Scale of bait collection activity

The National Anglers Council (NAC) calculated the scale of bait collection activity by sea anglers in the 1970s. At this time, the NAC estimated that 75% of anglers collected their own bait, or one and a half million anglers. These included both match anglers (semi-professionals) taking very large quantities for their regular use, and the occasional angler taking some bait while on holiday. The number of active anglers in the late 1990s is considered to have risen to around 3 million, with an economic value of over 1 billion per annum. The overall number of active sea anglers, however, has apparently fallen since the 1970s and 1980s, possibly as a result of declining coastal fish stocks (C. Davies pers. comm.). Most anglers now restrict their fishing activity to inland waters and do not collect bait on the coast. Saunders et al. (1998) report that the National Federation of Anglers had an estimated membership of 200,000 and the National Federation of Sea Anglers 37,000 members in 1998. There are also several smaller Angling Associations, most of these regional. One million people are estimated to participate in sea fishing annually (Target Group Index 1994, quoted in Saunders et al. 1998), implying that no more than 25% of these are associated with national representative organisations. Saunders et al. (1998) also suggest that most shoreline anglers are unlikely to be associated with local clubs.

There are no reliable estimates for the numbers of active commercial bait diggers, not least because the majority of these reportedly do not declare income from this occupation. It is not essential for an angler or a commercial collector to live on the coast or near bait beds in order for bait collection to be undertaken, although most probably do. Many sports anglers will regularly drive one hundred miles or more to obtain bait for an important fishing session, and commercial bait collectors are reported to visit bait beds several hundred miles away for periods of intensive collection.

While bait worm collection is the main focus of this report, largely because of its unregulated nature and the consequent difficulty of managing the activity, a number of other species are also collected for bait or for personal consumption. The collection of peeler crabs is of particular interest in this respect, and utilises two main methods. In southwestern estuaries, anglers and commercial collectors have installed thousands of crab shelters on sediment shores. These are used to attract crabs to locations where they may more easily be collected. On rocky shores crabs are obtained by boulder turning, which may cause considerable damage to natural habitats and communities (Liddiard et al. 1989). Digging for bivalves also takes place on some sediment shores, and winkles and mussels are hand-gathered for food or bait on many rocky shores. The intensity of species collection for human consumption is low in comparison with many other countries (e.g. New South Wales, Australia, as described by Underwood 1993) but could increase in future.

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