IT WAS something of a catch for Scottish sea angling campaigners.   The lads from the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network (SSACN) persuaded environment and rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead to join them yesterday for a spot of fishing in Luce Bay to mark the launch of the Government’s special report into the economics of sea angling around Scottish coasts.

Ian Burrett (left) and Richard Lochhead get to grips with pollack on the Mull of Gallow
Ian Burrett (left) and Richard Lochhead get to grips with pollack on the Mull of Galloway

He agreed.  And I found myself with an invite to join the little party – which included a key Marine Scotland adviser and skipper Ian Burrett, SSACN’s vice-chairman and projects director.

The  SSACN campaigners, Scotland’s leading marine conservation pressure group, were faced with something of a strategic dilemma.  They weren’t quite sure how the fisheries minister would play the launch of the  economic report.  Or what his approach to future actions might be.

So they readied themselves with two responses.  And like all good anglers, waited.

By early afternoon, there we all were afloat below the cliffs off the Mull of Galloway lighthouse in prime pollack territory.  Lochhead, a self-confessed novice angler, had already landed two mackerel with his first cast in Luce Bay.  He was surprised and mighty pleased.  But that was just the bait.

Out at the Mull with a fast-running rip tide and a sizeable swell, the minister was on shaky ground.  And Burrett didn’t miss the opportunity to drive home his important arguments.  “Regeneration” not “sustainable fishing” was the big message.

We baited up  and within minutes Lochhead was easily delivering the best results of the three rods, mine included.  He was genuinely surprised to see all the fish being returned safely to he water.  An atmosphere of competition quickly developed: it was Government v. The Media.

And more surprises were to follow when Burrett, waving a filleting knife in front of Lochhead to make his point, explained that the fish we were catching were some 10lbs lighter than should be expected.    Around Scottish coasts, the same or worse, results apply to many species which are in severe decline because of commercial over-fishing and it is the main reason sea angling is missing out on millions for the economy because of lost business, he explained.  The minister nodded.

Time for one last drift.  We fished. The minister was hooked; he wanted another.  We fished again.  My rod bent into a serious fish, easily the best of the day, but the angling gods were not in my favour. It jumped the hook at the surface and the minister heaved a sigh of relief.

There was no weigh-in at the pier, but everyone was full of cheer and good humour.  Lochhead had wrong-footed the campaigners with a pledge to create a strategic plan for sea angling, and had spent an enjoyable afternoon improving his knowledge of an important element of his remit with the likelihood of plenty of positive press coverage. He departed a happier and wiser man.

The campaigners for their part had held the most important individual in Scottish marine affairs captive for the afternoon and had exposed him to some serious propaganda. At the same time garnering goodwill for the future and generating worthwhile publicity.

Pollack politics on the Mull  might just be a turning point for sea angling in Scotland.