This week David Cameron´s ministerial reshuffle saw Richard Benyon step down from his post as Fisheries Minister in the coalition government. This is unwelcome news – Richard Benyon was one of the best Fisheries Ministers we have had in living memory. He was a keen fisherman, and one who cared personally about fish and the water environment. He was also a very human Minister and always took a personable approach to meetings. Twice I met with him the morning after he had been negotiating fisheries matters in Europe all through the night and hadn’t slept at all, but he was still eager to hear what we had to say, to crack jokes and to ask how everything was going.
There’s a danger that some people will say that he didn’t achieve much for angling in his time as Fisheries Minister. They would be very wrong. He responded positively to our Judicial Review with WWF of the river basin management plans by releasing £92 million of new funding and pressing the Environment Agency to be more ambitious in improving our river habitats. He initiated a review of cormorant licensing and recently announced a needs-based approach to managing predation by cormorants and goosanders, with three new catchment advisors to be employed by the Angling Trust. He fought hard at a European level to deliver the first steps towards Common Fisheries Policy reform and to review the bass Minimum Landing Size.
He supported our vision of greater delivery of angling promotion and environmental management by third sector organisations and launched the National Angling Strategy last year, which has led to an increase in funding for our work that looks set to continue as his legacy. He has also worked on countless issues behind the scenes to ensure that issues we have raised with him are heard by the right people. Dredging, hydropower and the Severn Barrage all come to mind, but there are many others. His predecessors in the post would struggle to point to anything they did which was more significant for angling than any one of these achievements.
One thing that is very clear to me after nearly five years running the Angling Trust is that even for Ministers it is incredibly difficult to change policy, or to get the government machinery to do something new. To some extent this is a good thing, because if you get Ministers in post who have crazy ideas, the system is set up to avoid them doing too much damage before they are reshuffled. The consultation process, the civil servants and the constant fear of judicial review all mean that it is very hard for Ministers to make their mark. In four years in office, Richard Benyon certainly made his mark and I’d like to pay tribute to him, and thank him, for the personal commitment he made to protecting angling and the freshwater and marine environment. He will be much missed.
The Angling Trust has this week sent a briefing to the man who looks set to be Richard’s successor, George Eustice, with a request for an early meeting with him to reflect the importance of angling to more than 3 million voters. We will try to explain to him that for many of us, fishing is almost as important as life itself.
Please give us your support so that we can keep banging the drum for fish and fishing. It is a relentless, time-consuming and expensive business, but vital to ensure that these Ministers know what anglers want when they make decisions that affect us. We can only do it with the support of anglers like you. Join today at http://www.anglingtrust.net or phone 0844 7700616 during office hours.