In a new regular series, Angling Trust and Fish Legal CEO Jamie Cook addresses some of the big questions about angling’s governing body
It’s funny how rumours start in angling. More often than not they aren’t malicious, they are just not always informed by the correct information and there will inevitably be some who like to fill in the gaps irrespective of the facts. Since I joined the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, I’ve come across plenty of questions, rumours, myths and even one or two legends. However, some questions I think deserve an answer and to be put to bed and others need to be picked up again and re-opened as the fishing landscape has changed since Covid. So over the coming months, I will address a few of the more frequently asked questions I’ve received from the community over the past couple of years and offer some straightforward answers:
Q – Are the Angling Trust in the pockets of the EA? Does that stop you speaking out against them?
A – Logic suggests that if you are gagged or unwilling to speak out against an organisation it’s highly unlikely you will take them to court. So those who like to falsely suggest that somehow the Angling Trust or Fish Legal are beholden to the Environment Agency seem to overlook the fact that scarcely a month goes by without us mounting serious challenges to various policies or decisions. Fish Legal, acting on behalf of the Angling Trust and the Broads Angling Services Group, challenged both the Environment Agency and Natural England over its decision to instal fish barriers at the entrance to Norfolk’s Hoveton Great Broad. You can read more here. Hardly the behaviour of a cowed or frightened organisation is it?!
Of course, as a critical friend of the Agency we work together where our objectives align and we hold them to account where we don’t feel they are fulfilling their obligations. This is in our objectives as an organisation, we are not-for-profit and every penny is invested back into the sport and environment we love.
Our objectives are clear, we fight for fish, fishing and the environment. We work to get more people fishing more often, we run a gold standard of competitions, we campaign for fish and fishing in saltwater and freshwater and we directly support anglers, clubs and fisheries. Every angler who buys a licence is a stakeholder of the Environment Agency which sadly can’t be said of either the Angling Trust or Fish Legal. The EA then re-invest that licence income into various areas. Read more here. In three areas they choose to invest in the work that the Angling Trust do:
1 – Participation
Our Get Fishing programme introduces 37,000 families and individuals to fishing each year. Both the EA and Sport England invest into our work here and in turn we provide funding to hundreds of community clubs and fisheries, training coaches to deliver sessions so that fishing is accessible to all. Beyond this we also invest directly into both the Canal & River Trust’s Let’s Fish programme and the Get Hooked on Fishing programme as our model is focused on building long term partnerships to create lifelong anglers. If we create the desire in people to fish they will buy rod licences and that money will come full circle to the EA – this is why the EA investment only covers freshwater events and why we have worked so hard to expand that into saltwater off our own back.
I struggle to see a negative in this partnership and it certainly doesn’t restrict us from challenging the EA over pollution, enforcement or habitat destruction.
In recent years the support of trade partners has meant that we can do more than ever – Shakespeare and Angling Direct work in partnership with ourselves and the Environment Agency on this shared goal of introducing new people to fishing. I’m pretty sure that partnership wouldn’t restrict those brands or their paid ambassadors from speaking out!
2 – Enforcement
With a stated goal of protecting fish and fishing and a network of over 2,500 member clubs and fisheries representing around 500,000 individual anglers, it is small wonder that poaching and illegal fishing are important to the Angling Trust. Through the Fisheries Enforcement team we have built a network of 700 volunteers who care about their waters and provide vital boots on the ground deterrent and intelligence to both their own clubs and to enforcement services. The EA invest money into our work in this area as the intelligence our network delivers allows their stretched enforcement teams to focus their efforts.
As anglers we welcome meeting a bailiff, we all take an interest in protecting our waters from illegal fishing and for the Angling Trust not to do this would leave a huge void – ask yourself this, if the EA have made a decision that they wish to invest this resource would you rather a company such as G4S taking on the Government contract or would you prefer that the resource found its way directly to the passionate individuals who give up their time to protect their waters?
Does the fact that the EA invest into our enforcement network prevent us calling for greater enforcement of illegal fishing or agricultural pollution? Of course it doesn’t – in fact we were a key driver in helping to secure resource for an additional 50 agricultural enforcement officer. Would we like to see more EA bailiffs? Absolutely, 100% yes we would.
3 – Fisheries advice and support
We are here to support our member individuals, clubs and fisheries. Whether that is bringing clubs together to share best practice on stocking, fisheries management, health and safety, work parties or delivering sport specific guidance in our role as the National Governing Body in England we have established a community of anglers who we support. Through face to face forums and workshops, blogs, partnered seminars with our friends at the Institute of Fisheries Management or online sea, game and coarse forums, we connect, educate and inform.
The EA invest in this area because in order for angling participation to grow we need infrastructure, we need new anglers to feel welcome, we need facilities and most importantly we need fish. EA investment funds two brilliant and dedicated fisheries management advisors who support our clubs and fisheries to access funding and grants to improve their fisheries and combat predation.
The number of emails I receive complimenting the work of Jake and Richard is perhaps only second to those telling me how brilliant Janusz and the Building Bridges team are, providing resources in multiple languages, attending events and integrating migrant anglers. Guess what? The EA invest into our work in this area, too.
So does that mean that when the EA floods team destroy bankside habitat we sit idly by and ignore it? Of course not!
No conflict, no compromises – and good for fishing!
Put simply anyone who suggests that the EA investing in three specific areas of Angling Trust delivery for the good of the sport compromises our independence or ability to campaign needs to take a few minutes to really think about this. Ask yourself whether these three areas are good things for angling? Then ask yourself how we would be better off if the Angling Trust turned around to the EA (or vice versa) and said that we wouldn’t work with one another? Would our rivers be in a better state? Would there be less illegal fishing? Would we have a greater ability to influence policy? I don’t believe I can answer yes to any of these points, and yet certain individuals maintain that there is a conflict.
I’ll ask a different question – when have those critical individuals used their influence to encourage anglers to join their representative governing body in the numbers that would move the dial? Unfortunately, they haven’t but it is so much easier to comment from the sidelines than it is to roll up your sleeves and give something back. The Angling Trust campaigns team, the Fish Legal professionals have no connection to the EA and our independence is critical in our ability to represent anglers. Over 60% of our income comes from non-contacts sources so we are hardly dependent and this information is all made available on both our website and through our annual membership magazine.
However I firmly believe that partnership working drives efficiency and improves delivery and I am confident that if the EA were not investing in some of the work that we do then both our outputs and theirs in those areas would be reduced, which cannot be beneficial for fish or fishing.
If you are still not convinced I’ll reference a couple of recent cases where the Angling Trust and Fish Legal have held our partners to account on behalf of the angling community so that you can make up your own mind:
I think that’s probably a good place to leave it – If the above has led you to look again at what you have heard or thought was fact then please click the link and support us – we are an organisation run for anglers, by anglers and together we are stronger. As many in the industry and community seem to agree, all anglers do need to unite and we have proved since Covid that we are able to have a huge impact.
I just wish those calling for anglers to unite would practice what they preach and help me, help our wonderful ambassadors, help our numerous trade partners and help our loyal members to make a positive impact for fish, fishing and the environment.
Angling Trust and Fish Legal incomes and investments 2020/21