A carrot and stick government promise of improved services and benefits but with a license scheme to fund them has been rejected by sea anglers’ representatives.
It is the core of proposals by the environment department (Defra) to develop recreational sea angling (RSA) in England and Wales by recognising both its economic importance and reliance on effective management of fishstocks.
The National Federation of Sea Anglers (NFSA) strongly opposes it unless Defra first delivers tangible improvements for sea angling. It has kept Defra informed of anglers’ views on its emerging proposals for over two years.
In a White Paper* Defra says it will “help support” actions to improve sea angling but only after making anglers buy licenses to fish.
“That means sea anglers would be paying to put right the damage caused by years of over exploitation by commercial fishing allowed through the neglect of successive governments,” said Richard Ferré, chairman of the NFSA “That is Defra’s responsibility.
“Commercial overfishing must be stopped to allow fish to grow larger and anglers have better access for fishing before they will countenance licensing,” he said.
“Until that happens there are few fish in the sea worth buying a license to catch.
Defra should first provide the scientific data to manage fishstocks, protect and improve access for anglers to beaches, shore structures and car parking and create both artificial reefs to attract fish and more facilities to launch small boats.
He said anglers feared any licence money would go largely to pay for a new organisation to issue and enforce licenses and none would be used to improve sea angling.
Defra also wants license money to pay to display rules, codes of conduct and other data on the shore, at boat launching sites and aboard angling charter vessels.
Mr. Ferré believes the Marine Bill foreshadowed by the White Paper is unlikely to come into force until 2009. “That is plenty of time for Defra to show commitment to helping sea angling to continue to thrive and increase its already substantial contribution to the coastal economies of England and Wales.”
The White Paper says controls will only be imposed on recreational sea angling on a case-by-case basis, for particular species “where justified on conservation or enforcement grounds.” and they would be subject to consultation.
It admits there had been mixed reactions to licensing and bag limits from anglers and other interested parties as a means of controlling their activities but asserted there was some support provided there were clear benefits to anglers from the revenue generated.
Defra says it wants sea fisheries committees (SFCs) to be effective and to focus firmly on fishing activity and its impact on the marine ecosystem. Membership of each committee should be limited to 15 including seven representing commercial fishing and recreational angling.
It wants SFCs to introduce interim measures at short notice to prevent, stop or introduce restrictions on damaging activities such as new types of destructive fishing gear or to regulate long-standing practices in the light of new information.
The White Paper highlights the impact on the marine environment of many activities, including bait digging and bait collection, and the need for sea fisheries committees to manage these through by-laws.
On marine protected areas (MPAs) the white paper says that the government has an obligation to establish an ecologically coherent network of them and that responses to the marine bill consultation document last year “indicated overwhelming support” for such areas focussed on the conservation of biodiversity.
Sea anglers and everyone else interested have until June 15 to tell Defra how and why they believe the proposals in the White Paper should be changed.