On Saturday 25 March 2000, the Marine Conservation Society hosted a Conference for Recreational Sea Anglers at Aston University, Birmingham, which was chaired by the National Federation of Sea Anglers.

A review of the MCS Conference on Recreational Sea Angling by Dave Cooling,

I have been called to task for being slow in updating the website to record the events of this Conference. I offer a collection of comments by some who attended. These comments do not represent the views of BASS, and please do not take offence if others do not agree with your own perception; many comments are contradictory, and some just wrong. I have just collected them from a variety of sources on the internet, and presented them anonymously below:

Overview

I enjoyed the conference more than I expected.

On balance it was a very productive and enjoyable day, and a keynote event in the wider aims of the BASS Restoration Project – and the world of angling. My personal congratulations to all concerned.

I was, as I’ve said before, disappointed that the conference lost the plot in places after such a promising start.

Nice to see the likes of Mel Russ, Mike Thrussell and David Bird

Not a giant leap forward for sea-angling, but certainly a good step in the right direction.

With a full day of speakers, slides, video and questions, there was a tremendous amount of interest to be learned, but IMO the real value of the day was in bringing anglers together with many different people, some who have a great deal of influence over what happens to the future of our sport and our fish. I believe that a few pairs of eyes were opened.

Anyway. I thought the conference was a fantastic achievement by all who attended and made it possible. Everyone who attended deserves credit, everyone, but especially Malcom and Bernadette. I am going to write a letter to Bernadette, thanking her. I really think we have reached another platform. One we can pull a lot more people onto, and from which, to launch the next phase.

Attendance

There were around a 100 delegates attending.

Very pleased with the attendance. A wide cross section of delegates, other than anglers, and a wide range of anglers represented. I’m sure that some useful contacts have been made.

When I asked Bernadette how many she was hoping for, she said 200 – 300. Well we fell short of that, but I was happy with the numbers turning out 🙂 I did point out that, with most sea anglers living near the coast, the conference had been arranged just about as far as possible from the sea! £20 plus travelling expenses + a day’s time which could have been spent fishing, is a lot to ask from ordinary anglers.

It would have been nice to see a few more organisations, and angling Clubs represented. Not just 1 angling Club, and 6 Federations. (NFSA x 7, BASS x 3, National Mullet Club x1, SWFSA x 3, EFSA x 1, NFSAS x 1)

It would appear that the exhortation in the NFSA Standing Committee Minutes 17/02/00 for “each division to fund two members to attend” fell on deaf ears

Organisation

As a lot of people were travelling a long way, some staying over, organising reasonable local accomodation, for those wanting it, might prove popular.

Anyone wanting to could stay in the same hotel/motel and share the same bar afterwards. IMO the real value of these events comes from the opportunity to ‘chat’ to people informally. I’d expect that a lot of people would then choose the overnight option who could easily make it home.

Can they keep it away from the date of the BASS AGM next time, can it be held a little more south next time (eg Bristol), and can they start a bit later (and possibly finish later)?

The Speakers

It was unfortunate that an obviously exhausted David Rowe failed to take on board the advice from the NFSA Standing Committee Minutes 17/02/00 to “announce a summary of the Angling Survey at the MCS Conference as this would help to re-address the public perception of the NFSA and its work, by re-focussing the emphasis to the support of conservation work, rather than competitions.” The statement actually made by David only served to support the view that the NFSA would rather sweep the results under the carpet.

Malcolm Gilbert, in particular, merits comment not just for his exceptional personal contribution but also for his role in engineering the whole event

Malcolm Gilbert’s talk was also interesting

Did I detect a slightly negative attitude from some NFSA members towards the bass issues?

I’d like to echo your comments regarding Malcolm’s contributions to the day. A first class presentation, covering the real issues facing recreational sea angling, and presenting some of the solutions in a dynamic and thought provoking way. The use of the codling/cod pictures, in particular, was a powerful message to both MAFF and the assembled anglers. Let fish breed and grow and the rewards are immense.

I hope that the impact wasn’t lost by introducing a succession of speakers debating the rights and wrongs of bait digging. I realise that these issues are very important to a great many people and without doubt could be seen as ‘the thin end of the wedge’ regarding access etc, but when will these people realise that without fish to catch, they’ll be wasting a lot of time digging and all that hard dug bait too, if there’s bugger all to catch.

John Waldman was worth the wait (not quite sure of the impact on MAFF or the tiddler bashers though).

