Recreational fishing constitutes the dominant or sole use of many freshwater fish stocks in the industrial nations, and its importance in coastal areas is growing rapidly. Every tenth EU citizen goes fishing during leisure time. In Germany, anglers take approximately 45.000 tonnes of fish per year from rivers, ponds and lakes -- six times more than the commercial inland fisheries. Similarly, the economic importance of recreational fisheries exceeds the economic value of commercial fisheries in inland waters in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. In short -- recreational fishing constitutes an extremely important, yet typically neglected, use of wild fish stocks in most freshwater lakes and rivers in industrialized nations.
The importance of recreational fishing is also increasing in developing countries and economies in transition. Yet little attention has been paid in international fisheries policy documents to the responsible management of recreational fisheries. As a consequence, the issues faced by the recreational fishing sector are often overlooked or even disregarded by policy-makers and in public discussion about the future of the world's fisheries. The result might be that recreational fisheries interests are marginalized due to their perceived low social priority, resulting in increasing threats to aquatic ecosystems and recreational fisheries stemming from agriculture, river channelization, flood control and hydropower generation.
To harmonize the situation and provide a frame for a coherent debate and ultimately for action, the European Inland Fisheries Advisory Commission (EIFAC), a statutory body of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, recently developed and published a Code of Practice for Recreational Fisheries. Experts with different backgrounds from 17 countries prepared the Code under the auspices of EIFAC and coordinated by Fisheries Professors Robert Arlinghaus (Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Humboldt-University of Berlin, Germany) and Ian Cowx (University of Hull, UK).
The resulting Code was endorsed by EIFAC at its 25th Session in Turkey in 2008. It is intended to complement and extend the internationally accepted FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The policy document is framed specifically towards recreational fisheries practices and issues, describing the minimum standards of environmentally-friendly, ethically-appropriate and -- depending on local situations -- socially acceptable recreational fishing and its management. It also addresses activities that support recreational fisheries, such as aquaculture production of fish for stocking, the manufacture of gear, the tourism industry, the media, as well as fisheries management and research.
The Code works from the general assumption that recreational fisheries provide a vital source of recreation, employment, food and social and economic well-being for people throughout the world, both for present and future generations. The various benefits resulting from recreational fisheries to the sector and society at large are different to those of food and income that have been traditionally associated with fishing, but they are no less important. To continue being viable, however, recreational fishing needs to minimize any ecological impacts on aquatic biodiversity and also strive to harmonizing conflicts between other users of water resources, whilst continuing to deliver the huge benefits to people engaged in recreational fishing and associated industries. The Code provides direction for policy makers and managers on how to move towards this objective.
Although many of the principles and guidelines presented in the Code of Practice for Recreational Fisheries are already addressed through national fisheries legislation and regional fisheries management regulations in many countries in Europe and elsewhere, the Code should help make these approaches more coherent. Not least, the provisions of the Code build on the enormous potential and engagement of anglers to serve as stewards of fish resources and aquatic ecosystems. The Code shall help capitalizing on this potential.
The Code of Practice for Recreational Fisheries should facilitate the overarching goal of sustainable fisheries along with increased acceptance and visibility of recreational fisheries among policy makers and managers as an important part of the world's fisheries. Being a voluntary instrument, it has no formal legal status. Initial reactions to the Code have been positive and encouraging. Some fisheries bodies and several governmental and non-governmental organizations have started to implement the Code, so the future looks optimistic. The challenge is to increase adoption and compliance of the principles in the Code, but strengthening commitment to and corporate will for its implementation and future development for regional and local application is recommended.
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