‘Anglers must not be equal to commercial fishermen’ – Inshore fishermen’s message to minister as fisheries bill debated

Inshore fishermen’s groups are calling on fisheries minister George Eustice to reject moves by recreational angling interests to gain equal ‘stakeholder’ status with commercial fishing in fisheries management, reports Tim Oliver

They say that in evidence to the parliamentary committee taking evidence on the new fisheries bill in December 2018, the Angling Trust recommended that recreational sea angling (RSA) should be explicitly included in the fisheries bill as ‘a direct user stakeholder’ in UK sea fisheries, and be considered ‘part of the catching sector’.

It also recommended in written evidence to the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee that the fisheries bill should promote ‘the sustainable development of public access to recreational fishing opportunities as both part of the catching sector and the leisure and tourism industries, taking into account socio-economic factors’.

It also recommended that there should be a ‘binding duty’ on ministers to ensure fishing limits do not exceed MSY levels.

A letter from Warsash Inshore Fishermen’s Group to George Eustice expressing its concerns is endorsed by NUTFA, Thanet Fishermen’s Association, Commercial Fishermen’s Rights UK and Poole District Fishermen’s Association. An endorsement from Clyde Fishermen’s Association is also pending.

The letter points out to the minister that he wrote to the chairman of the EFRA select committee after the debate stating that the UK government ‘fully recognises the economic and social benefits of recreational sea fishing’, but that ‘specific reference to the recreational sea fishing sector as a stakeholder is unnecessary’.

He wrote that the bill makes provision for a fisheries statement by the secretary of state (Michael Gove) that will set out policies for achieving fisheries objectives including promoting coastal fishing activities, taking into account socio-economic factors. “We will include recognition of recreational sea fishing as a sector in the fisheries statement,” wrote George Eustice.

He also points out that the bill modernises the existing grant scheme ‘to explicitly enable funding for recreational sea angling to be made available for the first time. This demonstrates the government’s aim, set out in our white paper, to better integrate recreational angling into fisheries management’.

The fishermen’s letter says that amendments to the fisheries bill by NGOs such as the Angling Trust should not be made ‘without due consideration as to the possible effects on the existing licensed fleet, especially the small-scale inshore fleet’. It says that the amendment submitted by the Angling Trust should be rejected until there has been a full inquiry.

The fishermen point out that the proposed amendments could interfere with commercial fishermen’s rights and their commission to supply fish as food.

They acknowledge sea angling’s contribution to the economy, but say that ‘elevating recreational sea angling to stakeholder status would have some important ramifications’ which have been overlooked by the committee.

They say that the goals of the Angling Trust and the Bass Angling Sports Society (BASS) are publicly available on their websites. These include reallocation of certain fish species to RSA, future plans to manage and license their own members, and ring-fencing the commercial catching fleet (in the case of bass, as outlined in BASS’ 2004 Bass Management Plan).

They ask the minister to clarify, before the fisheries bill is ratified, how licensed commercial fishermen’s existing legal rights as food providers will be protected from erosion or sacrifice by unregulated and unlicensed recreational sea anglers, if they are given ‘sector’ status.

The fishermen tell the minister that there is no existing regulatory body in place to determine how RSA could be practically included with regard to catch monitoring, vessel safety, periodic safety inspections, legal fishing limits and licences – with which, presumably, RSA would have to comply (see NUTFA endorsement below).

They say that certain MPs have uncritically endorsed the Angling Trust’s views and ignored the interests of the commercial sector.

They point out that as registered food producers, commercial fishermen have to obey statute law, while RSA has no ‘burden of compliance’.

“Fishermen expect their government to create and sustain fishing opportunities within the bounds of sustainability, and to protect them, not erode them by stealth through the very regulatory bodies that are empowered to increase fishing opportunities, such as the IFCAs,” the fishermen tell the minister.

They ask George Eustice for ‘definitive written assurances’ on the points they make, and ask him to ‘set the record straight, once and for all, that the inclusion of recreational sea angling to ‘sector’ status will not lead to any future disenfranchisement or erosion of the rights of the licensed fleet operating under statute, especially in the small-scale, inshore sector’.

The Angling Trust ignored an open letter published in Fishing News regarding the erosion of fishermen’s existing rights under existing statute (1 November, 2017, ‘Elephant in the room the angling lobby keeps quiet’).

The fishermen have also copied their letter to George Eustice to the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox QC, and have asked him, as the government’s senior lawyer, for his views on the legal aspects of their arguments.

DEFRA: ‘We’ll work closely with all sectors’

DEFRA confirmed it had received the letter from the Warsash fishermen, and would respond ‘in due course’.

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “The fisheries bill creates the powers to build a sustainable and profitable fishing industry as we become an independent coastal state – one which is in the best interests of all fishermen and allows our coastal communities to thrive.

“We will continue to work closely with all of our fishing sectors as the bill enters report stage.”

They said DEFRA recognises that recreational sea angling is a popular sport, bringing both economic and social benefits to the UK, quoting figures that show that nearly 1m sea anglers spent £1.23bn on their sport, supporting 23,600 jobs.

They said, “The under-10m fleet also plays an important part in our fishing industry and our coastal communities. That is why we top-slice some of the uplift quota allocation from the discards ban and direct it towards the smaller inshore fishers.”

‘Anglers will have to be managed like commercials’

NUTFA, in its endorsement of the fishermen’s letter and stance, says it ‘very much supports’ the letter, particularly with regard to the questions it poses relating to the ‘promotion’ of recreational sea angling to ‘stakeholder status’.

NUTFA points out that if the RSA sector is going to be included in fisheries management as a ‘stakeholder’ as proposed, individual sea anglers will have to be ‘equally licensed, monitored and managed in the same way and to the same extent’ as other stakeholders in the catching sector.

NUTFA contends that the costs of this would be prohibitive to government, and that ‘the average recreational sea angler would be violently against such an intrusion into what, for the vast majority of participants, is nothing more than an occasional hobby’.

But on the plus side, NUTFA says that such licensing and monitoring would ‘shine a light on the somewhat exaggerated claims of the Angling Trust and others’ with regard to RSA numbers and the claimed economic benefits from RSA.

Thanet Fishermen’s Association says: ‘The implications of recreational sea angling being promoted to a position where there is an influence on fisheries management are significant, and will only be to the detriment of commercial inshore fishermen.”

Poole District Fishermen’s Association says: “To have recreational angling groups being made stakeholders, and then having an undue influence upon fisheries management, is a very real concern to fishermen operating bona fide registered and licensed vessels.”

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