"EAT up your greens" was a common cry from my mother in the 1960s when she was trying to ensure that my brother and I grew up to be big strong lads - and to be fair she was 50 per cent successful.
From my time out in Oz and my involvement in the politics of recreational fishing I reckon the more usual reaction from the average Aussie fisho when faced with a bunch of environmental activists is to want to "beat up your Greens".
The yawning chasm between many environmentalists and the recreational fishing sector in Australia genuinely shocked me and indirectly lead to me appearing before the NSW Upper House Inquiry into rec fishing and then on to write the Keep Australia Fishing report for the tackle and boating industry. So how has it come to pass, in a country that is fishing crazy, that two groups of people, who, on the face of it, share much in common, should be daggers drawn?
This situation is certainly not so evident in Europe and the USA. Granted the relationships are not without tension but many campaigns to protect and improve the aquatic environment, on which fishing depends, are made all the stronger when there is an effective alliance between green groups and the recreational fishing sector. One side brings numbers, political muscle and a practical knowledge of the resource while the other delivers technical expertise, an articulate membership and professional political and media advocacy.
Keep Australia Fishing
Since returning to the UK from Sydney I spend a lot of my time working on recreational fishing and environmental campaigns for our peak body the Angling Trust. Only last week I was giving a joint presentation to the British Parliament alongside colleagues from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) on why our government’s water bill is bad news for rivers, birds and fish. The angler’s case was strengthened immeasurably by these joint advocacy efforts but sadly in Australia I fear that most rec fishing groups would struggle to be in the same room as such avowed "greenies". As I argued in Keep Australia Fishing ...
"There is no future in having recreational fishers in one corner and environmentalists in the other, for without a healthy aquatic environment and a sustainably managed fishery there will be no recreational fishing in the long term".
And of course these relationships are not without tensions and that is only to be expected. After all, there’s no shortage of argument within and between rec fishing groups so quite clearly nobody in either the Angling Trust or the RSPB is surprised or particularly concerned when our organisations find themselves on opposite sides of the fence over issues like the need to shoot cormorants over inland fisheries. But the central fact remains that what is good for fish is good for birds and other wildlife and those organisations concerned with protecting the natural environment see us fishos as great allies in a common cause. And that gives us greater political clout and influence without ever compromising our core role in fighting for fish and fishing.
In the UK one of our most revered "greenie" columnists is George Monbiot. We don’t always see eye to eye but here’s what he wrote about angling, conservation and commercial over fishing the other day in one of national broadsheets:
It might seem strange for a lover of the natural world to come out in favour of a hobby that involves catching and killing wild animals. But anyone who has come to know a few anglers cannot help but make a couple of observations. The first is that many of the most effective campaigns to protect both marine and freshwater ecosystems have been launched or propelled by sport fishers. They have campaigned fiercely against pollution, dredging, dumping and overfishing. You cannot have healthy fish stocks without a healthy aquatic environment, and few anglers are unaware of that. ...Few people spend as much time outdoors watching and waiting. It is hard under these circumstances not to develop some interest in and love for the natural world. Perhaps as a result, many environmental campaigners were keen anglers when they were children: I count myself among them.
Given that the fierce debate over Marine Parks has poisoned relationships between the two sectors, something that we addressed in Keep Australia Fishing, I couldn’t help but smile at Monbiot’s comments in the same article over allowing sport fishing in sanctuary zones when he said:
It would surely have made more sense to have allowed kinds of sport fishing that cause little damage inside the conservation zones. The anglers would doubtless have been prepared to accept catch limits and other restrictions, in return for much higher populations of fish.
Read the full article here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/jan/24/anglers-sport-fishers-fishing-george-monbiot
I guess my point here is that having leading conservationists going into bat for rec fishing in the pages of a national newspaper is in stark contrast to the situation in Australia. Witness the recent row over the marine park coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald which caused so much angst on the Fisho website.
Now I’ll admit that there are good and bad greens just as there both canny and dumb rec fishing advocates and I’ve been the first to decry those anti fishing groups as "lifestyle fascists" for seeking to impose their personal choices on others. But the fact remains, as Monbiot says, those who love to fish are natural environmental campaigners. And it’s not just in the UK that greenies and anglers work together on common causes. Take a look at what’s occurring in America.
In the USA
One of the great American recreational fishing advocates is Tom Sadler, of the Middle River Group of Verona, Virginia, who has for decades worked with recreational fishers in conserving and rehabilitating fish habitat through joint ventures and alliances with conservation groups. This is what Tom wrote on the need for joint working following his recent Australian trip where he was a guest speaker at the 2010 Fishers for Fish Habitat Forum organised by Craig Copeland on behalf of the DPI in NSW.
The other thing that works, and admittedly it has not been easy, is working with the environmental groups. There was an undercurrent of disdain from some at the forum for the so-called greenies. The US went through, and in some cases is still going through, the challenges of working with our environmental colleagues.
While here in the US they don’t always share the exact same goals as the recreational fishing community, much of what they focus on benefits recreational fishing. Land conservation, water quality, habitat funding, and similar issues are some of the large-scale challenges that both groups not only care deeply about but are working for similar if not identical outcomes. It would be a mistake to ignore the opportunity to seek common ground with the environmental groups and look for the areas where the desired outcomes are in alignment and then work together to leverage each other’s strengths.
More recently I had occasion to get back in touch with Trout Unlimited, one of our sister organisations in the US, over the threats posed by fracking for shale gas to groundwater supplies and fisheries. I was not at all surprised to hear that the well organised rec fishing lobby in America was building broad alliances amongst themselves and with conservation organisations to face down a common threat. I can’t see something like this happening on a national basis in Australia anytime soon which is a sad state of affairs in my view.
