Opinion: Getting rec fishing on the election agenda

APOLOGIES for the recent radio silence.
I know I promised to write up the Himalayan mahseer trip as my next article for Fisho, but I’m afraid things got overtaken by the backlog that greeted me on returning from India and then we had the General Election campaign here in the UK, which surprisingly saw David Cameron’s Conservatives win an outright majority when all the polls pointed to another hung parliament.

In my time in Oz I witnessed firsthand the various attempts to get angling onto the political agenda. It seems that at both state and federal level, issues relating to fish and fishing are never far from some level of political controversy. In Victoria there has been the welcome move by the new Labor government to phase out netting in Port Phillip Bay in favour of developing the recreational fishery. This followed a well organised campaign in the state by recreational fishers who had secured commitments from both the Napthine and Andrews regimes, with the only difference being that under Andrews Labor pledged to complete the process in eight years instead of the 10 years promised by Napthine and the Libs.

This is smart politics and it’s always far better to get both sides on board rather than to marginalise our sport through relying on tiny one issue parties to carry the burden for the whole sector. I’m not saying that it is pointless having specific “Fishing ‘n’ Shooting” representatives elected to the Upper Houses but there is a risk in marginalising what is a mainstream activity which needs to have a place on the agendas of the governing parties.

My job involves heading up the campaigning activities of our national governing body – The Angling Trust. For the last two British General Elections we have produced our own Manifesto for Angling that was sent to all political parties. In 2010 we secured the support of our three main parties – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat whilst this time around we had strong support from the Big Two with the poor old LibDems going into meltdown.

The Angling Trust Manifesto covered both salt and freshwater fishing and the political parties were invited to endorse the document and commit to: “recognising the economic, environmental and recreational contribution made by angling to the community and to promise not just to protect but to take positive steps to enhance and promote Britain’s most popular pursuit.”

Key areas included:
Angling participation and promotion
Confirmation of anglers rights of access
Action to create healthy fisheries and cleaner rivers
Action on bass stocks and marine conservation
Continuing to allow cormorant controls
Protecting rod licence income for angling
(The complete document can be found here.)

Thinking that the outcome of the General Election was going to be on a knife edge I completed a thorough review of what the main political parties were offering to do for fish and fishing.

As a Labour man I was obviously pleased that Labour signed up to the Angling Trust manifesto and sent in this quote from Shadow Fisheries Minister Angela Smith:
“Labour is proud to have a strong tradition of support for Angling. We recognise not only the economic contribution that anglers makes but also the role they play up and down the country in working to improve our water and marine environment. The manifesto for angling contains some positive ideas for how the next Labour Government can both improve our natural environment and support Britain’s most popular sport. We worked constructively with the Angling Trust when Labour was last in Government and we look forward to doing so again.”

However, Labour’s own environmental policy was one of the weaker on offer and their own manifesto made almost no reference to fish or fishing. In any case it turned out that far from playing a part in government my former colleagues were consigned by the electorate to another five years in the political wilderness. And believe me I shared their pain, after all, many of these vanquished politicians are still personal friends of mine.

The Angling Trust maintains strong relationships on both sides of politics and we were happy to acknowledge the Conservatives’ record in government with new controls on cormorants and support for angling projects. They did agree, following a chance meeting between myself and the Prime Minister in the Commons cafe, to include a promise in their own manifesto to deliver “a sustainable bass fishery”. The Tories also committed to concluding important projects like the Thames Tideway Tunnel to improve water quality in the heart of London.

The Conservatives’ most prominent angling MP and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group George Hollingbery was typically supportive and said:

“Angling is one of the biggest participant activities in the UK and important to the country at many different levels. The Angling Manifesto hits all the right notes: we know how beneficial angling can be to those that are involved and should encourage more people to pick up a rod; with so many people involved already, we know that a number of areas of government policy should always recognise this very large interest group; and we know that angling is a force for good when it comes to the environment and the health of our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.”

As expected, the LibDem and Green manifestos were strong on the need for greater environmental protection with commitments to reduce water abstractions through wider water metering and construction of new reservoirs. However, neither party had anything to say about angling and did not respond to the Angling Trust’s manifesto despite being chased on several occasions.

So whilst the Angling Trust did a good job in getting fish and fishing on the broader political agenda it is just one party we will have to deal with in government for the next five years. However, you can be assured that we will continue to work hard to keep fish and fishing high on the agenda of all our major political parties and I strongly urge you guys to do the same.

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The recent UK general election saw Conservative Party leader David Cameron (second from left) returned as Prime Minister – much to the chagrin of Fisho’s foreign editor!

Postscript – Taking a tench break
Despite my years in politics I was as shocked as most people by the decisiveness of the Conservative election victory. I really couldn’t see any result other than a hung parliament and I was hopeful that my team would make at least some modest advances. I was up all night at my local election count trying to support the defeated candidates and to put a brave face on what was a disastrous night for Labour. Clearly, I was going to need some recovery time and as luck would have it I had booked a few days off with some fishing mates in an attempt to track down some of the large tench and carp that live in the Cotswold Waterpark around 40 miles from my home.

I rarely fish for carp but I was hopeful that a few big tench would help me to get over the personal disappointment of the previous week. I couldn’t have had a better start as on the first evening I had a chunky 9lb 4ozs which I caught on artificial maggots.

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Martin’s mate Mike with the sort of carp pommie fishos salivate over!

Several more tench between five and seven and a half pounds followed and other friends weighed in with some lovely carp and a surprise perch (redfin) of 3lb 12ozs. We pulled off on the Thursday as the heavy rain closed in but it was a welcome break that put some nice fish on the bank and some necessary time and space between two very different experiences.

It seems that a week can be a long time in both politics and fishing!

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Martin Salter is Fishing World’s UK-based foreign editor.

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