Let’s pull together to reverse the decline in angling numbers
The latest rod licence figures now published by the Environment Agency, showing a 14.7% drop in rod licence sales, continue an ongoing downward trend. This should serve as a rallying cry to everyone in angling, a call to arms that it will take everyone to work together to turn our sport, heritage and in many cases livelihoods around. Some say we are at breaking point, we believe we are at a turning point and what we do now will define our future together.
This isn’t something that any one organisation or person can do alone, but if everyone involved in angling works in unison then it can be done. The media, trade, organisations, charities, EA, clubs, coaches and individuals etc need to step up to the plate and recognise the reality that our sport will wither away unless we join forces around the aim of getting more people fishing, more often.
A quick point on the data
Firstly, the downward trend is happening, it is very real and something we need to deal with. However, when we look at the most recent figures we need to consider that with the introduction of a rolling licence and the new three rod licence – that we are not comparing like for like. The measure of success has changed and it will take a while for the dust to settle on this. We also believe that more people may be going fishing without buying a licence, particularly occasional anglers who would be less likely to get checked by bailiffs. We have been working extensively in the area of participation and enforcement and we aren’t going to rest whilst the picture around this data becomes clearer – we know there is work to be done.
The challenge we face
Like many sports, angling is facing a major strategic challenge. In our case it’s a combination of an ageing angling population, declining wild freshwater and marine fish stocks, lack of enforcement, changing leisure habits, economic pressures and the government restrictions on Environment Agency marketing over the past decade. Government funding for fisheries and angling has also been cut dramatically over the past decade and the £20m rod licence income now makes up the vast majority of the money spent by the EA managing fisheries throughout England, where it used to be almost matched by the government.
As the Environment Agency starts work on updating their angling strategy Fishing for Life for the next five years we really need to recognise that this decline in angling numbers is part of a wider trend and that it will need radical action to get more young people into the fishing habit. We need stronger engagement from the angling trade and from government if we are to make progress. The Prime Minister recently announced an end to austerity and we hope that means an end to slashing the budgets of the Environment Agency and getting more resources back into outdoor education and community projects. We need to make angling part of young people’s everyday lives and we will campaign and build programmes to get angling into the school curriculum and part of the growing scouts and guides movement.
This situation is a challenge for all of us as every year the age profile of those going fishing gets older and older. The angling media, trade, representative organisations like ourselves, charities, the EA, fishing clubs, coaches, guides, schools and even individual anglers need to recognise the reality that our sport will wither away unless we can get more people back fishing.
We are not alone in fighting this trend. In Finland, participation measured through fishery management fees are down by over 30% in the last 15 years. In Norway, participation has dropped by 100,000 anglers and over 15% in the last 25 years. The Danish Sports Fishing Association, who are affiliated with 131 associations in Denmark, have seen a 32% decline in their membership. In the US, states such as California have seen a decline in licence sales of over 56% whilst the state has seen a 60% increase in population.
Other sports have seen declines in participation – from 2007/08 to 2015/16 football saw a drop of over 500,000 participants, equating to an 18% decline. Similarly, golf has suffered a 27% decline in participation and tennis almost 27% from 2008 – 2015. In the field of squash, where England has the highest participation in the world, they have seen numbers drop from 290,000 per week in 2010 to 196,000 per week by 2015. Swimming, the UK’s biggest participation sport, has seen declines in participation of nearly 24% over a 10-year period from 2006 – 2016.
Focus on making an impact
There are many challenges facing angling. The critical point we all need to get behind, and we all have it in our power to address, is getting more people into the sport. From reading the many posts we have seen on social media through to debates at recent Angling Trust run-workshops – whilst rod licence figures might be one of many measures on progress, the issue that anglers, clubs, fisheries and the wider trade need to focus on is getting more people into the sport.
Despite the reducing resources available, we have been working on this area extensively for some time and as the representative body for angling we have:
- Over the last three years, working in collaboration with other partners such as Get Hooked on Fishing, Canal and Rivers Trust and the Angling Trade Association, we ran over 1,800 events across the country, introducing 47,000 adults and 30,000 juniors to the sport. This has involved the efforts of hundreds of Angling Trust coaches, clubs and volunteers to deliver this. These combined efforts, together with the introduction of a free junior licence saw junior licence numbers rise by 26,060 from 2015/16 to 2016/17.
- Working with the Environment Agency we have also reinvested £2m of rod licence income to help clubs improve our angling infrastructure – whether that be through improved facilities, better competition facilities, predation protection – importantly this has also provided an extra 200 licensed coaches to the sport as well (with a further 120 coaches by the end of 2018). Our investment in this area alone has created a further 200,000 new or additional angling visits.
- Our competitions team have run over 400 competitions, across all disciplines, to improve participation across angling – with over 7,500 entries and more than 3,000 participants.
- We have supported 29 national teams and established a talent pathway for international angling.