At the first break, I was really buzzing. Felt it had already been worth missing a night’s sleep and driving up. Anyway, at the first break, went over to speak to Mel Russ, who provided good feedback. By lunchtime, after John Waldman’s presentation, I was really happy, and that is when it ended. Should have gone home.

Highlights – Mike Quigley and his ‘let’s work together’ message.

I found the talk by Mike Quigley interesting and the fact that he has managed to get these hardened North Eastern beach anglers to count birds when they go fishing must be worthy of a medal!

Highlights – Dr Ken Collins (Southampton Oceanographic Centre) and his presentation on artificial reefs. I could have watched that video of Jacks swimming over a reef all afternoon.

The only really interesting speaker was the chap speaking about artificial reefs, but then he summed it all up, by saying that the bureaucracy would kill any initiative for artificial reefs stone dead!

Highlights – Ms Sam Davis. Not sure about the content but it was very well presented.

Samantha Davis, the Fisheries Officer, was worthy of note for her public speaking skills alone.

Highlights – Watching Barry Edwards and Sue Brown (MAFF) squirming during their interro ? sorry ? questions and excuses session. Shame she had to leave so early.

The attendance of three senior officials from MAFF and a couple of MEPs showed that the doors that need to be opened have been opened, at least a crack, by the efforts of everyone who took part in the letter writing campaign to restrict the Offshore Bass fishery, and by the efforts of the all too few sea angling activists, prepared to devote their time to making sure that sea angling has a chance of a future.

MAFF declared their true colours in a public arena, in that they do not care one hoot about sea anglers; and their whole focus is on the commercial sector.

I’m going to write a letter to Sue Brown now, telling her how pleased I am, that we now have such an enlightened and open person as herself as a contact in MAFF, and to express my grave concern over Mike Pawson’s ability to advise officers and ministers, regarding the true state of the fishery.

CEFAS (MAFF scientists) are happy to try and sit on the fence, and smile at both sides; hoping that they can get the best deal. Hope the fence isn’t one with pointed stakes, or they might get a surprise!!!

Yes, it was a great missed opportunity ? but at least we now know that our fisheries people are mere puppets of DG14. God, what a mess!

I wasn’t too impressed with some of the replies given by MAFF. I can understand that, having looked at issues from one direction for so long, it’s a bit hard for them to suddenly see things from the direction we are coming from. I was astounded by the answer ’15 tonnes is better than 20 tonnes a month’ Haven’t they been listening, or do they just think that sea-anglers are that stupid? I see a long haul is required there:-(

Next Year

We MUST look to developing this as an Annual event

Mike North asked if we should make this an annual event, a show of hands, even at the end of a tiring day demonstrated that many people felt that the conference had been of value.

We MUST look to maintaining the MCS involvement, and widening the range of participants. RSPB are an obvious candidate, as they already have a Marine Officer, and recently set up the first environmental byelaw implemented via an SFC, restricting the use of gill nets in St Ives Bay.

While the NFSA are the obvious candidate for the lead role, they should NOT be allowed to chair the meeting again. We should have an independant Chair – why not Bernadette Clarke

A lot of positive things came out of the conference and the opinion is that now we have the ball on the move, we should press a little harder and try to get it rolling.

So those of you who couldn’t make it this year ? well I for one hope to see you there next year.

Would like to see the conference again next year. Would like to see a presentation on death-traps (mid-water trawling), slides and statistics of cetacean and seal bye-catches and discards. Spoke to Nick (Dr Nick Tregenza – Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee) today and he said he would be happy to do this.

Thought Mike North did a wonderful job of promoting himself in front of MAFF. Displaying his man-management and judiciary skills, promoting the EU, and his ability to keep disgruntled and rebelious anglers in line. I thought the profile of the NFSA was too high and the MCS, too low. Would really like to see a Mike Ladle/Steve Pitts presentation Bass and BASS at the next one.

There were plenty of willing contributors to this sort of meeting – note the number of people who jumped up at the end trying to publicise the shad project, Magnus Johnson etc. We also need to bring in people like Jerry Drake, the Conger Club, NMC, as well as maintaining our good relations with the professional managers at MAFF/CEFAS and elsewhere

We should be pushing forward the scientific and management credibility of the event

I have a problem if future conferences are chaired by NFSA. An independent chair would be preferable in the future. I should say that on this occasion their profile may have encouraged the MAFF delegation to attend and for obvious reasons we need to keep on-side with the men in blazers. I was also encouraged, if that’s the right word, that the meeting finished with Mike North ramming home the message about funding, manpower and the political route, via the EU, that seemed to be getting lost amongst the worm/crab debate.

