Is Alderney a shining example of what could be, but sadly is not ?
I can't imagine there are many shore anglers out there who have not heard of the small Channel Island of Alderney, indeed it is surely no exaggeration to suggest that for many years this place was a kind of northern European shore fishing mecca. I can remember dreaming for years about heading over there, and when a few of us who fished together at Plymouth uni did eventually get over there one September it was like we had arrived at the gates of paradise - and from memory I don't even think we did that well our first time over there. But it was enough. I do recall my second or perhaps third time over there when I literally fell to my knees and thanked whoever might inhabit those lofty skies above because there were so many big mullet stacked up one cold Christmas morning on the south coast of Alderney. We were pulling baits away from any fish that looked around 5lb and under to try and get at the larger ones. Speak to shore anglers who have fished the island for years and the stories of how awesome the fishing could be just completely blows your mind - congers, rays, bass, flatfish, wrasse, bream etc. Speak to those kinds of anglers now though and the story tends to be somewhat different...............
Please understand that I am not remotely trying to slate Alderney here. I have very fond memories of fishing and filming over there, and there is still some good shore fishing to be had sometimes - but nothing that can compare to even only a few years back is my understanding - and yes, the comparisons to here at home are fairly obvious. Back when I first started working as a fishing photojournalist I could never for the life of me understand why the powers that be on a small island like Alderney did not go all out to promote and protect their awesome shore fishing as a well-protected natural wonder, and especially when the best of the shore fishing was always during the winter months when I can hardly imagine that the island would be overrun with tourists spending their money in the hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, pubs, shops, tackle shop, and car hire places etc. I first went to Alderney way before I ever went and fell in love with Ireland for example. From my limited understanding, the self-governing island can essentially do what they want to look after their inshore waters and therefore could provide more and better fish for visiting anglers to catch - so therefore the word spreads even more and then more and more anglers want to come over and fish and spend more and more money on doing so. Pretty simple and logical is it not ? Well you would think so.
Or it is simply selfish that I am an angler and therefore I want to see the place as full of fish as it once was so that I can go and catch some (and as a result spend money over there) ? Should the inshore fish stocks in fact exist purely to be commercially harvested ? Which I suppose is the longer term goal ? To have local waters full of fish that are attracting more and more "out of regular tourist season" anglers who are pumping money into the local economy, or to allow these local waters to be netted and long-lined surely to the point where even the commercial fishermen are one day soon going to have to look elsewhere because the waters are so depleted ? Is the island of Alderney like a condensed version of what is going on all over the world ?
I spoke to a friend yesterday who told me about their last winter mullet trip to Alderney - they got lucky and had some fantastic weather, but they literally could not find anywhere to then fish for mullet because the place was gagged with nets, and note that I am not even talking about the severe depletion of the legendary winter mullet stocks that I sadly hear so much about. Anybody who was into mullet fishing wanted to fish for them around Alderney in winter, plus of course there was what had to have been some of the most awesome shore fishing for conger eels that ever existed. I asked whether this "can't fish because the nets were so close in" was some kind of exaggeration, but another friend told me plenty of similar (and sad) stories. I am hearing of very small numbers of visiting shore anglers heading over there outside of the October festival these days, and I would bet you it's because they have either experienced worse fishing year on year and then to compound it have perhaps struggled to actually put lines in the water because of so many nets and long-lines so close inshore, or else they have heard the stories that I keep on hearing and then stay away. Bad news always travels faster and spreads wider than good news.
Note please that I am also not having a go at commercial fishermen here, and I am not commenting one bit on the boat fishing as I have very little experience of this out in Alderney. If commercial fishermen are allowed to fish certain areas they are going to - just as we do if we are allowed to. We are human beings and we sadly tend not to work that well as a species without rules, limits and guidelines. I think I am right in believing that Alderney as an island or indeed state can actually do what they want with their own inshore waters and could in fact limit, restrict or even ban inshore netting and long-lining if they chose to. I believe that the kind of inshore netting I am talking about is not allowed to happen all year round, but when it is allowed it happens to be for the most part when the best of the shore fishing is - late autumn into winter and early spring. So why do the powers that be not do something to control the netting and help get their shore fishing back to being awesome again so that once more the visiting anglers start to come back in proper numbers and pump dosh into the local economy ?
Well I don't have any answers and I simply wish that such a special place was truly special again in shore fishing terms. It's not a remotely unique problem of course. Nowhere is perfect, but Alderney is so small, has a tiny population and surely could do with out of season money coming in. Surely the powers that be have the ability to turn things around so quickly if the desire is there - but I have to guess that the desire is not to promote the island as a shore fishing mecca. Why ? I don't know, but I can't help but use the wonderful island of Alderney as an example of what could be but sadly is not. I can't help but look at a small, self-governing island like Alderney and imagine what could be if recreational fishing was taken at least half-seriously as a means of earning revenue in a place that could really effect meaningful local change at a faster pace than could ever happen over here. When is recreational saltwater fishing ever taken seriously in northern Europe ? I don't do politics and as a result perhaps I look at things too simply and in an uncomplicated way, but then how complicated does an issue like this really have to be ? I know some people who have broken their proverbials trying to effect change on Alderney but have had to walk away with the sheer frustration at nothing changing for the better. And then I can't help but look at a place like the UK and wonder as well...............