Plenty more fish in the sea?

One of the more interesting issues to emerge from our angler survey concerned sea angling; in particular, the view that the fishing effort of commercial (industrial) fishing trawlers in UK waters has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on both the fish stocks targetted by recreational anglers, and the overall quality of the recreational sea angling experience.

At the heart of the problem is competition for what is a increasingly scarce resource: sea fish stocks. The ocean has long been viewed (and treated) by society as a public good - i.e. no individual, nation or organisation has been attributed with, or taken responsibility for, the health of the marine environment, and hence there has been few overt incentives for people to conserve it or consider long-term effects (for a more detailed discussion of this premise, see Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons thesis Fortunately, attitudes and practices have started to change with the growth of the environmental movement and a wider interest in sustainability, yet some of us still consider use and/or consumption of marine resources to be an individual right rather than a privilege. 

The situation makes me wonder what can be done to mediate the contested positions of recreational and commercial sea angling? I recognise that conflict between these two interests is not a new problem (either in the UK or around the world), and am aware that certain arguments and strategies have already been put forward, but for what it is worth I wanted to share some the suggestions from anglers that appeared in the survey data .

Most suggested that government-introduced controls be applied to commercial sea fishing operators - including fish catch quotas, gear restrictions (e.g. stopping beam trawlers) and zone-based prohibitions, such as an one or two mile inshore exclusion zone. Some of the responses talked about the value of developing conservation and protection areas along the coast, where only certain forms of angling would be permitted (or perhaps none permitted at all). The Marine Conservation Society website ( provides a useful summary of what is happening with marine reserves and sustainable fisheries in the UK. A couple of responses claimed they would support a rod licence for recreational sea angling, on the proviso that funds raised through such a licensing scheme would finance a 'buy out' of commercial trawlers in some areas. Brave souls indeed!

What do you think? Putting aside self-interest for a moment, how can we determine if the claims of one group (e.g. recreational sea angling) are more compelling, and more worthy of support, than the claims of another group (e.g. commercial sea fishing operators)? Can recreational and commercial sea angling co-exist?


They can co-oexist - but

They can co-oexist - but changes need to be made and quickly. RSA needs to put on politically exactly the same footing as commercial fishing. Not lip service as it is now on the NEW SFCs - what a joke they are.

RSA fishes for relatively few commercially important species and yet the worth of RSA to the UK economy is at least equal to the whole of the UK commercial fishing industry. Just think of the potential if RSA fish stocks were managed for recreational purposes rather than commercial ones. That is the vision - just think of it.

Check out the Drew and Net Benefits report. How many of the recommendations of that report are in law - not one.

Not ONE species of fish in the UK is managed for RSA - ALL are managed for commercial gain.

That says its all really. As does the MLS for ceratin species. Look at bass, the MLS is set BELOW their breeding size - beggars belief.

Until RSA is seen for what it is - the socially and environmental future of our coastlines then forget co-existence. Commercial fishing employs a tiny amount of people - give them a tiny amount of influence. Until now their influence is hugely out of proportion to their importance.

Angling Research needs to wake up. Get onto the representative groups, get onto the forums are find out the real situation.

RSA versus Commercial Sea Fishing.

The vast majority of recreational sea anglers fish "for the pot", as polls taken on sea fishing fora such as bear out, and see the commercial fisherman as a threat to this, as they are exploiting the same stocks.

RSA's arguement includes a financial element, borne out by the Caledonian University's study published in 2009, that the value of RSA spend is a greater contribution to local economies than that of commercial fishing.

If, however, other economic factors are considered - for instance the fact that 75% of commercial fish landings are exported, gaining currency, whilst over 75% of RSA equipment is imported, losing currency, the economic justification for preferential treatment for RSA loses credibility.

In socio-economic terms, RSA is substantially less efficient than commercial fishing as a means to supply the population with the fish considered by nutritionists as essential for healthy living.

Add to this the negative impact on the coastal environment of RSA as alleged by various environmental bodies including the RSPB and the Rambler's Association, conflicts over resources with Surfing and other watersport groups, and pollution due to lost and discarded tackle.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act - and it's equivalent in Scotland have created powers to curtail RSA as never before. To this extent it is a copy of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in the USA, against the increasingly repressive measures of which the American Sea Sports fishermen and commercial fishermen have combined to demonstrate in Washington DC on the 24th of this month.

One day, the British RSA's will realise that their interests are closely allied with those of the commercial fisherman, not in conflict.

