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Malcolm Gilbert

Malcolm Gilbert RSA campaigner, sea angler and former owner of AMMO bait

Articles from Malcolm Gilbert

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As an angler, I fully understand how spending money on my leisure activity actually supports livelihoodsThat recreational anglers fish for fun is undeniably true but to then conclude that an activity based on fun, recreation, leisure or relaxation is in some way economically inferior to commercial fishing is patently not true.

As an angler, I fully understand how spending money on my leisure activity actually supports livelihoods.

Many angling buddies own boats, ranging from open 13 footers with a nine horse power outboard which cost them around £3,000, to 25 foot high powered offshore  boats equipped with all electrics and wheelhouses that cost over £35,000. These guys, and there are many of them, are the real spenders with fuel, insurance and mooring fees regularly topping £5,000 annually and that's before tackle and bait are taken into account.

I don't currently have a boat, but when I go for an early morning's kayak angling, the petrol I buy to drive to my selected launch site, my parking, my breakfast on the way home at the beach café, all take place as a result of my angling activity. Then I've had to buy the kayak, the handheld VHF, the specialist waterproof clothing, the fishing tackle, the personal buoyancy aid, kayak trolley as well as many other bits and pieces.

Why do some farmers electLet's not overlook shore anglers either as many will own tackle valued at thousands of pounds, spend hundreds of pounds a year on bait and  travel hundreds of miles to fish.

Actually, when you think about it, isn't 'tourism' all about leisure, fun and relaxation?  Activity tourism is the fastest growing sector globally and would anyone seriously suggest tourism is economically invalid?

So there's no denying recreational anglers fish for fun, but in doing so they support thousands of livelihoods across many different sectors - not just the angling trade. These livelihoods are every bit as valid as those supported by commercial fishing.

What if our public marine fishery resources and marine environment were privatised? I'm not advocating this should even be contemplated but wouldn't you expect decisions on the use of fishery resources to then be based on evidence as with freshwater fishery resources?

"I work on salmon and freshwater fisheries, where the economic arguments are firmly in favour of recreational usage and where management of the rod and line fishery is increasingly the prime concern."  wrote a senior fisheries scientist (now retired) from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS).  So if the evidence supports the use of freshwater fish for recreation, why not the same for some marine species?

Actually, when you think about itWhy do some farmers elect to use land that has traditionally been used for food production for camp sites and caravan parks and others use substantial acreages for sport shooting? Because they get a better return on their resources, that's why! So the notion of utilising public marine fishery resources for the best return shouldn't be too difficult a concept to understand.

What about the claim that commercial fishermen go to sea in order to put nourishing protein on our dinner plates?  Utter and complete nonsense I say. They go to sea to earn money and there's nothing wrong with that. I just wish they'd stop dressing it up with all the romantic twaddle.

When foreign buyers from overseas markets push prices at the auctions up and trailer loads of sole, monkfish and bass go across to Spain and France, will you see local fishermen wiping away tears of sorrow as the fish they caught embarks on a journey that will see it ending up on foreign dinner plates? No, they will be spending the extra income from better prices by celebrating at the harbour side pubs.

85% of all seafood consumed in the UK is imported. Even the seafood champions SEAFISH recognise the insignificance of the UK catching sector.  As long ago as 2006 their internal deliberations resulted in this conclusion. "The health of the UK catching sector is no longer of such central importance to the UK seafood industry." Read more HERE.
In other parts of the globe the use of marine fishery resources for recreational exploitation is far better understood, nowhere more so than in the USA where a number of recreationally important species are managed primarily for sportfishing.

In 2006, Southwick Associates examined the economic impacts on a State by State basis of all saltwater fin fish exploitation. They found that the total sales from Recreational fishing was $34 billion, the income was $13 billion and there were 360,000 jobs dependent of sportfishing. The figures for commercial fishing were $9 billion, $6 billion and 126,000 jobs respectively.

Now let me make it clearNow let me make it clear, I'm not an economist. But neither am I an imbecile! It seems entirely reasonable and desirable to utilise all our natural renewable marine fishery resources for the best possible return to UK plc providing we do so sustainably and do not jeopardise the opportunity for future generations to utilise those same renewable resources.

