04 May, 2020
Please see below our submission and advice to the NI Executive on a phased return to Sea Angling.
Northern Ireland Federation of Sea Angling representing and staying strong for all sea anglers in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Federation of Sea Anglers (NIFSA) Proposal on
RECREATIONAL ANGLING IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Guidance to Ministers on a scale able approach to permitting angling to resume as a safe activity for mental and physical wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis.
The NI Executive is planning for a managed transition away from current lockdown restrictions, seeking to very carefully open up parts of our economy and society in a way that enables the suppression of COVID-19 transmission to continue.
This note has been prepared by NIFSA the representative body for Northern Irelands sea angling community, to put forward details of a progressive approach to easing restrictions so that angling can recommence across the country without prejudice to the overriding goal of safeguarding public health and protecting the NHS.
Why re-open angling?
• Sea Angling is a healthy and extremely popular outdoor activity which has been proven to be beneficial to both the mental and physical wellbeing of participants. For disabled anglers in particular, the act of going out fishing is an ideal way to combine gentle exercise and fresh air on a regular basis.
• Sea Angling is economically significant within the Northern Irish economy. Commercial fisheries and other enterprises that provide or support angling facilities are virtually all small rural businesses. In almost every case they have suffered sudden and complete loss of income since the lockdown commenced. The impact on “upstream” businesses in manufacturing and retail is less conspicuous, but could be substantial in the long term.
• Angling carries a low inherent potential for COVID-19 transmission. Angling practices are conducive to maintaining physical separation between participants, and can readily be adapted to accommodate specific social distancing measures imposed or recommended by the authorities.
• Angling helps protect our waterways and the surrounding countryside. The presence of anglers can deter others who mistreat the outdoor environment - sad to say, we are seeing a rise in reports of illegal fish removals, vandalism, and fly-tipping at what would normally be popular fishing spots – and provides an “early warning” mechanism for identifying incidents of pollution or fish disease.
A way ahead
We should make clear at the outset that the steps we are putting forward are subject to any overriding conditions in present and/or future NI Executive legislation/guidance. So, for instance, references to social distancing are based on the current provisions forbidding any assembly of more than two persons, and for people to remain a minimum of two metres apart. Equally, any relaxation enabling people to participate in angling could not apply to those required to self-isolate because of current or recent symptoms of COVID-19.
We envisage a phased approach, with a basic minimum set of measures being introduced immediately and – hopefully - expanded by stages relatively soon in the light of experience and emerging best practice. However the “package” is inherently flexible, and can allow for individual measures to be withdrawn or reeled back if necessary without requiring to be abandoned as a whole. For example, our proposal sees competitive sea angling returning in the second phase subject to detailed Codes of Practice being developed by the NIFSA. Initial work in this area suggests that competition angling, with minor adjustments to the organisation of certain aspects, could be facilitated whilst maintaining current social distancing measures and could thus recommence when Ministers feel the time is right to reduce restrictions on the assembly of more than two persons.
Critical to our proposals, however, is a reconsideration by the NI Executive of what constitutes “essential travel”, and the establishment of clear parameters for the radius within which it is permissible to travel (perhaps only by bicycle, motorcycle or private car) for the purpose of undertaking angling and other forms of outdoor activity and exercise.
The reason for this is demographic. Most people live in urban areas, chiefly in Belfast and surrounding areas, whereas most places to fish are on the coast or in rural areas. Denying people the option of using motorised transport to go fishing would mean that only a small fraction of the population could benefit from the relaxation. Furthermore, setting the “radius” parameters too low might be counterproductive, putting unsustainable pressure on areas within the relevant range of major population centres and creating congestion that could compromise social distancing standards. There is as yet no firm evidence on which to judge the optimum balance on this issue, but we understand that most anglers in Northern Ireland tend to travel for a minimum of something between forty minutes and an hour to pursue their sport. This would indicate a radius of between thirty and fifty miles, and we therefore suggest that a figure of – forty miles – is set as a starting point.
The list below summarises, in bullet point form, our proposals for particular restrictions on angling practices during the emergence from lockdown, and the phases in which we think they might be introduced. To assist Ministers we have also prepared a detailed risk matrix which is appended.