When I look back through a fish eye lens at 2013, I can see many positive signs of progress in the world of angling. Despite the squeeze on everyone’s finances, the latest participation figures show that people are still going fishing just as much as they did in 2012. Defra published a research report on sea angling that indicated that participation in sea angling is if anything increasing, and generating around £2billion for the economy. Many of our rivers have improved in quality, there is lots of fantastic stillwater coarse and game fishing available and some sea fish stocks are showing signs of recovery. Our national teams won a string of gold, silver and bronze medals in home, European and World Championships and many of them are number 1 in the world.
I believe that 2013 was a turning point for the Angling Trust as well: we won several campaigns, including stopping the Severn Barrage; getting new, tougher guidelines for the hydropower industry and made great progress towards a solution to the problem of cormorants and goosanders. We did good work on many more issues such as canoe trespass, bait digging restrictions, the shameful degradation of our chalk streams, access to piers and a host of other local campaigns that affect fish and fishing. Fish Legal won several legal cases on behalf of its member clubs and fishery owners and got an historic injunction to stop hydropower turbines being installed in the River Trent. Just before Christmas, the legal team were celebrating a great victory in the European Union’s Courts of Justice that should lead to water companies having to fess up about what they put into our rivers and coastal waters.
Our voluntary bailiff service, in conjunction with the Environment Agency, has tackled poaching effectively in the South East, and our Building Bridges project has helped improve understanding in Eastern European communities about the bylaws and accepted practices in this country. We launched new competitions, such as the highly successful Riverfest, and a wide range of new programmes to get more people going fishing more often. Our new web site, produced in partnership with the Environment Agency and the Met Office, at www.fishinginfo.co.uk provides detailed information about where to find fishing throughout the UK, how to buy permits and what the conditions are like.
We got angling issues raised beyond the pages of the angling media and into the broadsheets and the national TV and radio news channels as we have never done before. To have such widespread national coverage would have been unthinkable in the old days when there were several different angling organisations, without the professional staff to get stories published.
Our membership grew in all categories and we now have more resources to do more to protect fish and fishing now and for the future. Importantly, the sense of unity around the Angling Trust grew significantly, with more and more people accepting that it is the single representative body for all anglers, no matter what they fish for. Of course we have our critics, and like any organisation we have made mistakes, but there is a growing recognition that what we do is good for fish stocks and the future of fishing, and that anglers should support us with membership and donations.
There remain lots of challenges for us to tackle of course. There is much more work to be done to get angling taken as seriously as it should be by politicians and others in the corridors of power. Too many of them regard it as a quaint hobby, rather than as the undying passion of millions of people throughout the UK. Far too many decisions are made without consideration for the wellbeing and enjoyment of all of us who go fishing. It’s our job to change that on your behalf and we take that responsibility very seriously indeed.
In 2014, we’ll be building on the foundations that we have built over the past five years in a number of ways. First, we’ll be recruiting a number of new Ambassadors who can promote angling and the work of the Angling Trust to a wider audience. We’ll be publishing our magazine online as well as in print and making further improvements to the content, and making further improvements to http://www.fishinginfo.co.uk and the main Angling Trust and Fish Legal web sites. We’ll be continuing to fight on issues such as pollution, abstraction, commercial over-fishing at sea, damage to habitats, local fishing bans, poaching and fish theft, predation, unlawful canoeing, disabled access and a host of other issues. Many are ongoing problems, but many others arise at short notice, so we need to respond rapidly and robustly if we are to defend the sport we all love. We’ll be trying to get angling recognised as a charitable activity by the Charity Commission, which will open up the possibility of many angling clubs becoming charities and the Angling Trust developing a charitable arm. We’ll also be launching more matches in other disciplines and trying new ways of encouraging people to take up angling to ensure that angling remains one of the most popular sports in the country. A key priority for 2014 is to secure sponsorship for our brilliant international teams, so that they don’t have to fund their own costs of travelling around the world to represent their country.
There are two things I’d like to ask you to do in 2014. First, if you fish in freshwater, you must buy a rod licence. This is important not only because you can get prosecuted if you don’t (and nearly 2,000 people were prosecuted in the last year for fisheries offences), but also because buying a rod licence supports the work of the fisheries department in the Environment Agency. Although we often have disagreements with the Agency about other parts of the organisation, such as the promotion of hydropower, failure to tackle pollution and over-abstraction etc., the work that the people do in the fisheries section is really valuable to all of us and it needs funds from rod licence sales. The Angling Trust is receiving an increasing proportion of these funds to deliver participation and anti-poaching programmes of work, but this will only continue to increase if the decline in rod licence sales is stopped.
Second, whatever type of fishing you’re into, I’d urge you to join the Angling Trust. It costs just £25 a year, or you can pay by instalments of £2.50 a month. This is much less than other equivalent organisations and we can only do what we do with the support of our members and donors. In return, you get free public liability insurance, two magazines a year, fortnightly updates by e-mail about the latest news, and a membership card which earns you discounts on a range of fishing permits, tackle, books and outdoor equipment. With some clever shopping, you can save the cost of your membership and yet you’ll know that you are supporting a really important cause: the future of fishing itself. Please join today at www.anglingtrust.net/join and help us to help you.
I hope that 2014 is a great year for your fishing and that you catch that elusive specimen, find fish in some new spots and try a new type of fishing that you’ve never done before. My ambitions are to catch a cod from the shore, a 20lb salmon and a River Wye barbel. If I manage just one of those I will be delighted!
Happy New Year to everyone and thanks for your support.