Hook, Line and Thinker

David Adams McGilp considers how environmentally responsible sea angling can make a very positive ecological contribution and help deliver greater social and economic benefit to those coastal communities whose economies are now more reliant on recreational marine activities than the traditional seafaring industries.

Recreational sea angling and consumer-compatible conservation.

The global consumer perception of Scotland’s unspoiled marine environment is a powerful marketing force: thousands of miles of coastline, breath-taking seascapes, abundant and captivating wildlife and hundreds of welcoming seaside communities built on the profits from the sea.

Billions of pounds are spent every year by people visiting Scotland’s coast.

Some of them may venture no further than the water’s edge, but increasing numbers of others experiment with all types of waterborne activity, or return year after year to indulge their love of the sea.

Whichever we look at it, the marine environment is one of the foundation stones of the economy: food and energy source, transport medium, ecosystem and playground. And there’s so much of it that it’s hard to imagine the kind of exploitation that has lead to critical environmental pressure. Anyway, here we are: a world-leading destination which prides itself on its environmental credentials, a seafaring nation with an incredible history and a future we want to enjoy.

Much of Scotland’s visitor economy is dependent on maintaining a healthy marine environment and one which can support responsible recreational users as well as reasonable commercial interests. Over generations certain activities have had significant negative impacts on the nation’s commercial fisheries and in some places natural stocks have almost disappeared. Does this sound like an unspoiled marine environment, or a likely platform from which to popularize recreational sea-angling? Maybe it is.

The vast majority of recreational sea-anglers and sea-angling businesses are committed to a no-take ethic. Participants fish for various species (mostly from boats, but not exclusively), land them briefly then release them alive and unharmed back into the sea.

Most boat owners servicing fishing parties also follow this code and don’t allow any of their customers to take their catch home. It’s an unwritten, self-regulating system that works, and represents sound environmental practice by a valuable, year-round and potential repeat market. Successful self-regulation also means that the taxpayer has so far been saved the expense of legislation or enforcement.

By encouraging more people to take up sea-angling as a recreational pursuit, this simple, practical conservation measure could be introduced to wider audiences and broadcast a serious environmental message about enjoying sport fishing purely for the sport. Naturally the success of such a drive to increase participation in recreational sea-angling will depend on several factors, including any positive environmental impacts of the activity and positive effects on the natural stock levels of popular and dependent species.

If environmental responsibility comes to be as fundamental to the sport as a fishing rod, then the gains become even more attractive, and render any programmes to promote recreational sea angling to new and growing audiences more realistic. Today’s consumers are highly influenced by environmental awareness, impact and restitution and this form of recreational sea-angling will appeal to these sensitivities.

A growth in demand will create its own challenges. More boats and better shore access will be required along with a general improvement to the suite of available onshore facilities and services. This will be welcomed by the majority of coastal communities which have come to rely more on recreational marine activity than traditional seafaring industry; and will contribute to the overall integration of services and improvement of infrastructure required to meet the demands of the modern visitor economy. What’s good for sea-angling is good for other recreational marine activity, and if exercised responsibly should contribute to the recovery of the marine environment.

The appeal of recreational sea angling is not limited to its environmental sensitivity: the potential strength of the sector is bound up with the remainder of the marine economy and its affinity with other sporting and outdoor activities. Consumers should understand that conservation measures are sometimes necessary to protect the future and the majority supports them. Developing and promoting destinations around compelling universal offers and the widest possible appeal could well encompass recreational sea angling, but should also be able to consider the requirements of the consumer in terms of:

  • pre-arrival intelligence
  • bookings
  • transport
  • accommodation
  • attractions
  • activities (including retail)
  • on-arrival information
  • facilities
  • services
  • packages
  • itineraries

Angling, at sea or anywhere else, is not a stand-alone pursuit. Its future is co-dependent on its relationship with all other destination components, but the future of recreational sea-angling is utterly dependent on the quality of the marine environment.

By participating responsibly in an enjoyable and healthy pastime, recreational sea-anglers can make a very real, and very positive ecological contribution.

David Adams McGilp is VisitScotland’s Regional Director for Argyll & Bute and Dunbartonshire. He also represents the national tourism organisation on the Parliamentary Cross-Party Group on Recreational Boating & Marine Tourism, the Scottish Marine Strategy Forum and the Firth of Clyde Forum. He lives on the shores of Loch Fyne but has never caught a fish in his life.

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