‘When we fish again’ – report launched on how angling could be safely resumed in the UK

The National Governing Body for recreational fishing in the UK - the Angling Trust -  is campaigning for angling to become one of the first permitted outdoor activities when ministers review the coronavirus lockdown restrictions on May 7th.

Fishing is one of Britain’s most popular pastimes and has long been known to be beneficial to mental wellbeing. With the current crisis in mental health caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Angling Trust have proposed how fishing could be safely permitted as soon as it is appropriate for measures to be eased.

A report entitled ‘When We Fish Again’ has been submitted to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and the Fisheries and Sports Ministers. It sets out the means by which recreational fishing could be permitted and draws on experience in other European countries including Germany, Holland, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Norway where angling has been allowed to continue under certain conditions during the pandemic with significant benefits to both wellbeing and the economy without having a detrimental impact on their efforts to combat COVID-19.

The recreational angling sector is estimated to be worth over £4bn to the UK economy and experience from across Europe indicates that this contribution has grown significantly where angling has been permitted under lockdown. On May 4th angling is set to resume in Belgium and many countries have now announced timetables for a lifting of restrictions on activities such as fishing that allow social distancing to be maintained.

The Angling Trust report recommends a phased resumption in line with the government’s own criteria and identifies a number of other reasons why angling should be an early candidate for consideration including:

  • being a largely solitary sport where self-isolation occurs naturally
  • proven benefits for mental health and physical wellbeing
  • appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds and engaging able-bodied and disabled participants alike
  • the majority of the population live within 5 miles of a waterway minimising the need for significant travel
  • evidence that non-contact outdoor activities will not increase infection rates
  • a reduction in pressure on other public open spaces

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has already confirmed to MPs that ministers are actively considering how low risk outdoor activities like angling and golf might be permitted in the first phase of any easing of restrictions.

The campaign has attracted the support of prominent figures within the angling community and senior MPs.

Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group Sir Charles Walker MP said:

“I have spoken directly to the Minister for Tourism and Sport, Nigel Huddleston MP, to ask that angling and other outdoor activities suited to social distancing once again be given the green light. I explained to the Minister that the Angling Trust has produced a fantastic and detailed template as to how we can return, in a safe and responsible fashion, to the sport we love. The Trust has now lodged its carefully thought through plan entitled 'When We Fish Agai'” with a number of Ministers and Sport England and it provides a sensible and pragmatic way forward.”

The report was compiled by the Angling Trust’s newly appointed CEO Jamie Cook and Head of Policy and former MP Martin Salter, and is backed by national angling and fisheries groups including the Canal & River Trust, Salmon & Trout Conservation, the Institute of Fisheries Management and representatives of the angling trade.

Jamie Cook said:

“We have demonstrated that angling in the UK could be permitted as a safe, healthy, beneficial outdoor activity and why it should take its position at the front of the queue when restrictions are reviewed.

"There is a large amount of evidence of the benefits angling has on both physical and mental health – it is prescribed by a number of NHS trusts as a proven therapy for mental wellbeing, and numerous military charities and organisations to combat PTSD.

"Fishing transcends social and physical boundaries, engages able-bodied and disabled participants alike, and with the majority of the population living within 5 miles of a waterway it can safely and practically be achieved without significant travel."

Keith Arthur, angling journalist and broadcaster, added:

"Angling is the best voluntary social distancing tool and so important to improve mental health amongst participants. It is vital therefore that the Angling Trust has worked tirelessly and across all disciplines of the sport to present a case outlining angling as an essential pastime and form of exercise, along with cycling, jogging, running and walking, in the strategy to help prevent the  spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. This isn’t just a plea on behalf of angling but a carefully prepared, fact-based document that would allow a measured and mindful return to the countryside for those who wish to.”

Martin Salter said:

“Angling is the ultimate social distancing activity as large crowds and successful fishing don’t mix and most anglers tend to crave solitude. With the Government now actively considering what activities and which restrictions could safely be considered for early lifting we judged that the time was right to present these proposals to ministers ahead of the next review. Our job is not to say when such a move could be made - that’s clearly the role of Ministers acting on medical and scientific advice. Our job is to set out the how and the why which is precisely what we have done.”