If the conference is to be an annual event, and becomes the platform where MAFF need to justify themselves to the angling world, perhaps they will start to pay us a little more attention. A bloody great room full of well informed and committed individuals is a different proposition to ‘facelessly’ answering letters and emails, or talking to one or two ‘representatives’.

In fact, the whole thing, to me, was “interesting”. I’d have liked to have seen an action plan come out of it, that’s all.

To my mind, making this conference an annual event will be useful, but let’s make it more of a working group (oops! the NFSA probably wouldn’t like that, I suspect that they would like all representation to be through them and through their structure, whereas many of the individual delegates came along hoping to make a difference, by having the opportunity to speak directly about their concerns, to the people in control).

I was never too sure of exactly what the objectives of the conference were, or how its success was to be measured.

Went up to Birmingham hopeful, and came home disappointed. What a missed opportunity, having lots of the people with a strong interest in sea angling conservation, all in the same room; and failing to unite them under a single banner.

What it lacked, in my humble opinion, was any objectives “after” the event. What I would have liked is to have come away from the MCS conference thinking “This is what I can do to help.” The ‘this’ didn’t seem to materialise. It’s a shame, because a few of us coming away channelled in the same direction could have created some enthusiasm in those who didn”t attend.

Apathy to Conservation still reigns supreme. I would like to see all angling clubs represented by single body, but to do this all Federations/organisations need to come under one umbrella, and this cannot be done by one body (NFSA TAKE NOTE).

When it comes to conservation we need a body that is going to look after everybody’s interests, and to achieve this we need to set up a body independant of our federations/organisations, that feeds our needs to this one body, which is free from the politics of each individual federation/organisation.

But then, the NFSA had already decided what the final points of the conference were going to be, before it started! Heard them spoken ‘verbatim’ over lunch by Mike North.

Recently, the NFSA conducted a poll by questionnaire, attempting to discover sea anglers’ priorities. Conservation Issues came out at the top of the agenda ‘by a considerable margin’ and Mike North promised that the NFSA will act on that.

Further Actions

It seems to me that it should provide the impetus for an ongoing campaign to raise the profile of sea angling in a national and international context. There is not much point in having an annual “get together” unless we do something concrete as a result.

We should press Elliot Morley (and his European counterpart?) for recognition of sea angling as a major source of revenue, employment, tourism, healthy outdoor activity and general education and mental stimulation as well as generating a large body of individuals who are genuinely concerned about conservation and the environment.

The point was made that sea anglers really have to push hard against that [political] door for meaningful recognition which will bring about the changes we need.

It is also worth trying to publicise the fact that fish really are just as much a part of our “biodiversity heritage” as are birds, mammals, worms and crabs. I am quite sure that if we set out to “trawl” up thousands of tons of terns, dolphins or seals for food there would be an absolute outcry.

We should begin to emphasise the selective nature of rod and line fishing (catching selected species and size groups and returning unwanted fish alive and well) as opposed to the massively destructive bycatches associated with most other methods of fishing.

Another immediate follow up could be letters to the Sports Council (and minister) expressing concern at the rapid decline of our major participant sport and urging them to fund a serious public education/youth training programme.

A constant flow of letters to the politicians, particularly MEPs is still needed

Snippets

Hope that isn’t a too negative appraisal of the conference, as some might report it, through wearing ‘rose coloured’ spectacles.

Something that came across, both from some speakers, and from chats with people over coffee, was that a great deal of interest is taken of what is said on uk.rec.fishing.sea, and on the web site based discussion forums. We are being watched! and listened to :-).

Thanks of course to Bob for the Cox & Rawle sponsorship and for acting as host to John Waldman whilst he was with us.

I would also like to see more opportunity for people to meet each other (networking).

It was a bit of a rush at coffee time, and of course everyone I wanted to talk to had usually been ‘grabbed’ by somone else.

Many thanks for contributions from:

Sean Taylor – Elton Murphy – Leon Roskilly – Steve Pitts – Sue & Jeri Drake – Mel Russ –
Robin Bradley – Steve Burling – Mike Ladle – Roger Baker – Sea Anglers Conservation Network – UK Angler’s Shark