Sea Angling 2012: Addressing Angler's Questions

Sea Angling 2012 is the biggest-ever survey of the sport in England, and began collecting data in August 2011. It will be collecting data through several work streams involving Cefas, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and individual Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs).

An initial press release announcing the project, issued by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra, the sponsoring department), raised concerns among some sea anglers about how the evidence gathered will be interpreted and used.

Some sea anglers have questioned the rationale behind this new scientific and economic survey, so a Questions and Answers document (see below) has been added to the project website ( to address those queries.

The project aims to find out how many people go sea angling, how many fish they catch and how many are returned to the sea alive, and how important the sport is to the country’s economy.

The freely available Q&A ensures that sea anglers, boat owners and other stakeholders will be able to make an informed decision about contributing to the project, based on a clear and balanced understanding of the project and its intended outcomes.

Project progress reports and outputs will also be available on the project website.

Project Manager, Mike Armstrong, said: “We have received valuable advice from the project Steering Group – which includes a cross-section of the angling community – on how best to engage with and collect information from sea anglers around the coast.”
“Taking part in the surveys is voluntary,” he continued, “but we hope that most anglers will participate as they will see the benefits of building the evidence base that will allow their sport to be fairly represented in the development of marine policy.”

Mike Armstrong continues:
“We hope that the Q&A will begin to correct the misinformation that seems to be circulating on some angling websites and blogs.
Sea Angling 2012 is a scientific project designed to obtain an accurate picture of sea angling activities in England, and includes the economic and social benefits of sea angling. We want to ensure that the data we collect enables sea anglers to be fairly represented in the development of potential policy options in future.”

Questions and Answers

Why is there a need for a survey of sea angling?
There is no doubt that sea angling in the UK would receive a huge boost if fish stocks were restored to more productive levels. This would also provide greater economic benefits to local rural economies. The UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, said:

“I want sea angling to have a bright future, but to achieve this we must understand what sea anglers are catching, what is being returned alive, and the economic and social benefits the sport provides. This is a chance for sea anglers to make sure their interests are taken into account when policies to improve and conserve fish stocks around our coast are developed”

The Marine and Coastal Access Act has opened up a great opportunity for sea anglers to play a more important role in the vital business of restoring fish stocks to a healthier state. The Act provides, for the first time, the possibility to balance the different needs of people engaged in the exploitation of sea fisheries resources, and to take into account the social and economic importance of the different activities. Achieving this will need the knowledge of local experts in combination with data collected in a representative way from a broad cross-section of sea anglers.

The new Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs), set up under the Marine and Coastal Access Act, all have local sea angling experts as members alongside other stakeholders. These members will advise on how sea angling interests can best be represented in plans for sustainable exploitation of fish stocks in their IFCA district. Data from Sea Angling 2012 will help the IFCAs and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to build a strong evidence base on angling activity and its economic and social value at a regional and national scale, that can stand alongside the extensive data available on commercial fishing and other marine activities.

How do you know if a fish stock is being fished sustainably?
This requires accurate data on how many fish are being caught each year by all fishing activities along with other information, such as from research surveys, to monitor stock trends. Without data on recreational fishery catches, only part of the picture is available for important recreational angling stocks such as bass. This could result in greater uncertainty about the status of a stock, which makes it more difficult to know if the restoration of stocks to a healthy condition is on track. Sea Angling 2012 is designed to provide the type of data on recreational catches and releases needed in future years to improve our knowledge of the trends and sustainability of stocks such as bass.

Who is involved?
The project is being run collaboratively involving the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and individual Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs). A Steering Group made up of sea anglers, representative bodies, experts and officials has been established to advise the project on how best to engage with anglers and the type and amount of data that are needed.

What will the project look like?
The Sea Angling 2012 project includes a number of different surveys running in parallel to provide a detailed overview of all forms of sea angling in England throughout 2012:

  • Use of a series of Office for National Statistics (ONS) opinions surveys in Great Britain to provide estimates of how many people go sea angling, and how often. This involves face-to-face interviews in households to provide information by geographic region and types of angling activity (e.g. angling from the shore, charter boats or private boats). Data on catches and releases of cod and bass will also be obtained from the survey for comparison with information from the other surveys being carried out. This will be led by the MMO.
  • Surveys of angling charter boat activity, catches and releases in England to be carried out by the MMO.
  • Surveys of shore-based and private boat activity, catches and releases around the coast of England. These are being run by Cefas in collaboration with individual IFCAs.
  • An online survey for anglers to record more detailed information on their activities, catches and expenditure. This will be led by Cefas.
  • A detailed study of the economic value and social benefits of recreational sea angling. This will include expenditure by individual anglers and the economic value of activities dependent on sea angling such as tourism and tackle shops. This will be led by Cefas.

