It’s been many weeks since the lockdown was applied and like most other sports angling has been stopped. It is immensely frustrating for all of us, particularly for boat anglers. Typically, the weather has been near perfect for 6 weeks but we’ve not been able to get out and fish for plaice, bream and other spring species and, of course, all those wrecks are going un-explored. There is only so much tackle maintenance, knot tying and rod polishing that we can do, so when are we likely to be able to saddle up and get out there.
It is, of course, of paramount importance, that we beat this virus, keep the infection and death rates coming down and make sure don’t put extra pressure on the NHS and other emergency services. Jumping in a boat, while ostensibly self-isolating, is a dangerous past time and but people are out at sea then the usual agencies we rely on in case something goes wrong will be under increased pressure – especially as many of them have reduced staffing.
But eventually, and I believe for the sake of the economies of our sea side towns, we do need to be able to start fishing again sometime soon. Not least because of the charter boats, which are small businesses themselves, need support. They attract large numbers of people to the ports they run out from and much associated revenue for local businesses
The Angling Trust has been working hard behind the scenes, along with the Professional Boatmans Association, to persuade the government to help these businesses. Having made available a fund of £10m to help commercial fishing the Trust has put forward a case for providing the same sort of support to Charter boats – even though the government says they can access the same kind of help other small business can it’s not been easy for them to get help. Yet again a case of DEFRA not really treating all stakeholders equally.
What concerns me is that when the lockdown does begin to lift too many of these businesses, including tackle shops, will have shut up shop for good.
As far as looking forward is concerned we need to persuade the government that when they do start to allow us all to start returning to some kind of normality that anglers are allowed, in some circumstances, to get out on the beaches, banks and riversides as soon as possible.
To that end the Angling trust has made a compelling case to government to allow angling to be the first sport to get the go ahead from the government. A comprehensive document, When We Fish Again, has been submitted to the government with a set of proposals outline how this might be possible.
Through its work with other angling bodies, in this country and across the globe, as well as by consulting with experts across multiple disciplines – they have come up with some guidelines under which angling could be safely permitted without increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission when the Government begins to ease restrictions.
To quote from the document:
“Angling is already a naturally self- isolating or social distancing sport. We have been informed that the Government’s own scientists have recently advised that the lifting of restrictions on activities such as angling would not likely result in a rise of the infection rate.
We have examined death rates globally and presented that there is no positive correlation between COVID-19 related deaths and recreational fishing being permitted.
Angling can engage everyone – including both able bodied and disabled participants and with well over half of the population living within 5 miles of a waterway – getting us back out fishing can be achieved without significant travel.
We are facing an unprecedented national mental health emergency as a result of the current pandemic. Angling has proven positive benefits for both physical health and mental wellbeing – our sport can play its part in keeping people active as well as helping people with their mental health – we can play our part in avoiding a national mental health crisis that we will face as a byproduct of the current pandemic.
We want to help kick start the economy – angling contributes approximately £4billion each year to the UK economy. There is evidence in other countries, where fishing has been permitted through the lockdown, that angling contribution could increase significantly.”
The proposed Phase One guidelines are as follows:
- Angling to be undertaken on a solitary basis – social distancing in accordance with Government guidelines must be maintained at all times.
- Local fishing only – anglers must follow current Government guidance on travel for the benefit of recreational activity.
- All freshwater anglers must be in possession of the relevant EA Fishing licence.
- Sea angling from beach and shore to resume along with small scale private boat fishing – in adherence with social distancing guidelines.
- No sharing of fishing positions (swims) except by members of the same household.
- No sharing of fishing tackle or any other items.
- No angler to fish within 15 metres of any other angler.
- No keepnets or competition fishing.
- Online and electronic day ticket payments to be made wherever possible.
- Onsite shared facilities such as cafes and clubhouses to remain closed.
- Fisheries unable to adhere to these guidelines should remain closed until further notice.
- Anyone displaying symptoms of COVID- 19, or who shares a household with an individual displaying symptoms, should not go fishing and should continue to follow Government advice on isolation.
Now a lot of these guidelines won’t apply to sea angling and of course boat angling is even more of an issue BUT, as the guidelines state, it will be OK for anglers to fish in a boat as long as they are either alone (not generally recommended) or in a boat big enough to keep a reasonable distance.
Resumption of charter Boat fishing would be allowed in Phase Two, to quote the document:
“Charter boat fishing to resume under strict guidelines. Boat skippers must ensure that social distancing is always possible by limiting numbers on charter boats if not members of the same household.”
The Angling Trust consulted widely (including with this magazine) and, along with the accompanying video, have shown how the angling world can come together when it needs to and show leadership. Let’s hope that we can push this virus back, reduce infections and get out fishing again before the summer months really kick in.