At its first meeting since the election with the new Environment & Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon MP this week, the Angling Trust set out its strategic agenda for the future of marine and freshwater fisheries and fishing.
The Trust’s representatives emphasised the correlation between the health of fish stocks and economic benefits from tourism. As a result, the Minister offered to involve recreational sea anglers, through the Angling Trust, in the development of a co-ordinated policy on sea angling and tourism.
The Trust successfully pressed the Minister to confirm that recreational sea anglers are a direct user and stakeholder in fisheries, with ultimate responsibility for fisheries management lying with UK Government.
There was also clear agreement to the Trust’s request to appoint a senior Defra official to act as a point of contact for the Angling Trust on marine fisheries issues.
The Minister was less clear about the common ownership of marine fisheries. The Angling Trust, with the support of its legal arm Fish Legal, will be investigating this important but complex legal issue over the coming weeks.
The Trust’s representatives stressed that anglers and fishery owners, who pay £26 million in rod licence funds and own billions of pounds of fishing property rights in the UK, must have greater influence over decisions about fisheries which directly affect their interests. Anglers also spend millions each year improving and maintaining rivers, lakes and canals; the Trust stressed the need for more local and regional partnerships with its members to help deliver the Big Society agenda.
To this end, the Trust put forward draft proposals for a fundamental reform of the way in which fisheries funding should be spent and accounted for, along with suggestions for greater involvement of its members in decision-making. These proposals will now be developed further in conjunction with partner organisations in the fisheries and environmental sectors.
The Angling Trust’s joint Judicial Review with WWF-UK of Defra for the failure of the Environment Agency’s River Basin Management Plans to implement the Water Framework Directive (WFD) properly was also discussed and negotiations between the lawyers will continue.
The Minister, who is a keen angler himself, was very receptive to the proposals put forward. He agreed to host an Angling Summit later in the year with officials from the Environment Agency and Natural England, the Angling Trust and other fisheries organisations to discuss more detailed issues relating to marine and freshwater angling. He promised to continue discussions with the Angling Trust about the future of fisheries funding and delivery.
Mike Heylin, Angling Trust Chairman said “The new Minister showed a good grasp of the issues and a willingness to listen to the many ideas we put forward. We are delighted that he is keen for the Trust to play a leading role in representing anglers of all disciplines.”
Mark Lloyd, Angling Trust Chief Executive said “This first meeting was important in setting the framework for future engagement between angling’s representative body and the new coalition Government on a wide range of specific issues in the future. We will be following up on the commitments made, and presenting our angling agenda at the political party conferences in the coming weeks.”