The methodology for these surveys has been successfully used worldwide, particularly in the United States (see The types of questions for the shore, private boat and charter boat surveys will be mainly about the details of your current fishing trip such as target species, angling methods, how many fish are kept or released and their sizes, the location where fishing took place, and also how often you go fishing. The ONS and online surveys will ask about activities, catches, releases and details of expenditure on sea angling over a recent period, such as three months.

Other surveys have had little impact on the development of sea angling – what is different now?

The big difference now is the opportunity afforded by the Marine and Coastal Access Act and the associated formation of the new IFCAs, which include sustainable development of sea angling in their remit. The means of achieving a more integrated approach to marine management at a national and regional scale will evolve with experience over time. However, if sea angling is to be strongly represented in this process from the outset, there is a need for up-to-date factual evidence to stand alongside data on other marine activities. The UK Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, has been enthusiastic in his desire to engage with the recreational angling community and has held two angling summits in 2011 to build trust with the angling community. Given the current level of government interest and the ministerial endorsement of Sea Angling 2012, there has never been a better time to build and use our knowledge of sea angling.

Are data going to be provided to Europe?
The European Commission has implemented legislation requiring EU member states to collect and report data on recreational catches. The objective of the legislation is to ensure there are adequate data on certain fish stocks where it is needed to give a clearer picture of how fishing activities are affecting the stocks. The EU Control Regulation requires the reporting of recreational catches of depleted stocks that are subject to EU recovery plans (e.g. cod), and applies only to registered recreational fishing boats such as charter boats. The EU Data Collection Framework (DCF) is not part of the Control Regulation, and was set up to ensure adequate data on fish stocks and their fisheries are collected to support the scientific monitoring and assessment of the stocks. The main DCF requirement being addressed by Sea Angling 2012 is to report recreational catches of bass, cod, and sharks. Unlike the Control Regulation, the DCF covers all types of recreational fishing from boat and shore.

Sea Angling 2012 will go beyond these EU requirements to build a more comprehensive picture of the importance of recreational sea angling so that its needs can be more effectively represented in UK marine planning and other fisheries policy development. This includes obtaining up-to-date information on the economic and social benefits of recreational sea angling, and other valuable information such as the number of young people involved in angling and the extent of catch-and-release schemes that help demonstrate sea angling’s conservation credentials.

Should sea anglers be concerned that these data will lead to restrictions?
Some anglers believe that the purpose of Sea Angling 2012 is ultimately to control sea angling. This is not the case, as the government would not wish to impose unpopular regulatory burdens where they are not needed. Anglers have also expressed concerns that the data could lead to controls on shore angling, which is excluded from the EU Control Regulation. In a recent statement in Parliament, Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon indicated he had no plans to control shore angling. The question is not “How should we control sea angling?” but “How can anglers contribute as effectively as possible to helping the UK restore its seas and fish stocks to a healthy state?”, a goal of the Marine and Coastal Access Act. Sea anglers already adopt a very strong conservation ethic in practising catch-and-release for many species including bass and tope, which needs to be quantified.

Today’s generation of recreational sea anglers and commercial fishermen are still faced with reduced stocks of fish following many decades of over-fishing during the 20th century. By the late 1990s, almost all the stocks around the UK for which good data are available were being fished unsustainably and were badly depleted. Stringent fishery management measures and extensive decommissioning of fishing boats has resulted in a progressive increase in the number of stocks being harvested sustainably since the 1990s. However there is still a long way to go to restore fish stocks to their most productive level, and provide anglers with the quality of sport not seen for many years. Sea Angling 2012 could highlight circumstances where anglers should play an important role along with commercial fishermen in this process of restoring vulnerable or over-exploited stocks. In this case Defra would seek to work with the angling sector to agree voluntary measures so hopefully avoiding the need for European intervention.

What are the policy implications and is there a hidden agenda?
Over the coming years the IFCAs and Defra will, in collaboration with stakeholders, develop the most appropriate policies for managing the multiple uses of our seas to help achieve the goals laid out in the Marine and Coastal Access Act. It is not possible to say at this stage what all these policies will look like, but any decisions need to be firmly based on the best available scientific evidence. Local expert knowledge is important for this, but Sea Angling 2012 is aimed at providing an additional body of up-to-date quantitative data from a broad cross-section of anglers. This is needed to help recreational sea angling to be represented as effectively as possible in policy development, as well as improving the data needed for scientific monitoring of fish stocks.

