What impact has Brexit had on UK angling?

The biggest democratic vote in a generation has changed our relationship with Europe for good. But, as Covid restrictions ease, what is the state of play six years on? We asked the fishing world for answers...

What impact has Brexit had on UK angling?

by Angling Times |

While anglers were as divided as the UK population itself over the 2016 Brexit vote, the wider impacts of that decision are still taking shape. The changes have been seismic, with the promise of greater freedom heavily countered by a new world of restrictions and uncertainty.

“No part of the angling industry has remained unaffected by Brexit,” said Angling Times tackle editor Mark Sawyer. “The dream of Brexit sadly hasn’t been a reality for the angling trade, and while there are other issues such as the pandemic and shipping costs, Brexit has been an exacerbating factor.”

British companies have found a minefield of new rules and challenges. Ironic, perhaps, when one of the key arguments for Brexit was a reduction in bureacracy and red tape.

“What was legal yesterday isn’t today,” said one industry insider. “With Britain outside the EU single market, the rules have completely changed. We forget all too easily that we are a small part of a huge international picture, and Europe is still our biggest trading partner.”

Brexit is not the only factor at play in today’s cocktail of disruption. Covid, energy prices and the spiralling cost of transporting goods from the Far East have all contributed to an uncertain market and rising tackle prices. But those in the bait and tackle world spoke of the huge extra complications posed by Brexit, and how costs would continue to rise as a direct result.

Bait bans and legal issues

The bait industry is a prime example of how Brexit is affecting companies and punters alike. “We’ve worked hard to get things back on track, but Brexit has been a massive hurdle,” said Dynamite Baits’ Daryl Hodges. While the company had “solved most issues with mainland Europe,” he added that Brexit had “pushed costs up”, partly due to increasing legal and logistical challenges.

“Some 30-40 pages of documents have to be stamped and approved with every current EU delivery,” he remarked.

Companies are obliged to hire veterinary experts to meet animal feed regulations and Daryl admits that, while bait-makers are trying to mitigate extra costs, “consumers can expect inevitable price rises”.

For the travelling angler, new bait rules are another huge headache. Ireland is just one example, with many issues, such as the current ban on live baits of any kind, still unresolved. The French carp fishing holidays so popular with Brits are a further major challenge. Currently, many of the restrictions faced by bait companies also apply to individual anglers, meaning that visitors must either conceal their boilies, pellets and particles, or buy abroad if they are to avoid fines and confiscations.

A win for independents?

One hoped-for win in the Brexit era has been for smaller, independent businesses – traditional tackle shops for anglers who prefer to keep it local. With current cost of living rises and changing markets, however, the picture is mixed, to put it mildly.

Paul Morgan, who runs Britain’s biggest independent angling bookshop, Coch-y-Bonddu, feels angry and let down. “Brexit has been disastrous for my mail-order business,” he told us. “Severe Customs duties and VAT on parcels to Europe has destroyed confidence. Twenty per cent of my business was selling fishing books to Northern Europe. This has virtually gone while, thanks to mass bureaucracy, I’m now unable to trade at European events I’d enjoyed for 30 years.”

As for a boost to British-made products, the number of companies making bedchairs, luggage and specialist rods remains a tiny sector of the post-Brexit market. “With UK labour costs and the vast majority of materials being imported, the ‘Made in Britain’ boom isn’t happening any time soon,” warned Mark Sawyer. “With carbon prices also increasing, we’re just hoping this isn’t the perfect storm. And while you can’t say for sure how much of this is Brexit, it feels like we’re at the wrong end of things right now.”

PROS AND CONS OF BREXIT IN BRIEF

Travel restrictions (Negative)

With new restrictions governing EU travel, Brits are finding it harder to fish around Europe. Other issues include higher travel insurance costs, along with bait bans and the risk of fines and confiscation. More domestic holidays are also likely to mean busier rivers and beauty spots becoming a regular feature.

UK Fisheries and tourism (Positive)

Along with Covid, Brexit has played its part in pushing up costs. But could this factor prove a silver lining for British tourism? That’s the expectation of many UK fisheries. Some of these offering on-site accommodation are already booked up until well into 2023.

Could Brexit prove a silver lining for British tourism?
Could Brexit prove a silver lining for British tourism?

Tackle and bait costs (Negative)

While other factors such as shipping costs loom large, Brexit-based restrictions have further increased bait and tackle prices. The biggest impact will be felt on higher-density items, such as chairs and luggage, but we can also expect to see wallets hit at the more affordable end of the market for sub-£100 rods and reels.

Brexit-based restrictions have further increased bait and tackle prices
Brexit-based restrictions have further increased bait and tackle prices

Immigration and fish theft (Neutral)

Brexit has reduced immigration from the EU, meaning fewer people failing to comply with UK catch-and-release rules. But even before the leave vote, compliance had improved among Poles, Romanians and other nationalities of settled status. Clubs and tackle shops also benefited from migrants’ money.

Brexit has reduced immigration from the EU
Brexit has reduced immigration from the EU

Water quality and environmental standards (Negative)

Amid warnings of weaker environmental standards, Michael Gove said that Brexit would make our rivers and countryside a “greener, cleaner, better” place, adding that new freedoms could “give the environment a voice and hold the powerful to account”. Last year’s sewage debacle, along with ongoing problems with pollution, abstraction and woefully inadequate protection for our waterways, suggests such rhetoric has aged badly – especially now the plug has been pulled on various EU-funded projects to improve Britain’s freshwater ecosystems.

The plug has been pulled on various EU-funded projects to improve Britain’s freshwater ecosystems
The plug has been pulled on various EU-funded projects to improve Britain’s freshwater ecosystems
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