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Anglers are our allies against unsustainable industrial fishing

Angler Fishermen

Fishermen on Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire during the fishing season. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian


Powered by article titled “Anglers are our allies against unsustainable industrial fishing” was written by George Monbiot, for on Friday 24th January 2014 12.23 UTC

Here are some figures that should be highly disruptive to the way that governments make decisions about how they treat our seas.

Total value of landings by commercial fishing fleets in the UK as a whole: £770m.

Total spending by sea anglers (recreational rod and line fishers) in England alone: £831m.

Yes, surprising as it seems, fishing for a hobby appears to generate more value than fishing commercially.

The same report, produced for the Westminster government last year, found that sea angling in England directly generates 10,400 jobs: in charter boats, tackle shops, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and the rest.

Commercial fishing directly employs 12,450 people across the UK.

The report on angling doesn’t provide figures for the whole of the UK, but if the jobs generated are proportional to the number of anglers, then the total for England, Scotland and Wales is 12,690. (There must also be a few hundred in Northern Ireland, for which I don’t have any figures). So, in terms of direct employment, rod and line fishing appears to generate more jobs than net and pot fishing.

This is complicated by the issue of indirect employment: jobs for people further along the supply chains. It’s a slippery measure, which changes dramatically according to where you draw the line: there are lies, damn lies, statistics and indirect employment statistics. In 2008 I asked a researcher to investigate the claims made in the newspapers about jobs being generated by major industries. We discovered that if the claims were correct and representative, there should be 218 million people employed in the UK: three and a half times the total population.

But, taking the figures provided in different reports at face value, commercial fishing generates more indirect employment than angling: it has a “multiplier” (the ratio of direct to indirect jobs) of 3.5, as opposed to 2.3 for sport fishing.

Broadly speaking, we’re looking at two industries of roughly comparable size, which exist in direct competition with each other. One – commercial fishing – constrains the income and employment generated by the other. The government survey found that the factor above all others that would encourage participation is “better fish stocks”. The anglers it questioned reported sharply diminished catches over the past 20 or 30 years; which is unsurprising in view of the depletion caused by commercial overfishing and the habitat destruction inflicted by trawlers and scallop dredgers.

It’s hard to see how employment in the commercial sector could rise very much, even with higher fish stocks, as a few very large and efficient boats now take the majority of the catch. 69% of the tonnage of fish landed in the UK is taken by just 4% of the boats: vessels of over 24 metres.

This concentration, alongside technological change, is largely responsible for the rapid decline in employment in commercial fishing. Between 1938 and 1980 the number of jobs halved (48,000 to 23,000). Between 1980 and 2012 they halved again.

Commercial Fishing

Catch of the day sorted aboard the Whitby Rose trawler in the North Sea, off the coast of Whitby, northern England. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

But if there were more fish, there would be more anglers: thousands of people who now go abroad to fish or who have given up altogether after days spent catching nothing but weed would turn up on our coasts and start spending money in some of the poorest parts of the country.


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