Here’s what Chris Hunt from Trout Unlimited told me:
"We're working like dogs on fracking in the U.S., particularly as it relates to your exact worries - water consumption and water contamination. Our mission, of course, is to mobilize anglers on conservation issues, and fracking is a big one for us, both in the Rockies, where the practice has, indeed, been blamed for tarnishing groundwater quality, and in the East, where the Marcellus formation in under Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia is attracting the gas industry like flies to flop."
Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development in the USA working in partnership with conservation groups on anti fracking campaigns.
One of the big players in the battle over fracking is the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) whose mission statement states:
We guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish by uniting and amplifying our partners’ voices to strengthen federal policy and funding.
I particularly like the concept of "amplifying our partners voices" and that’s what I really feel is missing all too often in Australia - the opportunity to take an issue beyond the confines of special pleading by the rec fishing sector and into the mainstream arena by forging effective alliances.
Check out the organisations listed in the TRCP and you’ll see how they are able to tap into constituencies that go far beyond those who just like to fish: http://www.trcp.org/about/partners#.UuzMcfl_uOM
Can anyone seriously see the Australian equivalent of Nature Conservancy, the Coastal Conservation Association and the State Conservation Councils working in formal partnerships with your recreational fishing organisations? In almost anywhere else in the developed world, where some halfwit wants to get away with dumping millions of tonnes of dredging spoil into something as precious as the Great Barrier Reef, recreational fishing groups and national conservation organisations would be around the table in a flash and forming strong alliances against a common enemy.
Why the Divide?
This was the question I asked of a well known Australian fishing broadcaster not long after I arrived in Sydney in 2010. It was the one that plunged me into rec fishing advocacy in your country and it is an issue that you guys need to address at some point soon.
I can see four factors at work that mitigate against cooperative endeavour.
Firstly, there was the presence and tactics of the Pew Foundation in the debate over the size and shape of marine parks. Because of the historic weakness of rec fishing groups at a federal level, Pew were able to adopt positions and tactics they wouldn’t have dared to try in the USA or Europe. This terrified many in the recreational fishing community.
Secondly, the nature of the Australian Green Party, which contains a number of people with extreme positions who would not ordinarily be anywhere near the levers of power if it were not for the parlous decline of the Australian Labor Party as an electoral force. This has led to some unhealthy coalitions with a minority party able to exercise a disproportionate amount of influence over public policy.
Thirdly, far too many in the rec fishing sector in Australia still cling to the dumb notion that their interests are best served by making common cause with the pros. Witness some of the nonsense around the supertrawler issue and how there are still those who argue in favour of retaining indefensible practices like long lining for striped marlin and tuna.
The fact remains that wherever you go in the world the industrial fishing sector will usually set its face against good conservation and sustainable fishery management in their unholy competition with each other to catch the last fish swimming in the sea. Hanging on to the coat tails of the pros, rather than differentiating between our respective impacts and objectives, is what makes many conservationists run for the hills and damages our standing in the public’s mind. Surely we are anglers – not fishmongers?
Fourthly, the highly tribal and confrontational nature of Australian politics does tend to lead to a zero sum mentality whereby "my enemy’s enemy must be my friend". This makes people reluctant to work beyond their immediate comfort zones. Making common cause with others in order to "amplify our voices" requires a slightly more nuanced view of the world.
At the end of the day it’s your country and you guys have got to work out how you are going to reconcile the need to preserve and manage sufficient fish stocks, and the habitat on which they depend, from the economic pressures created by an overcrowded planet which is already 80 per cent overfished. Trust me, without a strong voice for conservation, you’ve got a problem. By all means celebrate winning a bit more access into a few more marine park areas but if you are sharing the space with the trawlers and netsman you won’t be smiling for long.
Let’s not give the last word to a pom - who’s still smarting from that Ashes hammering you gave us - hear instead from the 26th American President, Theodore Roosevelt, who back in 1912 said, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”
Martin Salter is Fishing World's UK-based Foreign Editor.
Trout Unlimited: http://www.tu.org/
Sportsmen Alliance for Marcellus Conservation: http://www.sportsmenalliance.org/
Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development: http://sfred.org/
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership: http://www.trcp.org/ (see below)
Keep Australia Fishing Report: http://www.biaa.com.au/resources/NEWS/BIAA-Member/Keep-Aust-Fishing.pdf
TRCP Partner Organisations
AMERICAN SPORTFISHING ASSOCIATION
ASSOCIATION OF FISH & WILDLIFE AGENCIES
BACKCOUNTRY HUNTERS AND ANGLERS
BONEFISH & TARPON TRUST
BULL MOOSE SPORTSMEN’S ALLIANCE
COASTAL CONSERVATION ASSOCIATION
FEDERATION OF FLY FISHERS
INTERNATIONAL GAME FISH ASSOCIATION
INTERNATIONAL HUNTER EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE OF AMERICA
LAND TRUST ALLIANCE
MULE DEER FOUNDATION
NEW YORK STATE CONSERVATION COUNCIL
NORTH AMERICAN GROUSE PARTNERSHIP
OUTDOOR INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION
POPE AND YOUNG CLUB
PUBLIC LANDS FOUNDATION
QUALITY DEER MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION
NATIONAL WILD TURKEY FEDERATION
NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE ASSOCIATION
SNOOK & GAMEFISH FOUNDATION
THE NATURE CONSERVANCY
THE TRUST FOR PUBLIC LAND
THE WILDLIFE SOCIETY
UNION SPORTSMEN’S ALLIANCE
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE
AMERICAN FISHERIES SOCIETY