Marine Protected Areas and Recreational Sea-angling

Dr J Thorburn

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe conservation of elasmobranchs within Scottish waters has potential economic benefits if the value of marine fauna is seen as lying beyond simply being a consumable. The current landscape is one where MPAs are increasingly controversial, seen by some as having the potential to cause dire economic consequences as management measures can restrict or prevent commercial fishing.

Many elasmobranchs are core Scottish recreational sea-angling (RSA) species, with tope considered one of the best game fish in the UK. There are other countries that, having implemented strict management of fish stocks, have seen a rise in the economic contribution from RSA.

Norway and Florida both provide good examples of this. In Norway, RSA was worth approximately 100 million euros in 2008 and, in recent years, the number of anglers visiting Norway has increased rapidly, so it is to be assumed that this estimate is now considerably higher. In Florida, RSA currently contributes $7.6 billion to the economy.

RSA is currently worth £140 million per year to Scotland, more than both forms of freshwater angling. If we consider that the UK inshore fish stocks provide comparatively poor angling opportunities compared to either Norway or Florida, and that many anglers go on vacation to these countries due to a higher abundance of larger fish, it has to be assumed that the Scottish value is far below its potential should stocks be replenished.

clyde.jpgThe Clyde provides a good case study to highlight the potential of RSA in Scotland, illustrating what a reduction in inshore fish stocks has done to the RSA industry. Historically, the Clyde was seen as one of the best RSA areas in the UK, attracting anglers from all over Europe, with employment for up to 50 charter boats. Over the last two decades, the Clyde has seen a drastic reduction in RSA activity and of the 50 boats operating since 1980, none are currently involved in RSA chartering.

This reduction in sea angling effort is seen as a direct consequence of a drastic decline in species diversity and abundance.

The use of MPAs will not prevent any fish being commercially landed and much of the £513 million (the value of the combined demersal, pelagic and shellfish fisheries in 2014) could, in some areas, still be available to the commercial sector, especially if MPAs contribute towards an increase in abundance. As increased landings do not necessarily correlate to a proportional increase in value a decrease in the landings of some species as a result of MPA management may actually increase their unit price.

Ensuring the population maintenance and recovery of elasmobranchs as well as other species will directly support sea-angling, providing economic gain for rural areas as RSA opportunities for both species is increased on a strict catch and release basis. The increased abundance in fish within MPAs will often have a spill over effect, improving commercial opportunities outside the MPA and in some cases within the MPA itself.

Data from recreational fisheries can also provide valuable data to help monitor MPAs and help focus and direct research, providing information on species where lack of data has prevented appropriate management.

MPAs should not be viewed as completely restricting management measures. Yes, the concept of some MPAs is to reduce damaging activities. But, they are not blanket bans on all fishing activity and may create new opportunities within rural communities.

James was the first Shark Project Officer for SSACN, his main research interests are the spatial ecology of elasmobranchs and Marine Protected Areas and is currently undertaking a project aimed at developing knowledge on the fisheries-relevant ecology of sharks and rays in the Tumbes and Piura regions of Peru.

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