RSA versus commercial sea fishing

I suppose the main difference between RSA and commercials might be that RSAtake fish for their own consumption. This usually involves a lot of expenditure on tackle, travel, bait, waterproof gear etc. etc.

The fact that 75% of angling gear is imported is not the fault of anglers. Don't forget that all of that tackle is subject to mark up by the retailer (money into circulation and tax to the government) and VAT, more tax to the government! I for one would love to see British tackle companies expand and produce our equipment. The truth is that successive governments have demolished the UK's manufacturing industry and now we have to import goods. If you want to compare it, what is the percentage of British cars/refrigerators/televisions/DVD players etc that is bought by the average UK housewife? A lot less than 25% I can assure you.

"In socio-economic terms RSA is substantially less efficient than commercial fishing as a means to supply the population with the fish considered by nutritionists as essential for healthy living"

Dead right, because RSAs don't supply fish to the supermarkets for the housewife to eat. People who do that are called commercial fishermen not anglers. The clue is in the name.

Negative impact on the environment? Discarded tackle? You mean when an angler buys expensive tackle he hurls it around the beaches rocks etc. for fun? Most anglers go to great lengths to retrieve lost tackle BECAUSE it is expensive AND it could hurt wildlife.

One day, some people might wake up to the fact that RSAs do contribute to local economies, some local economies would suffer if anglers were restricted and that catching your own supper supplies a better tasting, more nutritious and more eco-friendly meal for the family than a sunken eyed, flabby flanked farmed bass from somewhere in the Med!

If you don't like angling don't do it but don't criticise people that do by mis-using and distorting evidence to satisfy some personal crusade.


RSA versus Commercial Sea Fishing.

Quite Blatantly written by someone with a great Commercial interest of our public resource:

Lets not forget The Drew report that gave a net benefit of over £500 million to the economy by the RSA :

The Previous comment was obviusly written by someone with a vast Commercial Interest in a Public resource, that if given some time to recover from the Commercial industries "Guardian-ship" and their NFFO's political gesturing , that there just might be enough fish to sustainably support all our interests

Anon , an Angler

I have no commercial interest

I have no commercial interest in the "Public Resource" which is a dangerous term to use when talking of our seas. It implies a public right to exploit it, a right the ordinary housewife wants, so that she can go to the supermarket fish counter & buy what she wants at a reasonable price. That is what most people want, and what our politicians, backed by nutritionists,have given them.

Vast European subsidies in the days before the alarm was sounded have left the Commercial fleet over-indebted, and chasing too few fish within the quota system to be viable. This in the face of an insatiable market where the prices are kept artificially low by the base price guarantee scheme.

The current system encourages discard - dead fish, Quota restrictions, bycatch limits, price grading, all result in waste. Waste that angling doesn't generate.

Fine, but angling can't provide the fish required on a daily basis to feed the population in Europe the recommended amounts of Omega 6 or whatever the nutritionists recommend for health. Only the commercials can.

We anglers have to accept we are not mainstream fishermen as far as feeding the masses is concerned. We have to accept that the commercial fisherman contributes earnings to our national economy though exports, whilst we import rods & reels to the nation's cost.

In national socio-economic terms,we are minor players.

Another Anon

You failed to mention the UK subsidies that we as UK Tax payers fork out year in year out to keep european commercial fleets afloat,(probably far outways the amount RSA's spend on foreign goods), what about the 100 million pounds the uk provided in the early 80's to assist in rebuilding of the spanish and Portuguease fleets, and continue to do so to this day. Money that should have stayed in the UK to rebuild our broken fishing fleet, but instead it went abroad. The Government instead of handing Millions of our £'s to Europe should have left the UK fleet to manage itself and spent that money here on our boys. So in all the economy is not doing so well in terms of UK commercials is it.
Your figures are way out my friend.

Commercial versus RSA

The fact remains that after visiting ports along the west coast and speaking to recreational fishermen there are very few fish left to catch. Most small boats are not going out to fish as there are no fish left. Most common points raised are that the commercials are netting very close to the shore particularly at night and sweeping the sea clean of fish. Mostly non-british boats. I have not seen this myself but when you visit most ports along the Cumbria coast for example and see that boats have been laid up [not in use]the comments have substance. Show me a small boat owner who doesn't want to go fishing.In the Mersey we have had the worst winters fishing for many years. Very few cod, a few scarce codling up to 3lbs and very few whiting. Even the Rhyl charter boats have left the Liverpool Marina as so few fish are being caught. Where have all the fish gone? RSA anglers do not make a significant impact on fish stocks as few are taken for the pot even if we can find them to catch. So either the stocks have been fished out by the commercials or they have just disappeared.

