Prof Robert Britton, Bournemouth University, UK, has spoken on the RecFishing Forum (Forum on Recreational Fisheries and Aquatic Environment) on the role of recreational angling in biodiversity protection and restoration, held at the European Parliament on 30 November 2022.
The conference was chaired by Niclas Herbst MEP, with representatives from organisations including the European Angling Alliance, plus MEPs and their aides (e.g. from DG Environment) to discuss the contribution of recreational angling to sustainable biodiversity within Europe, including how angling activities align with a number of European Directives (e.g. Water Framework Directive, Invasive Alien Species Regulation, Common Fisheries Policy reforms) and the European Biodiversity Action Plan. This Forum was also timely, given widespread concern over substantial declines in freshwater fish diversity and abundance across the world.
Prof. Britton outlined that approximately 10% of the world’s population have recently engaged with recreational angling, with approximately 24 million anglers in Europe, who contribute both financially (e.g. licence fees) and through volunteer based activities that, in combination, provide the resources needed for many conservation initiatives to run. In return, angling is recognised as being good for human well-being and the mental health of individuals as it reconnects people with nature. Using examples from the Research Cluster in Fish Ecology and Conservation, he discussed how recreational anglers contribute strongly to protecting and restoring biodiversity through:
(i) adopting catch and release angling (C&R) when targeting threatened species, as this maintains fishery access and socio-economic values, and results in negligible fish mortality when good angling practices are used (and C&R soon becomes the social norm where most, if not all, fish are returned alive post-capture);
(ii) the provision of long-term catch data to support the management and conservation of data-poor species, as demonstrated by the REF2021 Impact case study on saving a critically endangered fish species from extinction;
(iii) how anglers act as citizen scientists, for example, by generating data on biological water quality that supports statutory assessments. Moreover, effective implementation of regulation and education can then manage angling activities that are potentially harmful to biodiversity (e.g. releases of alien species).
Overall, the forum highlighted to MEPs the role that angling can play in helping support a better environment, including where evidence-based science can help inform angling practices and ensure fisheries management activities promote sustainable biodiversity.