You will recall that 'Net Benefits' recommended that 'some' species should be considered for re-designation. I suggest that in any discussions about the relative economic impacts between RSA and commercial fishing, any and all comparisons should be confined to those fishery resources that are jointly targeted by both sectors. In exactly the same way as no one would wish to compare banana imports or furniture manufacturing to RSA, why would anyone compare commercial exploitation of shellfish, monk, megrim sole and the many other fishery resources for which RSA have absolutely no direct interest in. The 2004 Government evaluation of RSA expenditure, Drew Associates report, concluded RSA expenditure in England & Wales was £538 million. An examination of Government statistics at the Marine Management Organisation's website shows landings data for all species. Once all the species for which RSA has no direct interest are stripped out, the resources upon which the £538 million are dependent contribute just £40 million to commercial landings in England and Wales.

I dont suppose for one moment the Fisheries MinisterI do not suggest these two figures are directly comparable but they do give some perspective to the two sectors. There are downstream economic impacts from commercial fish landings in the form of processing, transport, retailing etc. A 2004 economic report for the South West Regional Development Board on commercial fishing in the South West concluded downstream activities could be as much as twice the landings value which would result in the landings of £40 million being worth £120 million.

So why, if RSA exploitation is a better 'earner' for some species, are successive Governments not managing those fishery resources for RSA, or at the very least implementing integrated management policies that take full account of RSA objectives/requirements alongside those of commercial fishing?

I don't suppose for one moment the Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon will read this; but just in case, I'll end with a plea to the man who could make a difference. Mr Benyon, please learn from your predecessor John Gummer. His term ended with an admission that he was never able to implement the conservation measures he felt were required because of the political clout of the commercial catching sector. In effect, he shirked his duty as elected custodian of public fishery resources - please don't make the same mistake!

Malcolm Gilbert - 15/05/12

Related article: 'Net benefits: A Sustainable and Profitable Future for UK Fishing'

Malcolm Gilbert Blog Main Image 004

Are you reassuredIn 2003 a report to Government called Net Benefits was published. This report was the result of research by the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit into the whole marine fisheries sector and was researched and assembled by some of the country's top economists. The report made some stunningly welcome recommendations in respect of Recreational Sea Angling (RSA) amongst its 200 plus pages, including: "Fisheries department should review the evidence of supporting arguments for re-designating some commercially caught species for wholly recreational sea angling beginning with bass"

It went on to say, "Management to maximise opportunities for recreational anglers means reducing commercial fishing pressure to allow species such as bass, favoured by sea anglers, to grow to much larger sizes. Management for multiple uses is possible." The report also confirmed the value of the RSA sector when it stated, "Recreational anglers spend around £1 billion per year on their sport". Perhaps the most controversial inclusion was  "The over arching aim of fisheries management should be to 'maximise the return to the UK of the sustainable use of fisheries resources and protection of the marine environment".

Our public 
fishery resourcesIn 2005 the Government published its response to Net Benefits called Securing the Benefits and one of the recommendations to be accepted by Government was the overarching Aim of achieving, "A fishing sector that is sustainable and profitable and supports strong local communities, managed effectively as an integral part of coherent policies for the marine environment. (The 'fishing sector' in this instance means all aspects of catching, processing, retail and associated industries that rely on wild-fish catch, including shellfish. This includes the recreational sector.)"

Securing the Benefits then listed a number of 'Objectives' that would be used to achieve the overarching 'Aim'. These included: "To secure the management of fish stocks as an important renewable resource, harvested to optimise long term economic returns." And to help achieve the objectives the Government undertook to, "Develop policy based on the best available biological, economic and socio-economic evidence".

Management to 
maximise opportunitiesSo there we have it. Our public fishery resources should be managed to provide the best possible return to the UK plc on a long term sustainable basis and management should be evidence based. Are you reassured? Well if you've been fishing for a few decades you will have seen first hand how many fish stocks are scarcer and consist of far smaller fish. You will undoubtedly ponder on the Government's interpretation of "long term". According to many expert commentators and the Governments own strategy document for long term sustainable fisheries management, Fisheries 2027, the greatest negative impact on the marine environment as a whole is caused by unsustainable fishing.

