Full version of story first published in The Herald, on 12 December 2008

SEA angling may net the Scottish economy a whopping £150m a year according to preliminary results of major research study commissioned by the Government and delivered to Holyrood this week.

The figure puts a value on recreational sea fishing which is close to the estimated £160m that Visitscotland this autumn said is generated annually by golf tourism in Scotland, and well ahead of that for all freshwater angling, including salmon and trout combined.

The surprise total emerged as Sportscotland yesterday announced it had approved an annual £20,000 for sea angling coaching plus a further £25,000 across all angling disciplines to boost public participation. It declined to comment on the economic study.

The Government is not expected to publish the report until early next year, but officials of the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network (SSACN), a key charity pressure group, yesterday met privately with environment minister Richard Lochhead, to discuss the initial findings.

Chairman Steve Bastiman said last night: “It was a very positive meeting and we are reassured that the Government recognises the value of recreational sea angling.” The Government was keen to build on work to date and said it would look at a variety of options to develop the sport in conjunction with other stakeholders, he added.

SSACN has mounted a strong campaign for greater recognition for anglers in the general management of inshore sea fisheries. It claims that uncontrolled exploitation of species such as pollack, skate, conger eel and sharks like tope and porbeagle, is costing the Scottish economy a further £20m a year in lost revenues from abandoned angling festivals, competitions and general tourist fishing.

The charity has developed a plan for the creation of “angling regeneration centres” in places such as the Clyde, Solway, Moray Firth and Loch Etive where commercial catches would be strictly controlled, anglers subject to bag limits and artificial reefs deployed to help stocks rebuild.

The new report is expected to strengthen dramatically calls for greater representation on commercial fishery policy groups. Mike Horn, president of the Scottish Federation of Sea Anglers, and a member of the Angling Development Board for Scotland, said yesterday:

“It is very reassuring to have an independent body confirm what we already knew, that sea angling is the biggest participant sport, not just in Scotland but in the UK. It underlines our need to take on a development officer and reinforces the absolute need to get kids off the street and to provide assistance to help us do that.”

The study, undertaken by economists from Glasgow Caledonian University’s public policy division this summer, is the first of its kind to examine the financial impact of sea angling, long claimed to be the country’s biggest coastal recreational activity with 100,000 anglers regularly taking part.

Researchers carried out a telephone survey of 15,000 Scottish households, interviewed active anglers, examined commercial interests and posted an online questionnaire. The headline figure, which hugely benefits rural communities, is understood to comprise spending on tackle, accommodation and transport as well as charter boat hire, among others.

In 2004 the same university team identified that freshwater angling, encompassing salmon, trout and coarse fishing, generated £113m a year for Scotland and supported 2800 jobs.

Despite dramatic declines during the last 20 years of inshore stocks of cod, haddock and whiting, and with fish such as the common skate and spurdog on the lists of “critically endangered” species, sea angling in Scotland remains hugely popular with the Solway Firth, Forth and Tay estuaries and Aberdeenshire coast among the hotspots.