My blog on 4 December celebrated the fact that the tide might have turned in favour of recreational sea angling, following an inspiring debate in Westminster Hall about the need for urgent protection for European and UK bass fisheries, which are in danger of collapsing. Some in the angling press rightly pointed out that this celebration might have been premature when George Eustice, the Fisheries Minister, returned from his subsequent meeting in Brussels later in the month without any agreements to protect bass stocks. The negotiations had run into the sand.
However, the Angling Trust and B.A.S.S. piled on the pressure on government and many of our members responded to our call to write to their MPs to let them know that people really care about this issue. Defra responded by taking proposals to the European Commission for emergency measures and these were supplemented by additional Dutch proposals. We then asked our members to write to the European Fisheries Commissioner overseeing the process of considering these proposals and we know that hundreds of anglers did this. Our partner organisations in the European Anglers’ Alliance did the same and we helped them apply pressure to the Eurocrats tucked away in the labyrinthine corridors of power in Brussels.
The result? The European Commission this week announced that it would be banning all pelagic trawling for bass until the end of the spawning season at the end of April this year. This is something that we and our predecessor organisations have campaigned to achieve for the last decade. It just seems bonkers to allow commercial nets to scoop up vast quantities of fish just when they are about to spawn and create more bass, and this year at least, the madness will stop!
The fact that the EU has at last taken action (even if it is only a short term emergency measure for the time being) is a result of two key factors in my view. The first is that the scientific advice was incontrovertible; the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) called for an 80% cut in catches. Of course, the scientists had called for drastic action on several occasions before, and they had been ignored by the politicians who preferred not to rock the commercial fishing boat and to let the unsustainable slaughter of juvenile and spawning bass continue. This time, the evidence really was stark though: stop fishing or face an immediate collapse in stocks.
The second factor was that anglers in the UK and throughout Europe stood up to be counted. We are a huge constituency, which is potentially very powerful. In the past, we have been far too fragmented and amateur, which has stopped us punching anything like near our weight. This time was different; we were able to get messages out to a much larger network of anglers and to give them the relevant information they needed to contact the politicians. We were able to provide professional briefings to politicians and civil servants. We had the relationships with Ministers and Defra employees so that we could pick up the phone and talk to them. This is the value of having a unified representative body for all anglers, which has forged links into a European network of similar bodies. Any organisation can write a few letters, or put out some press releases, but to take on an issue like this and actually get something done it is essential to have a professional, integrated campaign.
And it worked – despite deadlock at the Fisheries Council meeting in December, our politicians knew that they had to do something and they proposed emergency measures which became a ban on pelagic trawling for bass until April to protect spawning fish. There’s now a lot of work to be done to put in place longer term solutions, which will doubtless include some restrictions on recreational sea anglers about the number and size of fish they can take home, but we’ve won a really important victory for sea angling and for fish stocks. We want to build on this success and take on more battles to start the process of re-building our sea fishing which used to be some of the best in the world.
If we are to do this, we need more support. There are a few people out there on the forums who will try and persuade you that the Angling Trust is involved in dark conspiracies to destroy angling, or that we have some hidden agenda. We aren’t and we haven’t. We employ professional staff, and all of them put in hundreds of voluntary hours above and beyond what they are contracted to do. But we don’t do our jobs for the money; we are all deeply committed to protecting and improving fish stocks and fishing for this generation and the generations to come. Angling has waited decades for an organisation to stand up for anglers in the public arena. It now has one, which is making a real difference, and it’s high time that more than 0.1% of all anglers coughed up just £25 a year to support the work that the Angling Trust and Fish Legal do for the benefit of us all.
Join here: www.anglingtrust.net/join