So Government, (who fully acknowledge they are the Nation's custodian for public marine fishery resources), knows it should be managing them for the 'long term' but doesn't actually deliver management on that basis, preferring to take the easy route of short term appeasement towards the powerful commercial fishing lobby. If, despite knowing they should be managing for the 'long term' they are not doing so, what about their stated goal of managing for 'best possible return' and making decisions based on 'evidence'?

Which type of exploitation generates 'the best possible return'? Recreational or commercial?

In my next post I'll explore some of the arguments, debates and 'evidence', surrounding the complex issue of utilising public fishery resources for the best return.

Malcolm Gilbert - 20/03/12

Like this? Find out more about marine fisheries management HERE

Malcolm Gilbert Blog3 12-06-11

Many civil 
servants (and politicians) are relatively new to their posts and know 
little or nothing of the history of the relationship between RSA and 
GovernmentMany civil servants (and politicians) are relatively new to their posts and know little or nothing of the history of the relationship between RSA and Government. They do not appear to understand why the RSA community feel as they do and if the relationship is ever to improve, fisheries managers and fisheries scientists urgently require a cultural mindset change so that they focus on the well being of the public fishery resources rather than the short term appeasement of commercial fishing.

At its most simplest, Defra (previously MAFF) has FAILED. Successive Governments have done so handsomely for a great many years. The Government department which should be acting as the nation's custodian of its public marine fishery resources has unquestionably shirked its duty and responsibilities for decades.

A major contribution of that failure is the denial that they were failing, despite fish stocks being in free fall through the 70s, 80s & 90s. MAFF (as Defra used to be called) were still in arrogant denial as recently as late 1999 when a senior MAFF fisheries manager responded to my accusation that MAFF were failing in their duty with the following: "I was sorry to read that you believe that MAFF is failing in its duty to conserve fish stocks, not least because it is failing to consult anglers about fisheries management problems. I hope I can persuade you that neither of these charges is well founded."

At its most simplest, 
Defra (previously MAFF) has FAILEDWithin months, commentators within the fisheries sector, in preparation of the Common Fisheries Reform process for 2002, started a pan European debate which resulted in an absolute admission by both UK and EU officials that fish stocks were in dire trouble. Such an admission is better 'late' than 'never', but one cant help but ponder on how things may have been different IF MAFF had acknowledged how stocks were in free fall a couple of decades earlier.

Some of us in the RSA community knew that the main problem for the Government and its fisheries department was the powerful propaganda machine of the commercial catching sector so it was no surprise when in 2001, ex Fisheries Minister John Gummer was quoted in Fishing News as stating: "I was never able to press for the necessary conservation measures at National and EU level, due to the nations 'emotional attachment' to fishermen. The Industry has too much political clout .The lawn mowing industry employs more people but does not have four ministries, England, N. Ireland, Wales and Scotland." If there was ever any doubt about who the Government were managing our public fishery resources for, we now knew it was the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisation (NFFO) and not the Nation as should be the case.

the main problem for the 
Government and its fisheries department was the powerful propaganda 
machine of the commercial catching sectorIn 1998 MAFF made an announcement that led many within RSA to conclude that not only were MAFF/DEFRA managing fish stocks for the NFFO but that the NFFO might actually be running MAFF! The cod quota for under ten metre commercial fleet in the eastern channel was exhausted well before the end of the year and commercials were therefore no longer allowed to land cod. Now bear in mind that the TAC/quota system was only introduced due to commercial overfishing of cod, that RSA had never been allocated any quota and finally that the scientists stated that recreational cod catches were already taken into account in the calculation for the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) from which quotas derive. None of that mattered however, because when commercial fishermen witnessed angling boats continuing to catch and retain cod, they demanded recreationals be stopped. MAFF immediately said 'Yes Sir, three bags full Sir" and MAFF notices appeared in harbour offices prohibiting the retention of cod by both private and charter angling boats. No consultation with RSA as stakeholders was even considered.

