Environmental stewardship is an idea that describes concern about biodiversity loss and the work of trying to change natural things back to the way they should be. Stewardship focuses on care and responsibility, where each person can make a change. It happens when groups of people, most often local people, work together to manage a part of nature that they love (for example, a river, forest or bogland); this part of nature is usually one that is important to their wellbeing and linked to their sense of place and identity.

Recreational fisheries are an excellent example, where unique local knowledge and skills have made anglers key long-term players in the conservation of rivers and lakes. Unfortunately, social change has increasingly blurred this role in recent years, and other environmental sectors are now seen to be more active in preserving wildlife and habitats.

stream sampling
Erasmus students from France working with the Waterville Lakes & Rivers Trust in the conservation hatchery…

In their paper Reviving the unique potential of recreational fishers as environmental stewards of aquatic ecosystems, Fisheries researchers Dr Sam Shephard and Robert Arlinghaus, and ethicist Charles List have developed a new environmental stewardship framework in which nature experiences within a mentoring community, such as a fishing club, build a strong sense of attachment to a natural place, e.g., a river or lake, and feelings of responsibility for that place.

The community can develop deep knowledge of how different problems might affect their natural resource, and understanding of how they can work together to manage the system and help return it to its correct natural state. When tested against the newly developed model, it was discovered that recreational fisheries have very strong potential to develop good stewards of underwater ecosystems compared with other environmental actors.

Securing the future of angling through its youth development

The experienced and highly involved anglers in fishing clubs and communities nurture other members through promoting positive behaviours, outlining angling responsibilities and raising awareness of their roles outside of just trying to catch fish. Individual anglers and communities of fishermen between them develop an understanding and connection to the natural world they inhabit, one that is hard to achieve in other parts of society. They work directly to protect and enhance the rivers and lakes they fish in, along the way broadening the understanding of these environments and developing the skills need to help protect and conserve them.

This outcome is likely because excellence in angling depends on unique place-based skills and knowledge of what to do (or what not to do) to ensure sustainable and responsible use of fish populations and their habitats. Awareness of the need for sustainability in fishing may be increased through the catch, kill and eat aspects, which makes the angler a part of the food web and helps to teach them the principles and limits of living systems.


The Carrickmacross Coarse and Junior Development Club

There are, of course, many cases where anglers can cause environmental harm, but the development of personal stewardship will always be limited by negative underlying factors. Recreational fishing is an effective method of bringing participants at least some of the way, and stewardship excellence may emerge when anglers develop under the direction of experienced mentors and by working together with a mix of other interested parties. Cooperation from experts in different areas such as scientists, managers and policy makers can also help to unleash the stewardship potential of anglers and engage their capacity for the common good.

DAI and Rinn-Shannon & District Angling Club introductory fishing day
DAI and Rinn-Shannon & District Angling Club introductory fishing day

There always will be areas of recreational fishing that do have serious environmental and moral implications, like overfishing and fish welfare, but many of these can be resolved through better governance and management; more difficult is replacing the positive grassroots stewardship capacity provided by anglers, recreational fishing communities and local angling clubs.

If you would like to read the full paper, you can do so here.

Please fish in a sustainable manner