Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sportfishing Rules

Guardian enviro-scribe George Monbiot gets it.  Sportfishing trumps commercial fishing any day and in every way.  It's better for the environment and it's better for the economy, way better.

Here are a few ways that sportfishing is vastly better than commercial fishing.

1.  Bycatch.  Anglers take what they're after, what's in season.  If it's the wrong species, back it goes.  Better yet, it's landed on a hook and line.  It's not mashed up on some trawl or left to die on a long-line.

2.  Quotas.  Anglers accept modest catch quotas.  Hell, they're often happy to get anything and even if they don't, they're just happy to be out on the water. 

3.  Fuel consumption.  Anglers don't like to squander money on gas.  They trailer their boats to the nearest launch ramp to the fishing area.  Running long distances to a fishing hole is just a waste of fishing time and money.

4.  Revenue, revenue, revenue.  Tourists flock to places where there's good sportfishing to be had.  They spend big bucks on hotels, restaurants, gear and charter guides.  The return to the economy per salmon from sportfishing, for example, eclipses what the commercial fleet generates.  It's a few pennies per pound for the commercial fish and a few dollars per pound for the angler's fish.

According to Monbiot, it's the same situation in Britain:

Total value of landings by commercial fishing fleets in the UK as a whole: £770m.

Total spending by sea anglers (recreational rod and line fishers) in England alone: £831m.

Yes, surprising as it seems, fishing for a hobby appears to generate more value than fishing commercially.

The same report, produced for the Westminster government last year, found that sea angling in England directly generates 10,400 jobs: in charter boats, tackle shops, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and the rest.

Commercial fishing directly employs 12,450 people across the UK.

The report on angling doesn't provide figures for the whole of the UK, but if the jobs generated are proportional to the number of anglers, then the total for England, Scotland and Wales is 12,690. (There must also be a few hundred in Northern Ireland, for which I don't have any figures). So, in terms of direct employment, rod and line fishing appears to generate more jobs than net and pot fishing.

...Broadly speaking, we're looking at two industries of roughly comparable size, which exist in direct competition with each other. One – commercial fishing – constrains the income and employment generated by the other. The government survey found that the factor above all others that would encourage participation is "better fish stocks". The anglers it questioned reported sharply diminished catches over the past 20 or 30 years; which is unsurprising in view of the depletion caused by commercial overfishing and the habitat destruction inflicted by trawlers and scallop dredgers.

As Monbiot points out, commercial fishing also does constrain the income and employment of the sportfishing industry here in British Columbia.  Commercial overfishing leaves the sportfishing industry unable to attract clients.  Who wants to pay big money to go to a place to drag tackle through an empty ocean?  Damn few. 

A particular sore point is that, in British Columbia, our government, at taxpayer expense, maintains a chain of fish hatcheries to provide many millions of salmon fingerlings.  What's rarely recognized are that those fingerlings are subsidized life support for the commercial fishing industry.  Those hatcheries are a blatant admission of overfishing by a commercial fleet bloated in numbers and capability.   Why should the lucrative sportfishing industry be relegated to the overfishing and heavily subsidized commercial fleet's leavings?

Although you wouldn't know it to hear the commercial skippers talk, but the fish in the sea are natural capital, public property.  It's the responsibility of government to get a fair return from those who take that public property.   If we allowed the economics of sportfishing to determine the value of our fish and exacted something approaching that value from the commercial fleet and packing plants then I suspect we'd have far less dependence on hatcheries and far healthier fish stocks - not to mention much happier anglers. 

No comments: