Those of us who have over the years, spent much of the time when we could have been fishing, trying to protect, promote and improve angling and the environment upon which it depends could be forgiven for getting a little weary with the constant sniping from the dear old ‘keyboard warriors’.
Here at the Angling Trust we are regularly unsurprised when our most trenchant critics invariably turn out to be people who are not members, were never members of the old pollution busting ACA and who have never put a single thing back into the sport save for slagging off those who do. Half a lifetime in politics has given me broad shoulders and an extremely thick skin but I do sometimes feel sorry for younger people coming into this side of angling who work their socks off only to be sniped at by the bad, mad and sad on the various internet forums and Facebook pages that have sprung up in recent years.
And of course the recent saga of the Severn seal was too good an opportunity for both sides of the debate to have a right old go at the Angling Trust. First we were taken to task for not actually shooting ‘Keith’ the moment it entered the Severn even though we were doing our best to get the Environment Agency to live up to their statutory duty to ‘improve, protect and maintain’ our fisheries. This was particularly frustrating as we discovered that in the past the EA had assisted in the removal of seals from the Rivers Towy and Cleddau in Wales to protect salmon and sea trout stocks.
After weeks of complaints by local anglers who watched this apex marine predator munching its way through highly valued specimen barbel and pike we felt that the Trust couldn’t simply walk away from the situation and had little choice but to consider reluctantly securing a licence in response to requests from our member clubs. Shooting was always seen as the very last resort and in any case would have had to be licensed by a reluctant Natural England. Seals do not enjoy absolute protection as some have claimed. In Scotland, the equivalent organisation licenses more than 1,000 seals to be killed every year to protect fish stocks and salmon farms.
Although it didn’t take long for people to dive into print accusing the Angling Trust of not being tough enough regarding the seal it was funny how quiet most of them became when attacks came in from the other end of the spectrum from those who accused us of going too far in applying for a licence to shoot it if it could not be moved. It was one of those no win situations where you just have to stand your ground. And by doing so we did get that all important deal with British Divers Marine Life Rescue guys to get it back out to sea. Nothing at all would have happened without our intervention, of that I’m sure.
I couldn’t help but find it ironic that we got more credit from the animal rescue people than we did from those who colonise the various angling forums.
It was Alan Knight, the chairman of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue who said:
“The Angling Trust and the representatives of the local angling clubs have been utterly committed from the start to finding a solution which avoided any harm coming to the seal but minimised damage to fish and birdlife…. We understand the approach they have taken to try to manage this situation on behalf of the angling community and their concern for freshwater fish stocks in the Severn. However, it’s great that we will now be working together to find a safe and humane solution to prevent this, and other seals, becoming stranded, injured or worse.”
And Angling Trust boss Mark Lloyd was right to point out that:
“Anglers have only ever sought to protect the vitally important River Severn fishery and really didn’t want to see any harm coming to the seal. But in the face of inaction by those agencies whose job it is to protect fish and wildlife something had to be done to get things moving and our original statement on this situation has served that purpose.”
Now apart from stating the bleeding obvious that it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time there were a few lessons in this saga for angling as a whole.
- The public care more about animals than they do fish
- The EA considers game fish more worthy of protection than coarse fish
- Without the angling bodies there would be few voices speaking up for freshwater fishes
- The press will always sensationalise any animal story
- When the flak starts flying some of the loudest voices become strangely silent
So here’s a thought. If one seal in one river can generate all this controversy and national press coverage imagine what would happen if the Angling Trust gave in to pressure from some of those loud and unthinking voices out there and called for a national cull of otters. Answers on a postcard please.
Anyway, it would be daft to view the performance and value of the Angling Trust through the prism of one issue so in the best traditions of the famous Monty Python ‘What have the Romans ever done for us’ sketch, I’ve reproduced a few bullet points as a handy guide.
Check it out and if you feel like putting something back into the sport we all love go to www.anglingtrust.net and join us today. Keyboard warriors especially welcome!
Angling Trust & Fish Legal: Fighting for Fish and Fishing
- Improving and protecting fish stocks
- Providing a strong and unified voice for angling
- Promoting the benefits of angling for all
- Standing up for the environment
- Making polluters pay
- Supporting excellence in angling
What have we achieved?
- Won an injunction to stop a major hydropower scheme on the River Trent that was licensed to kill over 100 fish a day.
- Won a judicial review of the government’s river basin management plans in 2011 and secured £100m of new funding for improving rivers.
- Won significant new government funding to get more people fishing.
- Consulted 30,000 anglers and 780 organisations in bringing forward the first ever National Angling Strategy.
- Reduced poaching by educating Eastern European anglers about how to fish legally.
- Recruited 100 volunteer bailiffs in a pilot scheme that will be rolled out nationally.
- Won review by DEFRA of cormorant licensing and the bass minimum landing size.
- Fought off accusations by the MMO that recreational sea anglers sell their catch.
- Beat off angling bans and restrictions and fought against the sell-off of CEMEX lakes and other waters to non-angling interests.
- Trained 1,300 coaches and helped introduce approximately 100,000 people to angling in the past four years.
- Set up 35 County Angling Action Groups to organise projects to get more people fishing more often.
- Helped 91 clubs get Clubmark accreditation to help them get funding for angling participation work.
- Lobbied for a ban of the sale of invasive plants such as floating pennywort.
- Provided free legal advice to 220 Fish Legal member clubs and fisheries in the last twelve months and continued to fight 50 separate legal cases.
- Introduced new benefits and discounts for members.
- Secured support from the Environment Minister for keeping canoeing restricted to rivers with a public right of navigation and stretches with voluntary access agreements.
- Managed and delivered over 200 major competitions and supported our England teams to win 6 gold, 5 silver and 10 bronze medals at world championships and home internationals in 2012.