Lets roll the clock forward five years to 2003 when Tony Blair's Cabinet Office Strategy Unit were tasked to carry out a comprehensive appraisal of the entire marine fisheries sector and in 2004 their 222 page report 'Net Benefits' was published. One of the Unit's recommendations was that the Government should look at the evidence for managing some species as 'recreational' rather than as 'commercial', starting with bass. In order to 'inform' the Government in its deliberations, RSA put together a package of proposals that it believed would lead to a significant improvement in the quality of recreational angling for bass and increased value derived from commercial fishing of bass. The combined outcomes of more larger bass for both recreational and commercial fishing would have produced a far better return from the bass resource for the UK plc. The proposals became known as the Bass Management Plan (BMP). The Government response unfortunately was to focus on just one measure from the package of complimentary measures proposed. That was the minimum landing size (MLS) that was 36 cm and the BMP proposed a 45 cm MLS. After a lengthy and highly contentious consultation process, Ben Bradshaw the Minister announced the MLS was to be increased initially to 40 cm. Defra's Press Release stated: "The increase to 40cm will bring the minimum landing size closer to the average spawning size for bass (42cm). As a result, more juvenile fish will be protected with improved recruitment to the spawning stock. This will in turn increase the number and size of bass available for capture by both commercial and recreational sectors."

The 40 cm minimum landing size (MLS) flew in the face of the science which stated that a 45 cm MLS would provide the greatest yield per recruit to the fisheryThe 40 cm minimum landing size (MLS) flew in the face of the science which stated that a 45 cm MLS would provide the greatest yield per recruit to the fishery. Most of the RSA community were disappointed that the proposed 45 cm MLS had been watered down to 40cm but took some comfort from the Defra Press Release which made it clear that subject to a review of the results of the 40 cm MLS, it was the Minister's intention to subsequently increase the MLS to 45 cm.

Then, even this crumb of a 40 cm MLS was snatched away by new Fisheries Minister Jonathan Shaw as a result of concerns that a developing trawl fishery that was already discarding up to two thirds of the baby immature bass it was catching, would end up discarding an even higher proportion. Shaw appeared to consider such a fishery as acceptable despite the obvious damage being inflicted on the stock to the detriment of both commercials and recreationals who would benefit if those immature bass were left to grow so as to be available as larger more valuable individuals.

If you click on to the Government's current fisheries master plan at: and scroll to page 5, under the heading "Where we are going" you will read:"Government's role is to manage this asset (fishery resources) on behalf of society and to get the most benefits for today's citizens and future generations. The few in society who catch fish are responsible for doing so efficiently. This means getting the best possible economic and social benefits from fishing for the least environmental cost - including safeguarding stocks for the future."

Fine words indeed. Quite how Minister Jonathan Shaw reconciled sanctioning a fishery targeting immature baby bass with up to 65% discards because they are less than the legal size with such fine words is a mystery!

Quite how Minister Jonathan Shaw reconciled sanctioning a fishery targeting immature baby bass with up to 65% discards because they are less than the legal size with such fine wordsNot only did the Government ignore the recommendations made by the Strategy Unit report 'Net benefits' in respect of RSA but they appear to be embarrassed with the results of their own economic evaluation of RSA in England & Wales. This study was called the Drew Study. It was initiated and funded by Defra and after being put out to tender the contract was awarded to Drew Associates by Defra, so one might imagine that Defra would be entirely at ease with the results. The study found that in just England and Wales the RSA sector was responsible for over £538 million of expenditure. Now bear in mind that the fishery species upon which that expenditure is entirely reliant (recreationals don't target or catch a great many species that are commercially caught)are also responsible for a first sale value of just £40 million from commercial fishing. Yet Defra still continue to refer to them all as 'commercial' stocks and manage them for commercial exploitation wantonly ignoring the requirements of a sector with a turnover of more than half a £billion. They should be embarrassed! So much for informed decision making!

So what can the Government do to reassure anglers like me? And in particular how might the Government convince me that their latest proposals in respect of collecting catch and economic data on RSA are for the benefit of RSA as opposed to introducing 'controls' and 'restrictions' on RSA activities?