There are no hidden agendas.

Is recreational sea angling going to be managed alongside commercial fishing?
The UK government does not have any plans to manage recreational sea angling in the same way as commercial fisheries are managed, for example by establishing “recreational fishing quotas”. If there is a clear requirement to reduce the overall impact of fishing on over-exploited stocks that are important targets of commercial and recreational fishing, the government would want to work with both sectors to find ways of achieving this. An example of where this has been achieved already is the establishment of bass nursery areas where there are strict controls on the type of commercial and recreational fishing that can take place in order to protect juvenile bass in estuaries. The main goal of any management measures will be the recovery of stocks and a greater availability of fish to anglers and commercial fishermen in the future.

Why is the focus on recreational sea angling when it is clear that commercial fishing has a much larger impact?
Commercial fisheries already have a heavy burden of catch reporting through EU log books, and there are large programmes of data collection by national fishery laboratories to establish the size and age compositions of catches, and quantities discarded. These are key inputs to scientific assessments of most fish stocks. For important recreational stocks, estimates of recreational catches would improve the accuracy of assessments of the state of the stocks. This would help to achieve conservation goals and eventually improve the availability of fish to sea anglers.

What happens if anglers boycott the collection of data?
Boycotting the collection of data will result in recreational sea angling being less effectively represented in the development of marine policy that could otherwise ultimately benefit the sport.

It is a popular misconception that the absence of data would result in sea angling being ignored when fishery managers are considering how best to conserve fish stocks. In contrast, if there is evidence that a fish stock is in need of stronger conservation measures, management decisions may have to be based on a worst-case view where there are large uncertainties in knowledge of the fish stocks and what is being caught. For this reason, the UK government would prefer to have accurate, verifiable data on sea angling so that it has a clearer picture of the state of stocks. This will facilitate working with sea angling bodies to develop more effective, voluntary conservation measures if needed. In the longer term this can only be to the benefit of sea angling, particularly where there is a need to restore important recreational angling stocks to healthier and more productive levels.
The success story of the striped bass fishery in the US is a good example of where a stock has been designated as a primarily recreational target. The successful restoration of striped bass populations has provided anglers with tremendous opportunities for sport, but has required accurate scientific evidence, including large programmes to collect data from both the commercial and recreational sectors.

What are the potential negative effects of Sea Angling 2012?

As stated above, the UK government would not wish to impose unpopular, unnecessary regulatory burdens on sea anglers. However, Sea Angling 2012 may indicate that there are species in particular areas where recreational activity could be considered to be having a significant additional impact. If this is the case, Defra would work with anglers to develop voluntary measures which will reduce the recreational impact on the stock, but not affect their enjoyment of the sport. This may take the form of catch-and-release after a certain number of fish have been retained or voluntarily avoiding areas where large quantities of small fish are being caught. This could help to avoid restrictions being imposed from Europe, which have the potential to be more severe than anything introduced domestically.

These measures are most likely to be needed for species that are under the greatest pressure due to commercial activity. These species are also where the most attention is being given to restricting commercial activity. In time, there should be a recovery of these species, leading to improved catch rates and larger fish available.

Of course, Sea Angling 2012 may demonstrate that recreational activity is having a negligible effect on stocks, and there is no need to seek additional voluntary measures for those stocks. However Defra cannot assume that will be the case, which is why it is important to have data collected as accurately as possible. Well-informed decisions are important for the benefit of all stakeholders.

How do I get involved?
Sea anglers can best get involved by taking the time to provide the information requested by surveyors who may want to interview you during or after fishing. The questions are straightforward and relate to what you have caught on the day as well as some questions about your activities over the last three months. A questionnaire will also be launched online to get a more detailed picture about your recent number of fishing trips, species catches and releases by area, as well as detailed information on what you spend on sea angling. Charter boat skippers will be contacted initially to find out about their types of boats and the fishing they do, and then may be contacted to return estimates of fish caught and released for a specific period of around a week. The economic survey will also cover businesses wholly or partly dependent on sea angling. Cefas hope that any businesses approached will provide the required information to allow the regional economic impact of sea angling to be accurately reported.

All personal data collected will be treated in the strictest confidence and will adhere to the Data Protection Act.

More information on the project is available at


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