Industrial fishing is a multi-billion dollar industry, while it is also a fact that recreational anglers also spent billions of dollars annually. The question is which one is friendlier to the sustainability of people and planet?
According to various studies it appears that fishing as a hobby may generate more value for local communities and even for countries than commercial fishing operations.
Let’s look at some factors that impact both sectors of the fishing sector.
Worldwide recreational angling generates thousands of jobs – charter boats, tackle shops and tackle manufacturers, local hospitality venues such as hotels, guest houses, B&B’s, restaurants, bars, etc … all of them having direct impact in the sustainability of local communities – while without a doubt commercial fishing also directly employs a few thousand people worldwide they do not impact positively on local communities survival.
The industrial fishing industry claims that they employ many people indirectly – i.e. jobs for people further along the supply chains. It's a debating point that can be argued, depending where you draw the line.
A research was undertaken by an independent researcher in the UK which was asked to investigate the claims made in main street media about the jobs being generated by the major players in the industry. It was discovered that if their claims were correct and representative, there should be 218 million people employed in the UK alone – amounting to three and a half times the total population of the country.
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.
One UK 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 over fishing 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. 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 worldwide, and between 1980 and 2013 they halved again.
It might seem strange for a lover of the natural world to come out in favour of a hobby that involves catching and killing wild animals. But anyone who has come to know a few anglers cannot help but make a couple of observations.
The first is that many of the most effective campaigns to protect both marine and freshwater ecosystems have been launched or propelled by sport fishers. They have campaigned fiercely against pollution, dredging, dumping and over fishing.
In a away, it is self-protection of the sport, as you cannot have healthy fish stocks without a healthy aquatic environment, and few anglers are unaware of that. Few people spend as much time outdoors watching and waiting. It is hard under these circumstances not to develop some interest in and love for the natural world. Perhaps as a result, many environmental campaigners were keen anglers when they were children.
Their catches are mostly tiny by comparison to those of the commercial fishing industry, and the majority of the fish they take (75% by shore anglers and 50% by boat anglers) are returned alive, rather than discarded dead.
Overall, I believe that we should see anglers as our allies in fighting for the protection of our seas, dams, rivers and oceans.
There is an obvious way in which their support can be enhanced without damaging employment in the commercial sector: by the creation of real marine reserves, by which I mean "no-take zones", in which commercial extraction cannot take place. Wherever these have been established, they have resulted in a massive increase in fish stocks.
A survey of 124 strict marine reserves found that – even though many of them are only a few years old – the total weight of animals and plants they contain has on average quadrupled since they were established. The size and diversity of the fish and other animals they contain have also sharply increased.
There's a strong spill over effect: because fish and shellfish can spawn and grow in safety inside the reserves, far greater numbers than before then move into the surrounding seas, increasing the total catch without reducing the fishing population drastically. As a result, as we've seen in the Philippines, Japan, New Zealand, Newfoundland and Kenya, the fishing industry tends to resist marine reserves before they are created, then they tend to support them once they have been established.
It would surely make more sense to then have some types of sport fishing in these reserves that cause little damage. The anglers would doubtless be prepared to accept catch limits and other restrictions, in return for access to much higher populations of fish. And in the end we would ensure that the small fishing industry and the recreational fishing would continue to impact positively on local communities.
What do you think?