Imagine regular catches of 20lb cod from the shore and abundant stocks of plaice, bass, turbot and skateŠthat improbable scenario could soon become a reality if ambitious conservation measures succeed.
But plans to create numerous Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the coastline by 2012 look set to spark a bitter battle, with anglers on one side and commercial fishermen on the other.
The aim is to allow ecosystems to recover by limiting damaging commercial fishing practices, such as the dumping of by-catch, downgrading (where certain species are thrown back to make room in the hold for a more profitable catch), and beam trawling.
The creation of interlocking conservation zones will become possible once the Marine Bill passes through Parliament, but only by supporting organisations like the Angling Trust will anglers be able to make the most of this unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“This is about politics,” insisted Peter MacConnell, a Plymouth-based angler sitting on the steering group of Finding Sanctuary, the pilot MPA covering the south-western peninsula.
“We need to make sure that the commercial sector doesn’t end up riding rough shod all over anglers. Until the Government becomes as fearful of the angling vote as it is of the commercial sector, then we’ll always come off worse. The most important thing is for sea anglers to join the Angling Trust and make recreational sea angling’s voice heard,” he claimed.
Plans are for four MPAs to be created, each guided by a steering group on which recreational sea anglers need to be properly represented.
The steering groups will decide the size and location of all the zones and which activities should be restricted.
A scientific panel will review the recommendations, pass them to Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), with Government ministers making the final decisions.
“We need to be involved from the outset,” said new Angling Trust director Stuart McPherson.
“We have to counter claims that sea anglers are harming ecosystems and sustainability of certain species. Any restrictions placed on sea angling need to be kept to an absolute minimum,” he added.