For me words are insufficient. All the verbal reassurances the Minister can muster won't convince me to trust this or any Government after personally witnessing forty years of constant short term appeasement of the commercial fishing lobby. The real irony of course is that a quick perusal of fisheries statistics illustrate very clearly how decades of acquiescence to commercial fishing interests have actually condemned that very same sector to annihilation.
  • In 1970 the UK fleet landed 780,000 tonnes of demersal fish. By 2009, it was down to 150,000 tonnes.
  • In 1970 there were 11,800 commercial fishermen (regular & part time) in England & Wales. By 2009 there were just 6,200.
Trust has to be earned. I'd need to see actual decisions being delivered that convince me that at long last, Defra recognise that 'fish' are the single most important ingredient for any fisheries sector - recreational or commercial and that rebuilding our depleted fishery resources is their absolute priority.

I say to Defra, "The ball is in your court. You give me reason to trust you!"

Malcolm Gilbert - 12/06/11

Malcolm Gilbert Blog2 09-05-11-v4

tough old salts were 
depicted almost in tears as they chucked boxes of sizeable cod over the 
sideOvernight, Hugh's internet Fish Fight campaign took off and bought the discard issue sharply into mainstream focus. TV coverage reinforced the catching sector's absolute condemnation of discards and tough old salts were depicted almost in tears as they chucked boxes of sizeable cod over the side. The very same message that the PR machine of the NFFO and Fish Producer Organisations had been broadcasting for years, developed a critical mass that appears to have caught the commercials off their guard. With discards as mainstream headline news, celeb after celeb jumped on the band wagon and the entire world was paying attention.

Not least, the EU Commission took notice, especially the current Commissioner Maria Damanaki. And now we have fisheries managers and politicians across the EU debating the option to ban discards. You'd think the NFFO and other commercial voices would be ecstatic. But you'd be WRONG. Now those same people who thrust discards upon the public with orchestrated and contrived photo shots, are singing a different tune entirely!

The only discard issue that 
ever vexed the commercials was the chucking back into the sea of 
saleable fish which represented lost doshNow we see the commercials back peddling like only they can, with comments warning that we don't need knee jerk reactions. Suddenly, the very same discarding that they have thrust into the public domain and professed to loathe, and find utterly unacceptable, is not quite so unacceptable as it was. Apparently, the discard issue is more 'complicated' now the threat of a discard ban looms overhead!  One commercial has said "an amount of discarding is inevitable".

Confused? Don't be. 

The only discard issue that ever vexed the commercials was the chucking back into the sea of saleable fish which represented lost dosh. The undersized fish, the unwanted species, and discards as a result of high grading, never mattered a jot. In fact, it is now clear that neither 'conservation' or 'sustainability' had anything to do with their protestations about discards. It was all about money! 

And now a complete ban of discards is being seriously considered, with the fish that were at one time dumped to be counted against quota with perhaps some additional effort controls such as restriction of days at sea, the song the commercials have been singing for years has changed.

Watch this space.

Malcolm Gilbert - 09/05/11

Malcolm Gilbert Blog1 16-12-10

That I've been back pretty much every year since should tell you something of the incredible fishing. The striped bass story in an abbreviated version is as follows. Striped bass were overfished during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their annual migration through numerous state waters, each with its own management approach, made sound management nigh on impossible. Then the Federal Government stepped in and laid down a minimum requirement that all states had to comply with. The first measure was a moratorium. Yes, that's right! - a complete five year ban on all fishing - commercial and recreational. Imagine such a restrictive measure being introduced within the EU fisheries management debacle!

recreational anglers up and down the East Coast flooded their ASMFC representatives with calls to deny the proposalStocks rebounded and as fisheries were reopened, robustly enforced, highly restrictive management measures were implemented that included: commercial quotas, closed seasons, large minimum landing sizes for both commercial and recreational fishing, recreational bag limits, and more. Stocks burgeoned. Between 1986 and 1996, striped bass stocks had increased sevenfold from around 5 million to over 35 million fish. The number of striped bass fishing trips also increased sevenfold from 1 million in 1987 to over 7 million by 1996. Tackle and bait companies take note!

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council (ASMFC) called the recovery of striped bass stocks the most successful restoration of any fin fish stocks in North America - ever!