- We have improved our digital offering and continue to increase our reach – our participation events website www.getfishing.org.uk saw over 110,000 visits in the last 12 months – aimed at getting people into fishing and our website www.fishinginfo.co.uk received 85,000 visits – aimed at providing better information and access to fishing for anglers across the country. We are capturing participant data at our events and digitally: our email marketing now reaches up to 53,000 potential and lapsed anglers each month.
- On the enforcement side we have recruited 500 volunteer bailiffs to help reduce poaching, fish theft, rod licence evasion and other crimes which is helping reduce the fear of crime that can deter people from going fishing.
- Our building bridges team are working harder than ever to integrate migrant anglers with the approach taken in the UK. They have a wealth of experience and offer services to clubs to provide signage and material in over 12 languages to help this integration. They have visited migrant schools across the country, teaching over 1,000 children the ways of UK fishing as well as providing events for them to catch their first fish – the benefit of this is also being able to reach their parents as well. This is a key area – ensuring that migrant anglers integrate correctly is not just about easing tensions and reducing poaching, but they will also play a part in increasing the number of active, licensed anglers in our sport.
- In addition to this we continue to campaign and Fish Legal takes legal action to protect fish stocks from predation, pollution, abstraction, habitat damage, commercial over-fishing, hydropower and numerous other threats to fish stocks, professionally and at the highest levels of government. Angling has never been better represented.
Everyone has a part to play
This is not a statement we make lightly, this isn’t a cast away sentence because we want people to feel engaged in the future of angling – we need people to get engaged and now is the time. We often get feedback that joining the cause just isn’t a priority – but from everything I have read this is vitally important for everyone – backing the Angling Trust, volunteering, getting your club involved – whatever it takes.
We can solve this problem together – we’ve already created an infrastructure of great fishing events to attend and our marketing on its own is bringing in thousands of people to get started with fishing – but we know we need to do more. One standout statistic from our survey of over 11,000 anglers in 2016 is that 50% of those surveyed knew others who were interested in trying angling. Doing some simple maths – if 50% of the current licence-holders took someone they know fishing and helped them enter the sport, either on their own or with the support of our event, club and volunteer infrastructure we could solve this problem.
We would like to see more clubs and fisheries make it a requirement for anglers fishing their waters to prove that they have a valid rod licence. By increasing compliance, we could generate more funds from the angling community to reinvest in fisheries and angling. We’ll keep fighting to get government to restore the contribution that taxpayers make to this.
We will continue to invest in the right things to support this, to make getting involved easier. We are investing in our marketing resource, we want to broaden the net and reach more people, provide better digital pathways and support for people to get into the sport to complement traditional methods and learn lessons from other sectors and industries on how they create demand and interest. Marketing in many areas of angling is the glue needed to bind us all together and to amplify our sport’s presence in crowded digital spaces.
How can people get involved?
We are seeking the views of anglers, clubs, fisheries and the wider trade on the future National Angling Strategy that is being drawn up by the Environment Agency. There is a lot of experience to draw on from clubs, fisheries and the trade, as well as hundreds of thousands of anglers who can give their insight as well. You can get involved at:
- Our regional forums – these are running over October and November and we will have sessions on the future strategy – these are forums paid for by licence money, we encourage as many people as possible to attend.
- We will be holding a Future Angling conference on November 17th at Barston Lakes after our AGM for anyone (whether a member or not) to contribute to the development of this strategy.
- We are already entered into discussions with several high-profile members of the trade on this – if you run an angling business and you aren’t already involved then please get in touch.
- Please sign up to our free subscriber list to make sure you receive important surveys about the future strategy for Angling, even if you’re not a member of the Angling Trust.
- Make people aware of getfishing.org.uk and if you know someone who is interested get them to one of our events and support them to get into this great sport.
- Make sure the details of angling businesses (either yours or one you use) are up to date on fishinginfo.co.uk which provides hundreds of thousands of anglers with information about where to fish and buy tackle
- Even better – get your club or fishery to set up a family fishing event. We would be only too happy to help you make it a success and promote it on www.getfishing.org.uk and our social media. Simply email Angling Trust Head of Participation Clive Copeland for free, friendly assistance: firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are great examples from around the world – particularly the Australian ‘Target One Million’ initiative in Victoria where greater partnership with government agencies, representative bodies and the tackle trade have driven up angler numbers. If we are to reverse the decline in angling participation, and the lack of compliance with requirements to hold a rod licence, we need the whole angling community of coaches, tackle shops, manufacturers, fisheries, clubs and the angling media to work together and with the Angling Trust and the Environment Agency to devise a clear strategy for the Future of Angling that we all support and then work together to make it a reality.
Finally, we need more clubs, fisheries, trade organisations and particularly individual anglers to join the Angling Trust and Fish Legal and give us more resources and political clout to represent the sport we all love.
If not now, when?