There are numerous threads which have developed on sea angling internet forums about the Angling Trust. We don’t have time to engage fully in these debates; running the Angling Trust is more than a full time job and there are many angling forums out there. Many threads only involve a small number of contributors, but it would be a shame if casual browsers didn’t have the opportunity to hear what the Angling Trust is actually doing (and not doing) on behalf of anglers. This blog is intended to make a start at doing just that.
I will provide a few facts which might help explain what the Angling Trust is about and our membership.
I will explain why internal minutes should not be posted on the internet.
I will ask that personal attacks on individuals cease.
The Angling Trust was formed in 2009 as a single body for all anglers (sea, coarse and game) in England, something which many anglers have wanted for generations, but have only now achieved. Membership costs just £25 a year for adults and there are several rates from £50 to more than £500 for clubs depending on their size. We do not cover Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland because there are separate representative and governing bodies to represent the various disciplines of angling in those nations.
Our objectives are to protect, promote and develop angling and to restore healthy fish stocks on which our sport depends. We have, so far, recruited around 13,000 individuals to membership. We have also recruited about 1,400 clubs, fisheries, consultatives etc. with a combined membership of about 350,000 – 400,000 anglers. Of the individual members who have stated their angling interests, 3,200 go sea angling. Of the clubs who have stated their angling interests, 239 provide some sea angling, so we represent about 60,000 sea anglers.
This level of individual membership is significantly higher than any angling representative body that I am aware of and is growing during a recession. Our member clubs include about 20 to 30% of anglers in England. We are doing everything we can to try to increase these numbers and in particular our individual member numbers.
While our club membership is very large, and growing fast, we only receive between 20p and £1 each year for every member of a member club. We do not have sufficient funds to do the job for angling as well as we would like; to represent so many anglers, and such a massive sport, we need much larger numbers of individual members paying £25 a year (less than 50p a week). Because we need more resources, we have had to apply for funding outside angling to support our work.
We believe that fighting for improved fish stocks is the most important issue affecting sea angling. We therefore applied to a charitable trust for 2 years funding so that we could employ a professional campaigner to work full time in this key area. We were successful in getting the funds and we now employ David Mitchell as our Marine Environmental Campaigns Manager. We believe that the work he is doing, and the growing profile of the Trust generally, will persuade more anglers to join us so that we can sustain the employment of professional staff, funded by anglers and working for anglers, into the future. There are no quick wins in the fight for fish stocks, but we are building the foundations of a campaigning organisation which can make a real difference.
There are no policy strings attached to this funding. It is true that the funds must be used to campaign for measures to increase fish stocks, but that doesn’t mean that the organisation can’t also fight for anglers’ rights to access those stocks without hindrance or interference. The conspiracy theories put forward on forums are simply not true. Our organisation is free to do whatever its members want it to do for the good of angling. This is one reason why we have chosen not to become a registered charity.
The Angling Trust is recognised by Government and its agencies as the representative body for all angling and the National Governing Body for competition angling in England. For example, were invited to be a member of the influential Marine Stakeholders Group, along with other major national organisations which have an interest in the regulation and management of the marine environment.
Given our role as the representative body, when issues arise which affect angling and fisheries, the Government asks for our view. We are obviously only able to represent the views of our membership and what we pick up on the bank, beach and boat, in the angling media and from the thousands of e-mails and letters we receive from members and others each year.
This being angling, the views of our members often differ considerably! There are times therefore when we have to explain to Government that there are some people who take one view and others who take another. We feel it is our duty and responsibility to communicate this range of views clearly so that Government can base decisions on facts. Where a clear consensus exists on issues, we campaign, lobby and take legal action to fight for that position, within our limited resources. At all times our judgement is based on trying to get the best deal for angling as a whole.
PUBLICATION OF MINUTES ONLINE
As a new organisation, our democratic structures are still taking shape. We are establishing new marine Regions where we did not inherit them from the old NFSA. These Regions are intended to provide a relevant forum for our individual members and club representatives to discuss key issues at a regional level, and to organise competitions and other events which might benefit angling, such as beach clean-ups and other activities which show what a positive sport we are involved in. The Chairmen of these Regions sit on a Marine Committee which advises the organisation on policy based on the views of members. The Marine Committee appoints an advisory group called the Conservation and Access Group, which considers detailed policy issues and campaign strategies. We have a similar structure for the freshwater side of our work.
