersnet.co.uk/sacn
NFSA Conservation Group at http://www.nfsa.org.uk