Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of more than 30 voluntary organisations concerned with the conservation and protection of wildlife and the countryside, this week issued a statement with some proposals for spending decisions related to environmental and countryside spending in light of the current review of budgets. It contained a large number of proposals, which included the following:
“Fisheries – all Environment Agency work on managing freshwater fisheries and fishing licences should be covered by fishing licence fees – £9.4 million saving. All IFCA and MMO work on the management of sea fisheries could be funded by industry. In addition, a licence could be imposed upon the sea angling community similar to that of freshwater angling.”
The Angling Trust is not a member of Wildlife and Countryside Link, but has a partnership agreement to collaborate on the Blueprint for Water. The Trust was neither aware of, nor consulted with on these proposals.
The Trust disagrees wholeheartedly with these proposals in respect of angling and is furious that WCL did not consult the National Governing Body for angling before issuing the proposals.
Freshwater anglers contributed £26 million in rod licences to the work of the Environment Agency’s fisheries department in 2009, a figure which has risen consistently in recent years. Anglers also invest hundreds of millions of pounds each year improving and maintaining rivers in the UK. The Government grant in aid for fisheries has been frozen at £9.4 million for the last decade – effectively a cut in real terms each year. The Angling Trust demands that this grant is maintained because fisheries are important to society as a whole and not just to anglers.
The Angling Trust is strongly opposed to a licence for sea anglers and holds firmly the position that fishing with rod and line in the sea should be a free right for people of all ages under current circumstances. The notion of charging sea anglers for access to public fishery resources whilst access for commercial over-exploitation of those same resources is free of charge, and heavily-subsidised, is perverse. Sea anglers have endured decades of failed fisheries management and commercial overfishing that have thoroughly degraded the sea angling product, so the idea of now charging them is like adding salt to an already raw wound.
If overfishing is brought to an end, depleted stocks restored, those who fish commercially are paying realistically for access to fish stocks and anglers are playing a full role in the process of formulating fisheries policy, then and only then will sea anglers be prepared even to discuss the merits of a licence.