Voluntary codes of conduct

National and regional sea angling bodies and most, if not all, local clubs strongly promote a sea anglers’ code that includes guidelines for protecting the marine environment and mitigating harmful impacts. These codes include measures as simple and effective as avoiding moorings and other intertidal structures while digging bait and back-filling the holes and trenches produced, returning rocks and weed to their original positions when collecting crabs and shellfish, and only taking the minimum bait required for planned fishing trips. They are potentially extremely valuable in minimising many of the impacts of bait collection and interactions with other users, particularly those arising from damage to habitats and non-target species. They not only conserve bait stocks, but may even increase yields.

Another advantage of this approach is that intertidal species collection (particularly for bait) is undertaken sufficiently regularly by a large number of individuals that fairly effective self-policing and self-education of the activity should be achievable. The lack of awareness of any bait collection activity or problems resulting from this among coastal managers in many regions certainly suggests that these codes of conduct are working effectively in some areas.

Unfortunately, evidence obtained from consultations, field visits and examination of well-known bait collection case studies demonstrates that, in practice, only a minimum of bait collectors actually adheres to most of the guidelines set out in these codes in many areas. It is rare to see bait diggers back-filling holes, and most individuals searching for crabs do not replace rocks and stones. The two main reasons that so many bait collectors are seen to disregard these codes of conduct are probably:

  • The small proportion of all sea anglers who belong to one of the governing bodies. The majority may not even be aware of the existence of national or regional codes of conduct and their importance for conserving stocks and maintaining access to collection sites.
  • The reportedly large numbers of unemployed persons seeking additional income through commercial bait collection. They are probably neither anglers nor professional bait diggers, and are more concerned with short-term monetary rewards than environmental issues and long-term management of bait stocks.

This is unfortunate. Codes of conduct so obviously protect the interests of the bait collectors that it should be possible to gain much greater support for their promotion and benefit from a degree of self-education and policing among users. (A history of conflicts – sometimes physical – within and between foreshore user groups does, however, indicate that encouraging any degree of self-enforcement of voluntary or statutory controls by collectors is extremely unwise.)

Some of these problems could be resolved by improvement in the resources and personnel available for education and promotion of these codes, both on and off site. A targeted national education and conservation programme with assistance from angling publishers and gear manufacturers would be most effective in reaching the majority of anglers who are not members of the governing bodies.

Dealing with the problem of the unemployed, casual commercial bait collectors is more difficult. Most professional bait collectors and many retail outlets are in favour of the introduction of a licensing system similar to that operated in Maine, USA (see Appendix). This would require all origins, purchases and sales of bait to be registered and reported by bait collectors and wholesale and retail bait outlets. Such a system would provide a means of promoting good practice among all commercial collectors, but is probably outside the competence of SAC management groups to implement, even locally.

The Budle Bay experimental study of the effects of bait digging (summarised in Appendix) received a great deal of input from the National Anglers Council (NAC) and Northern Federation of Sea Anglers Society (NFSAS). These organisations promoted and circulated widely an agreement setting out a code of good practice for bait digging in the Nature Reserve, including zoning areas open to baitdigging, back-filling holes, and excluding the use of lights. The case study demonstrates that it is possible to increase the degree of compliance with a voluntary code of conduct through discussion, consultation, and considerable educational efforts.

Unfortunately, compliance with the code only appeared to be short-lived and limited in this particular case (Langton 1994). This was despite the efforts of the NFSAS to ensure that most anglers digging on the site were aware that conforming to good practice was essential if access to the bait beds was to be continued, and the policing of the agreement by Nature Conservancy Council staff. It must be noted that this unsatisfactory outcome was influenced by exceptional circumstances in the region, including the large quantities of commercial bait digging underway for part of the time, which could not be influenced by the input of the governing bodies for recreational angling. Additionally, a major issue at the site was bird disturbance by individuals present on the shore, which could not easily be resolved by the code.

The conclusion from this exceptional case is that codes of conduct, in theory an excellent idea, may fail when bait collection pressures intensify or if there is a lack of resources for effective promotion and education. They are, in practice, more likely to be effective if backed by continual reinforcement and policing on site, and preferably supported by additional incentives. An example of the latter is one of the conditions of the bait digging licences issued by Kent County Council to all applicants for bait digging in the Swale Nature Reserve: that holes should be back-filled. If enforced on site, non-compliance of this condition would lead to removal of the licence.

Finally, as noted above, it may simply be that the successful examples of regulation through codes of conduct simply do not attract attention because they do not raise coastal managers’ concerns.

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