The minutes of this group, and the contents of internal e-mails, have been posted on various forums. Internal minutes are copyright as Intellectual Property and we will be asking the administrators of these sites to recognise that legal status and to take them down. This is not because we want to hide anything from our members, or even non-member anglers. No other large membership organisation is any different; BASC, RYA and RSPB for example all have confidential internal minutes, for good reason. It is important that we are able to hold meetings where we can discuss campaigns and future strategies without them being published on the internet.
The key issue raised on this forum from these minutes is that of Data Collection. The Government is required to collect data about recreational sea angling catches as part of the control regulations in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. If it doesn’t, it will get fined. Early in the Angling Trust’s short history, we firmly resisted the control regulations, and they were significantly amended because of pressure from a number of fronts. We played our part in this by going to Brussels to see the Fisheries Commissioner to fight anglers’ corner. Whilst the regulations have been toned down, the requirement remains on Government to collect data about how many fish recreational sea anglers catch, and what species and sizes.
Government asked us to promote participation in the survey work being carried out by CEFAS in 2009. We considered this and declined to help because we didn’t have faith in the survey methodology, and we were concerned about how the data might be used to regulate angling. Defra asked us again last year to consider helping them collect this data by promoting participation to our members and we have told them again of our concerns. We have also advised Defra, and the Minister, that if they want anglers to take part, they will need to provide a very clear statement of intent about the purpose of the data collection and its potential appli
cations (i.e. whether it will be used to regulate anglers).
We also suggested that anglers would be more likely to co-operate if they knew that if the data showed that angling generates massive amounts of economic benefit for minimal impact on stocks (compared to commercial fisheries which require significant public subsidy and damage fish stocks), then the Government would respond to the data by managing fish stocks in a way which maximised public benefit and minimised the burden on the taxpayer. This would involve managing fish stocks for anglers, to restore fish populations so that more anglers – who provide a better return to the economy than commercial fishing does for some species – could catch more and bigger fish.
We know that there is a long way to go with building our case. We have had two meetings with this new Minister and four or five with officials within a newly-restructured department in Defra. We are developing relationships with these officials and with the Minister, and they are getting a better understanding of anglers’ concerns as a result. Because we are also working on freshwater issues, we are in and out of Defra quite frequently. We recently went to meet them to discuss the agenda for the next Angling Summit in late March; a major step forward for angling representation.
There are some on the forums who believe that this is evidence of some kind of conspiracy, or other dark forces at work. They believe that we should refuse to talk to Defra point blank. We believe that we must take a firm line, but that if we are to achieve better conditions for anglers and improved fish stocks, then we simply have to talk to the people who are in charge of policy-making and directing the practice of organisations like the Marine Management Organisation and the IFCAs. I think that this is evidence of us doing exactly what our members expect us to do: fighting for the freedoms of anglers and to reverse the decline in fish stocks.
There are those on the forums who have decided that they don’t like the Angling Trust, for one reason or another, and seem to have a personal vendetta against the organisation. They have even published articles in magazines claiming that the Trust is damaging to sea anglers’ interests. It is my opinion that it is their conspiracy theories and savage personal attacks on the individuals who work and volunteer for the Angling Trust which are the most damaging thing for sea angling.
I believe this because some people reading these threads might actually believe that the organisation set up to represent and protect anglers is in some way out to get them, or to damage their interests, which is patently nonsense. I believe this because it creates a poisonous atmosphere which prevents anglers working together for our common interests. I believe this because the individuals who give up their evenings and weekends to volunteer or work beyond their contracted hours to do all they can for the good of angling and do not deserve to be criticised and undermined by faceless individuals. I believe this because angling’s enemies are looking on and rubbing their hands with glee as they see us expending all our energies on fighting between ourselves and splitting into rival factions, rather than working together, united in a common purpose of battling for the best deal for all angling and anglers.
Now that we are established as an operational organisation, we are communicating regularly with our members and to a wider audience through articles in the angling and mainstream media. We are beginning to get real influence in Government and its agencies. To claim that we are actually damaging to the interests of angling or anglers in any way is preposterous.
We have a unique and fantastic opportunity to create a powerful, high profile organisation which can make a real difference to the quality of our fishing now and in the future. I think it would be a real shame if we squandered it not only by failing to support it with our memberships, but also by squabbling meaninglessly and fruitlessly amongst ourselves to destroy the one chance we have of actually addressing some of the many real and present threats to the future of sea angling.
I urge everyone reading this to visit our web site (www.anglingtrust.net) and join the Angling Trust to support our work fighting for the future of fishing and for healthy fish stocks.
Chief Executive, Angling Trust