Its been hard to ignore the recent success of The Fish Locker’s youtube channel. It’s even harder to ignore that John’s most successful videos haven’t been the out and out fishing ones, but his exploits into the world of coastal foraging. Clearly here is a very engaged market wider than the limited world of sea anglers in the UK.
There’s other explanations. Getting an angling video in the UK to appeal to a global audience, with competition from monster species being caught frequently in Australia and the Americas, is an inherently difficult challenge, being clearly disadvantaged from the outset. If Jeremy Wade was forced to film River Monsters in the UK alone, by episode 3 (at the very latest) we’d be discussing that the spines on a perch can be almost as lethal as a paper cut, if handled incorrectly. Though, he’d likely still find time to make some sort of sacrifice to a tribal god in order to be fortunate enough to land a perch.
Insofar as coastal foraging is concerned, the global reach is far easier to attain. People like to see the weird and wonderful creatures that the inter-tidal zone offers us in abundance in this country. Foodies look at it through one lens, anglers from another, conservationists keen on understanding the effects of pollution on such susceptible areas from a further lens. In essence, it attracts an abundance of different viewers, all bought together by a common interest in our coastlines, an interest that can be harnessed and nurtured, particularly where younger viewers are concerned.
One of the key challenges in drawing new people into sea angling in the UK is developing that interest in the first place. As I’m sure all anglers will attest to, once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. How to set that hook in the first place is the fundamental challenge in a world of growing restrictions in exposure to the sport as well as growing alternative entertainments, particularly in the digital area. Fishing is not alone in sports to see a drop in participation over the last couple of generations.
Once an initial interest has been nurtured, keeping that interest going is paramount. Regular fishing trips may not be feasible. We only need look at the recent weather to see how challenging it has been for the dedicated and seasoned angler to have fitted in regular trips, let alone taking a youngster new to the sport out on a weekly basis. Even if the trips were safely made, it likely wouldn’t take more than a couple of blanks in gale force winds and driving rains to make the majority consider whether a morning playing Fifa on the Xbox will have been a more productive use of their time.
So, can coastal foraging; both through active participation and the plethora of videos now available on YouTube offer the ‘filler’ between angling sessions to keep younger joiners to the sport engaged? Further, can an initial interest built in coastal foraging be transferred to an interest in recreational sea angling?
Looking at the first question, it’s fairly apparent that the majority of sea anglers have a wider interest in the environments in which they fish, so it goes that those aspiring to the sport should find themselves equally engaged with similar subject matter. In any event, for kids, it’s an adventure. The unknown of what may lie under a piece of weed, or an overturned rock plays to the inquisitive nature of children. It’s not by chance that many of the most successful games are point and click games discovering hidden items. Of some concern, is that the most popular games are role playing games in fantasy lands with mysterious looking creatures and we fail to piece two and two together; kids aren’t choosing digital over reality, they are creating a digital reality because of a lack of exposure to such adventure in the real world. They still seek the same thrill and excitement, it’s just so rarely given to them outside of an avatar in some digitally generated world.
So, when storms persist, tides aren’t right, the fishing just isn’t great. Getting kids and other aspiring anglers participating in an alternative coastal activity such as coastal foraging or beach combing, could prove paramount in building and maintaining an interest. If the weathers seriously adverse and prevents the coastal walks required, then it’s an activity that translates to further activities back home. Either in researching ones own finds, or watching the many videos now out there.
Recent storms have led to all sorts being washed up on our coastline beyond the usual finds. This is when items can be collected to further the interest back at home. Regular contributor Kelly Smith was out for a walk recently and came across the biggest haul of ‘mermaid’s purses’ he has ever encountered; accounting for the ‘grand slam’ of rays available in the channel. Kids and even many adults find it fascinating to research the many ray and shark egg cases that can be found and identify the species that will have laid and resided within the purse. A finely tuned eye will eventually be able to identify them on collection at the beach.
From the smaller dogfish purse, through spotted and thornback purses, all the way up to the sizeable ones belonging to blonde ray and the giant ones belonging to the flapper (common) skate, the variety maintains a keen interest. The shark trust website has a brilliant identification guide, available via https://www.sharktrust.org/Pages/FAQs/Category/eggcases-of-british-isles-nw-europe.
Looking to the second of the questions, as to whether an initial interest in coastal foraging can translate into a future interest in sea angling, it clearly won’t all of the time. We’ve already alluded that people see coastal foraging through a wide range of lenses and some of those will be contrary to the pursuit of catching fish. However, for the vast majority, an interest of what lies in the intertidal line will translate as readily to what lies below it.
We’ve often seen freshwater angling as a gateway to sea angling. Offering easier conditions and a better prospect of guaranteed catches (particularly in stocked lakes), it is easy to see why. However, the sports vary greatly, and sea angling can be as much about the surroundings as it is catching the fish themselves. Harnessing a wider interest in the environment through coastal foraging could lead to a higher uptake in the sport than hoping for people to one day transfer their skills across from the freshwater world.
In reality, we have to ask why would they? It can be a far greater challenge to catch fish at sea with any consistency, and how many take the decision to actively reduce their typical catch rates? Transferring the unknown of what may be under a rock to the unknown of what may be at the end of a line seems a far more likely progression.