The rise and fall of Scottish sea angling

To get the project of to a start we thought it would be beneficial to provide some background as to how, in just over five decades, Scottish sea angling has gone from zero to hero and almost back to zero again.

In the early 1960′s, a combination of increased leisure time and disposable wealth along with the reduced costs of mass manufactured rods and reels saw a tremendous uptake in the sport.

Visionary representatives of what we would now call SportScotland and VisitScotland recognised Scotland’s sea angling potential and identified it as a means of lengthening the tourist season by running competitions and festivals at either end of the regular season. They even envisaged that such events could also help breathe some life back into coastal villages which had ‘died’ due to the consolidation of the commercial fishing fleets.

The first ever fishing festival was a three-day event which took place in 1962 on the Isle of Arran over a Whit weekend, it drew 302 entries, mainly from England; in 1965, Scotland hosted the European Championships which were held out of Ullapool and which, according to contemporary reports, required a "Dunkirk" type armada of boats ranging from from 70 ft trawlers to small ones of all shapes and sizes to support the 200 International Anglers. By 1970, there were 25 festivals being run annually, with between 200 and 500 anglers taking part and 1500lb to 3000lb of fish being weighed in.

Such was the success of the development activities that sea angling clubs began to be formed all over Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Sea Anglers (SFSA) was formed to act as the sport’s governing body and charged with its advancement through the provision of technical advice, organising festivals and competitions etc., disseminating information on fishing opportunities and providing assistance to all. To support anglers, a handbook was created by ‘VisitScotland’ providing detailed information on sea angling centres, types of fish, boat hire, tackle shops, bait suppliers etc.

For two decades, Scottish and visiting sea anglers enjoyed unparalleled sport – but then it all went wrong around the mid 1980′s and within a decade, poor fisheries policies and practices combined with political mismanagement had resulted in the depletion of many inshore fish stocks.

Naturally the quality of sea angling drastically declined and consequently most of the major competitions and festivals ceased. 1000’s of jobs were lost as over 100 charter boats went out of business, tackle shops closed and allied service industries such as accommodation, food, etc were hit equally hard – all this in turn had a major impact on the fragile economies of many coastal communities.

The “golden age” of sea angling passed.

Still in decline, sea angling participation is estimated to have halved in the last two decades, yet even now in certain locations, anglers can still catch a reasonable variety of species and several sought after species such as Shark, Tope, Skate etc. and according to a  Government Technical Report (1) there are still :

  • 100,000+ sea anglers in Scotland
  • 50,000 sea anglers visiting Scotland from the rest of the UK each year
  • £140M spent in Scotland undertaking the sport
  • Around 3000 jobs and £70m of income supported by sea angling
  • At least 1600 jobs and £37m in income at risk .

Can Scotland regain it’s  previous status as a premier European sea angling destination ?

Anglers today are willing to spend significant amounts of their disposable income in pursuit of their particular goals, around which they may also arrange other vacation activities. However, they also have high expectations of the quality of the catch, the angling service businesses, the supporting service industries and the overall local supporting infrastructure.

Unfortunately the gap between those expectations and the actual experience is continually widening due to the constant depletion of stocks and lack of investment which has caused many facilities to be closed down and not replaced - almost the opposite approach taken for the commercial sectors, where millions of pounds are made available for them to update their catching and processing equipment.

What little investment there is indicates a failure to understand the complex integration of sea angling as a sport the funding is perceived as strictly performance related. This has led to a focus on competition and elite performance, essentially disenfranchising 95%+ of the sea angling community.

Unless there is some real ‘new thinking’ the interests of Scotland’s sea anglers will once again be largely ignored, the current contribution of £150 million per year will dwindle accordingly and Scotland will have squandered a terrific natural resource.

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References ::

(1) Economic Impact of Recreational Sea Angling in Scotland (Radford et al 2009)

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