Malcolm Gilbert and Striped BassThe growth in recreational sportfishing for striped bass over time resulted in far greater numbers of bass being taken by recreationals (even with restrictive bag limits and a large minimum landing size) than by commercials. The latest figures from the ASMFC website show that 80 per cent of all striped bass mortality is at the hands of recreational anglers.

Recently, the commercials lobbied hard for a greater share of the allowed catch but on November 9th, after months of intense debate, the ASMFC announced that it had denied a proposal to increase the commercial harvest of striped bass by up to 50 per cent. Public sentiment had run intensely against the proposal from the moment it was introduced in February, as recreational anglers up and down the East Coast flooded their ASMFC representatives with calls to deny the proposal.

As an angler who passionately looks forward to my annual pilgrimage to the eastern seaboard of the United States, I was very relieved and the success of recreational representation to the decision process struck a chord with me, especially so because of the absolute lack of success recreational sea anglers have had on this side of the Atlantic in influencing our marine fisheries policies.

Earlier this year, the EU Commission announced plans to take a closer look at recreational sea angling (RSA) in Europe and in particular to try and get a handle on the level of RSA catches to see if they might be affecting recovery plans for some species. There was even talk about including RSA catches in the TAC/Quota system.

At about this time I became aware of an escalating debate in the US about a management approach called 'Catch Share' being promoted by an organisation called the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF).

In the USA, the saltwater sport fishing fraternity have for many years collectively provided sufficient resources for professional representation of their interestsA very simple description of 'Catch Share' is that the scientists determine how many fish can be taken from a stock and that allowed catch is shared amongst user groups. Said like that it sounds OK but if recreational sea angling is bought into such a system, just how likely are anglers in Europe to get a 'fair' share?

Will the decision process as to who gets what be carried out by well informed fisheries managers? Will they fully understand the socio-economic value of RSA? Will they understand the very specific requirements of RSA - the motivation for RSA? - the need to have levels of high abundance of stocks that are of direct interest to RSA that are represented by the full age structure (older larger fish are important to anglers)?

Well, given the abject failure of RSA in Europe to influence fisheries managers to date, I doubt it.

In the USA, the saltwater sport fishing fraternity have for many years collectively provided sufficient resources for professional representation of their interests. They employ a variety of lobbyists with economic, biological and above all, advocacy skills. Over time they have successfully created a cultural mindset amongst many fisheries managers and politicians that fully recognises the saltwater sportfishing sector so that any debate of 'Catch Sharing' is carried out on a level playing field with commercial interest.

In the UK we are a million miles from such recognition and any debate on sharing would result in a bigger share for commercials and a smaller share for recreationals.

I've just been looking at latest commercial landings data for bass and just for example; in Wales (2009) commercial landings of bass were £300K (about the average wage for a couple GP Doctors if media reports are to be believed). The socio-economic impacts from RSA for bass in Wales simply dwarfs this by an enormous amount BUT those bass resources are managed for commercials and are perceived as belonging to commercials.

Politics, politics and more politics. And right now the commercials are massively more skilled in politics that RSACrazy but true. By any rational judgment Welsh bass stocks should be managed for RSA with perhaps some degree of commercial exploitation (restrictively controlled) that doesn't threaten the 'RSA golden goose'. I believe the same could be said for a number of species across Eng. & Wales, but 'informed & rational decision making' has nothing to do with it.

Politics, politics and more politics. And right now the commercials are massively more skilled in politics than RSA.

In Wales the handful of commercial fishermen whose income in mainly bass scream 'livelihood' a dozen times a day. How many tackle dealers and charter boat operators in Wales whose income is equally dependent on the bass resource have even considered the idea of their livelihoods being linked to the bass resource?

The number of companies who have recently started up marketing plugs,spinning rods/reels, etc. to capitalise on the growth in light tacklesportfishing for bass is staggering BUT how many have written to their MPs to lay out the case that their livelihoods and prosperity are dependent on the bass resource? How many have considered that as good as their market appears to be with reasonable numbers of four to six-year-old fish (1- 2 lbs), just what could be developed with abundant 10 to 15 year-old-fish (4 -8 lb)?

Malcolm Gilbert - 16/12/10

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