IN August last year, once it became known that I was Britain's former Parliamentary Angling Spokesman, I was asked to give evidence to the New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry into Recreational Fishing on the controversial issue of angling bans in Marine Parks. Instead of enjoying the relative obscurity of a fishing sabbatical Down Under, I found myself thrust into the limelight once again and agreed to prepare a report on the challenges facing recreational fishing in Australia. My report, Keep Australia Fishing was published in April and received a positive reception from industry leaders in both Australia and New Zealand.
Now I don't regret plunging back into the confused world of recreational fishing politics for one moment. It was a way by which I could put something back into the sport we all love and say thank you for the great hospitality and friendship I received from Aussie fishos, not to mention some pretty fine fish that were put my way. The bulk of my experiences, both fishing and political, may have been forged on the other side of the world but it is striking how similar are the challenges and the issues.
Given that Australia has three million plus anglers in a population of a little over 20 million, it struck me as surprising that recreational fishing hasn't been given greater attention by the two main political parties until now. The last minute federal election statement by Julia Gillard playing down the prospects of further extensions to the Marine Parks programme clearly came too late to prevent a voter backlash against a number of sitting Labor members. Australian anglers have viewed with understandable trepidation the onward march of the Greens who have made no secret of their desire to close 30 per cent or more of territorial waters to all forms of fishing. Shedloads of votes are now going to the newly formed Fishing and Lifestyle and Shooters and Fishers parties.
Not that I think that special interest minority parties are the way forward in the long term. As a protest vote, fair enough, but there is a risk of marginalising a sport and a lifestyle whose interests should be front and centre of mainstream politics. The fact that people in New Zealand, Queensland and New South Wales even feel the need to form and vote for specific pro-fishing parties is, in my view, an admission of failure by the political establishment and an expression of frustration and powerlessness by angling community.
This is in marked contrast to the USA and in the UK where all the main political parties readily signed up to a joint Manifesto for Angling produced by the countries' national peak angling body, The Angling Trust, and where anglers themselves are engaged in the process of designating Marine Conservation Zones and developing policy.
I can't believe we are still arguing the toss over the principle of a fishing licence. We gave up the idea on the idea of the "inexhaustible sea" free to all (including foreign trawlers) about a hundred years ago when we adopted territorial waters, bag and size limits and quotas. We accept that this a resource that we can screw up or that we can manage, protect an enhance for future generations. This means employing professionals, creating revenue streams and delivering powerful advocacy on behalf of rec fishers. The days of the well meaning amateur are long gone. Welcome to the world of users pays/user benefits and to the political reality that No Pay = No Say.
I like to think I've put together a major piece of work on how the recreational fishing sector can get itself "fit for purpose" and better able to punch its weight politically in order to face down the very real threats to our sport. These are not just from extreme greens, dumb politicians or even marine parks. For angling to survive and prosper we need improved water quality and habitat and an end to harmful farming practices and the dumping of pesticides and chemicals in our rivers and estuaries. Unsustainable commercial fishing methods must also be challenged and we need to promote recreational fishing havens and rec only species. We need professional advocacy part funded through a ring fenced licence levy and most importantly of all, we must redouble our efforts to encourage young people to forsake their computer games for a day on the water.
It's all there in my Keep Australia Fishing report which looks at how these challenges have been successfully met elsewhere and applies them to the Australian context. You'll find more information on the report and can download it here.
Sadly, I've had to return to the riot torn streets of Britain but have agreed to do what I can to help the cause of angling in both countries. Before I left I was pleased to get the opportunity to visit WA to help out with their marine park campaign and to sample some of the great fishing that is to be had over there. My trips out with Al Bevan of Shikari Charters for the mighty samson fish and big snapper of Rottnest and with Bernie Vale on the Mahi Mahi 11 for the Ningaloo Reef sailfish were up there with the best experiences I've had in your wonderful country.
I hope to be back soon and in the meantime will be keeping you abreast of some of the important issues from around the world that affect our sport through a regular blog courtesy of Mr Harnwell of this parish.