Most people agree that the real value of fishing is in the health and wellbeing it gives you: the fresh air, the peaceful meditation of waiting for the fish to bite and the camaraderie of your fellow anglers. But did you know it has a vital economic value too?
According to the 19th century Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. If Mr Disraeli was around today, he might have something to say about the accuracy or otherwise of opinion polls and public surveys.
The Environment Agency recently appointed researchers to survey some 11,000 anglers, most by telephone with the remainder completing an email survey. So what do the statistics in the report tell us? If you are keen and have a couple of spare hours you can download and read the whole document. If you don't have the inclination to do that, just read on for the next couple of minutes.
Angler numbers and target species
In 2015, English rod licence holders (there were over 960,000 of them in total back then compared to just over 800,000 today) spent around 22.3 million days fishing in freshwate. That works out at about 25 fishing days per angler. It's no surprise to me that nearly 20 million of these fishing days are spent coarse fishing. Of all coarse fishing days, more than a third are spent targeting one species, namely carp.
On average, each carp angler spent 17 days fishing for their favourite species in 2015. Bream and roach were the second most targeted quarry. An interesting little snippet is that more fishing days were spent targeting bleak and gudgeon than targeting salmon.
English anglers spent around 2.9 million days fishing for stocked trout in 2015 but only 134,000 days fishing for salmon and sea trout. Doubtless then, there will be those who take the view that less rod licence money should be spent on conserving these species and therefore more invested on the coarse fish species. What do you reckon?
On the other hand, it's probably no surprise to learn that salmon anglers spent on average around £400 per year on club membership, season permits and syndicate fees, which is considerably more compared to that of most coarse fishermen.
Coarse anglers' venue choice and match fishing
No less than 71% of total coarse angling days took place on stillwaters, around 14 million angler days in total. 22% of coarse angling took place on rivers with the remaining 7% taking place on canals. That equates to around 1.4 million angler days on the nation's canals. This is not a dissimilar figure to the number of days spent by coarse anglers on match fishing, which is 1.27 million angler days, with trout match fishing accounting for just over 29,000 days. It is estimated that around 12% of licenced coarse anglers take part in match fishing. That is roughly 80,000 people who fished at least one match during 2015.
The report divides angler expenditure into two categories. These are:
Trip related expenditure: this being money spent directly linked to the angling trip such as accommodation, subsistence, bait for the trip, transport costs and day permits
Non-trip related expenditure: which includes items such as clothing, fishing tackle, club membership, season permits, syndicate fees and expenditure on media products
In summary, expenditure by anglers based in England contributed £1.46 billion to household incomes (expressed as gross value added) in England and supports around 27,000 jobs. Not at all bad for a sport whose participants were once described by Samuel Johnson as ‘fools at one end and with worms at the other'.
Comparing angling to sport as a whole and other sectors
An analysis of the 2013 Sport England Report indicated that sport as a whole, of which angling is a part, generated a total gross added value of over £20 billion to the economy. As a result, some 400,000 full-time equivalent jobs were generated.
Boating, like angling, is a very significant activity on the nation's waterways. An estimate made by the Royal Yachting Association in 2014 indicated that the minimum UK Total Economic Contribution (TEC) from ‘leisure boats' stands at £1.3 billion per year as compared to the £1.6 billion that freshwater angling contributes to the economy. In 2012 the TEC for the UK marine leisure industry was £2.31 billion, excluding export and the superyacht sector.
Life's better by water
Just like other sports and recreations like boating, there's far more to fishing than just its economic benefits. There is the wellbeing and happiness of the individuals who take part to consider. Apart from the occasional grumpy match angler having a particularly bad day, almost everyone who fishes seems to enjoy it. There is strong evidence that angling, like pretty much any sport does improve health (both physical and mental) and so results in reduced costs to the National Health Service. Research undertaken in 2011-2012 to value the healthcare costs saved and the annual value of health benefits generated by participation in all sports are estimated to be £1.7 billion in terms of savings in healthcare costs and £11.2 billion in total economic value.
Benefitting young people
The improved educational attainment of those that participate in sport including angling cannot be overlooked either. Several parents continue to thank me to this day for what I and others helped do in my Grindley Brook years to keep their offspring on the straight and narrow. Now we have the Trust's Let's Fish campaign that has introduced over 3,000 people to angling this year.
Participation in sport can increase student's motivation, improve their social relations with peers and persons in authority and can impact positively on self-discipline, time management and self-esteem. It can contribute towards reducing crime and anti-social behaviour, particularly among young people.
Where better to undertake these things than on the nation's canal network as 8 million people live within 1km and around half the population live within five miles of one of the Trust's waterways.
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