RSA and commercial fishing

RSA and commercial fishing can co-exist. But it will take a monumental shift in political will to make them.

Not one species of fish in the UK is managed for recreational purposes. ALL fish are managed for commercial gain. (I'm ignoring Tope - they have no RSA management plan!). Fish such as bass are exploited and harvested BELOW their breeding size - think about it.

RSA is, conservatively, worth an equal amount to the UK economy as commercial fishing and yet RSA targets currently a relatively small number of commercially important fish. No-one realises there are relatively few commercial fisherman (only 12,000 ish and 6,000 of those are in Scotland) subsidised and cosseted by our politcal masters- why? Who knows.

It is a national disgrace that RSA gets so little money, gets trampled upon and ignored when RSAs right to the fish resource is equally important - if not more so when one considers the environmental and social benefits that RSA has.

Angling Research needs to wake up and start understanding this complex issue. Get onto the repersentaive sea angling bodies - then get on the forums and start asking for RSA input. Perhaps you'll really begin to get to grips with it. Look at the Drew report and the Net Benefits report and then weigh those up against the huge commercial fishing industry political animal created by Westminster. As I said - a disgrace.

RSA and Commercial exploitation

Some additional info. to inform this interesting dialogue. The Drew study which put RSA expenditure at £538 million was only Eng. & Wales. If one looks at the MFA Stats. for landings by UK boats into Eng & Welsh ports, then subtracts shell fish, pelagics such as blue whiting etc. plus demersals that are of no direct interest to RSA such as, megrim sole, hake, monk etc; the first sale value (the money received by commercial catchers) for all species that are jointly targeted by RSA & commercials is £40 million. I hasten to add that I do not suggest an absolute direct comparison between £538 millon of RSA revenue and £40 million of landings revenue, can be made. I'm not an economist but I do know that the £40 million will be subject to downstream additional values from processing, marketing, packaging etc. That being said; there has to be something fundamentally unsound when cod, bass, flounder, conger, whiting etc. [all species that are targeted by RSA) are managed entirely by a regime [EU Commission, Defra & SFCs] within which there exists a total culteral mindset that perceives the only valid user as commercial fishermen who land £40 million worth annually and the requirements (and RSA management requirements may differ substantially from commercial requirements) of RSA whose revenue stream is £538 million are completely overlooked. I might add that the UK Defra (fisheries) regime costs over £100 million which is not hugely different from the VAT collected from RSA. RSA gets no subsidies whilst 'Net Benefits' (Cabinet Office report) calculated each fisherman is subsidised to the tune of £13000 annually.

Call me mischievious, but as food for thought, if the first sale value of RSA species landed commercially is £40 million, this includes all up stream costs - capital costs of boats, wages, fuel, maintenance, gear etc. for all these costs CAN only come from the revenue produced from first sale of fish --- the buy out idea does'nt look too silly. Just imagine all targeted fishing for RSA species was stopped and the money required to compensate was ??? say £15 million ?? annually,; even 500,000 sea anglers would only need to find £30 each! Imagine the quality of fishing then?

What most sea anglers actually want however, is not an end to all commercial fishing for RSA species, but fisheries policies that bring an end to over exploitation, rigorous measures to rebuild depleted stocks and for RSA to play a full and equitable role in the process of formulating fisheries policies and strategies. Not a lot to ask for --- but mean while we're treated as though we dont exist.

Oh, did I hear someone say we need the UK catching sector to provide protein for consumption? Mmm, we already import almost 90% of all seafood consumed in the UK, more comes from aquaculture so I think we'd survive!

RSA v Commercial

A post further up quoted that we export 75% of our commercial catch, the post just above this one says we import almost 90% of all seafood consumed in the UK, I think it is about time someone gave up the exact figures to clarify what we do and do not import/export. I think the answer is quite simply "STOP EXPORTING" sustain our own country first and foremost. This way the 12000 ish commercials that we have as quoted by somebody else in a previous post could be dramatically reduced to the numbers that are needed to cover the uks demand for all our seafood. The rest of the commercials could very easily be bought out and sunk creating many man made wrecks/reefs for the seas to replenish themselves. The commercials who are bought out could then (if they had any sense that is) take the compensation given and re-invent their business with charter boats, capable of taking the many anglers in the country out to catch what would be a sea full of fish. It does not take einstein to work out why the seas are bare, they know why, and it certainly does not take einstein to work out how to fix the problem. Take a look at the revenue Norway brings in to the country. I'll step down from my soap box now.