Irish Independent. By IAN COBAIN
Tuesday August 15 2000
Robin Webb is the spokesperson for the British-based Animal Liberation Front and he's in Dublin for a conference on animal welfare. He talks matter-of-factly about a campaign to rid Britain and Ireland of the angling industry. And he's no fan of commercial sea fishing and fish farming. In fact, he thinks everybody should go vegetarian.``These people (anglers) think they are a cut above foxhunters. They think they are gentlemen. But what they do is probably worse than foxhunters. Even if they throw the fish back in the water, they don't realise the huge amount of stress and pain it has felt.''He is not alone. The organisation he represents comprises members who will stop at almost nothing to disrupt fishing. And Irish-based animal welfare groups are just as vociferous.
The current issue of the Alliance for Animal Rights newsletter uses a stark analogy to describe the act of catching a fish: ``Imagine reaching for an apple on a tree and having your hand suddenly impaled by a hook that yanks you into an environment where you cannot breathe. This is what a fish faces when hooked. While fishing may seem fun to some people, it is important to remember that on the other end of the line there is a terrified animal fighting for his or her life. These fascinating animals suffer and feel pain just as all animals do.''
The text is written by Bernie Wright, a spokesperson for the Alliance for Animal Rights, a group that achieved some publicity when it campaigned during the Irish visit by Italian circus Il Florilegio this year. But she is better known as one of the founders of the Association of Hunt Saboteurs, a group who have tried to disrupt hunts throughout the country for the past six years.Now she wants members to take a look at the significant numbers of Irish people who fish. According to Paul Bourke of the Central Fisheries Board, there are 120,000 club anglers (coarse, game and sea) and a further 100,000 casual anglers, who might fish a few times a year.
The same newsletter also features step-by-step instructions on how to sabotage an angling match. Before the match, saboteurs are urged to ring the organiser to book a peg (the `markers' on the bankside which indicate the allotted space for each angler). ``You could ask for directions to the venue or, to sound more convincing, ask about bait bans.''
``Removing or changing around peg numbers on the morning or the night before the match will cause confusion and maybe confrontation amongst the anglers. Wire up access gates to the water. Talk to local anglers on the same water or in tackle shops to find out the best day, weather conditions and stretch of water to fish from so you will know when and where to concentrate your sabbing.''
But the instructions for during the match are most likely to lead to serious confrontation and to make life hell for the angler. ``Row up and down the river in a canoe or boat to prevent the anglers from casting or make them reel in. Go near the line/float and disturb the surface of the water with the paddle to scare fish away.``Making noise in the water by submerging metal objects and banging them together will scare away fish. Equally, make noise above the water with whistles, shouting, airhorns, hunting horns. This has the added bonus of annoying the angler and detracting from the enjoyment of the `sport'.''And how about this for euphemistic language? ``Use high-powered water pistols aimed at the angler's float and/or line to encourage him/her to remove the tackle from the water. Empty keepnets, ideally with two people who are in the water. Some keepnets have removable bottoms held on with clips. Others have only one way in or out. Ensure that the fish will exit the net downstream.''
The newsletter also advises saboteurs to ``clean up any litter and discarded fishing tackle. If left, this could injure or kill fish, birds and animals. We are the conservationists, not the anglers who leave all this mess behind them''.And there have been reports that saboteurs are attacking people on Irish rivers. The British magazine for hunting and fishing enthusiasts, The Countryman's Weekly, recently reported that an angler was attacked by a group calling itself the Fish Liberation Army.The Ridge Pool on the River Moy is world-famous for its salmon. Every summer anglers from Ireland and abroad cast their flies in the hope that they will catch `a fighter'. The stretch of water is so popular that you must book a year in advance for half a day's angling.
The Ridge Pool is carefully monitored and there are always plenty of anglers about, as well as interested bystanders. According to the magazine's Irish columnist, Emma Cowan, a man who had hooked a boisterous salmon ``attracted a large audience of `crusties' as he gave battle with the fish and eventually brought in.``As he landed the salmon, his New Age audience came down from the bridge and gathered around him excitedly, apparently eager to him to get his catch safely into the bag. Instead of helping him off the hook and into the bag, they grabbed the fish and, to an exultant chant of `the fish liberation army' and `free our fish', they threw the fine specimen back into the pool.``These campaigners have had a negligible effect on angling in this country,'' says Paul Bourke. ``They don't seem to realise that anglers are environmentalists, who care about fish and water quality. And very few fish are killed any more. Anglers put the fish back in the water, and these fish grow and thrive and are sometimes caught again and again.
``Most serious anglers understand how to handle a fish properly. Obviously, I can't say that everyone who fishes takes care to return the fish safely to the water, but angling has certainly cleaned up its act in the past 10 years. ``I remember going to Dungarvan (Co Waterford) as a junior angler and was horrified to see sharks being caught, photographed and left to rot on the strand. Now sharks are more highly valued and this just wouldn't happen anymore."Anglers will only kill fish now if they are going to eat them. And they will dispose of them carefully, using a `priest' (a metal implement with which anglers administer with a short, sharp blow)''.
It isn't just anglers who are concerned with suggestions that some animal welfare groups are targeting fishermen. Bord Failte has heavily promoted angling and other `packages' like golf and hillwalking in recent years. Last year, an estimated 128,000 overseas anglers visited Irish rivers and lakes. ``Overseas tourists who fish while in Ireland contributed an estimated £61.7 million to the economy in 1998 (a figure for 1999 is not available),'' according to Bord Failte's John Brown.Bord Failte sells them an island of unpolluted waterways, heavily stocked with fish. The last thing it wants are tourists who are afraid to fish here Up to now anglers in Ireland have had little cause for concern. But anglers in Britain are calling for protection as protests mount. Angling groups, representing more than two million enthusiasts, are appealing to British sports minister Kate Hoey to save their sport from militants. Some leading figures in the angling world have been subjected to personal threats and intimidation.The angling lobby there has been mobilised after discovering an internet website instructing activists to disrupt competitions. They have also been incensed by new literature sent to schools telling children that angling is cruel and urging them not to eat fish.
There is also concern about the security of events to mark this month's National Fishing Week and other promotional activities to encourage young people to take up the sport. The anti-angling activities are thought to be co-ordinated by the Campaign for the Abolition of Angling, an American charity in south London, and the Animal Liberation Front.Angling may long have been considered to be the most peaceful of all sports, but if opponents have their way the tranquil bankside solitude will be shattered forever.
- By IAN COBAIN