An Irish Anglers World

Irish Politics has to Recognise the Recreational Sea Angling Euro

Charter skipper Kit Dunne works two 10.5 metre “Offshore 105” angling vessels out of Wicklow harbour, 26 miles south of Dublin city centre on Ireland’s east coast. Commencing operations in 2012 Dunne had spotted a demand in the Irish recreational sea angling market for an offshore sport fishing product targeting non quota species to include tope, smooth hound, bull huss and ray. Initially focussing on the domestic scene to establish a customer base the innovative skippers net subsequently widened in 2013/2014 enticing overseas anglers from the UK and Holland to travel and wet a line in the shallow inshore fishing grounds off north Co. Wicklow.

Skipper Kit Dunne, Wicklow Boat Charters, with a brace of happy clients.

Kit Dunne, trading as Wicklow Boat Charters, based on figures derived from the Irish Charter Skippers Association website is one of 78 licenced charter skippers plying their trade around the coastline of Ireland. Their presence provides a social infrastructure which not only creates jobs and funnels much needed tourism income to isolated rural areas, but also generates a positive “free gratis” promotional tourist message highlighting Ireland’s green outdoor environment through exciting photographic images of specimen fish and word of mouth from satisfied customers, 62% of whom make return visits.

The Inland Fisheries Ireland commissioned “Socio Economic Study of Recreational Angling in Ireland” produced by Tourism Development International (TDI) and published in 2013 made it abundantly clear that recreational angling is big business nationally to the tune of three quarters of a billion from direct and indirect spending. Specific to sea angling, the population of domestic sea anglers was placed at between 50 – 70,000 and when the 113,000 holiday visitor angler figure is broken down one finds that the percentage of overseas visits devoted to general sea angling = 24% with bass fishing claiming another 25% (TDI, 2013). Given a definite overlap between the two disciplines it is probable that sea angling in total still represents to Ireland its traditional 33% of overall tourist angler numbers, which is a significant percentile, represented in 2012 by 37,290 overseas sea anglers.

Double tope off Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

According to the TDI, 2013 report overseas anglers stay an average of 4.2 days per trip and in 2012 deposited €106 million in Ireland. In 2014 Wicklow Boat Charters and by extension businesses in Wicklow Town enjoyed paying custom from the UK, Holland, France, Germany, Canada and the USA. These customers stayed a combined total of 166 bed nights in Wicklow contributing in the region of €19,674.95 to the local economy, a figure derived from a metric which will be expanded upon below. They also departed with happy memories to share.

This writer is friends with a group of Welsh tourist sea anglers who make regular visits to Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford for a spot of charter boat fishing. In June 2013 a party of twenty one anglers, seven of whom had not fished within Ireland before, travelled from south Wales to reef fish off Kilmore Quay with skippers Eamonn and Dick Hayes. The group stayed at the Quay House B/B for four bed nights, dining mainly in Kehoe’s and The Wooden House public bars of an evening followed by a few pints. Analysis of their average spending patterns revealed the following.

Revenue generated exclusive of travel and sundry expenses:

P.A.K.A South Wales, Angling Trip to Kilmore Quay, June 23rd – 28th 2013
B/B, €40.00 x 21 x 4 €3360.00
Charters, €400.00 x 2 x 3 €2400.00
Fresh Bait (ragworm) €200.00
Terminal tackle, and frozen bait. €630.00
Lunch (€10.00 x 21 x 3) €630.00
Evening meal (Average €25.00 x 21 x4) €2100.00
Pints (average over group 4 per night @ €4.00) €336.00
Bus collection/return from ferry port €300.00
Total € 9956.00


The average spend per angler exclusive of Ferry Travel was € 474.09 based on a four bed night stay or €118.52 per day, by translation that spend equates to €711.14 per angler for a week (6 x bed nights) long trip.

In terms of employment contribution, every one million spent on tourism creates 36 full time jobs (Failte Ireland metric). Taking the charter boat sector as it currently presents the following exercise reveals:

78 skippers are members of the Irish Charter Skippers Association implying that 78 licenced boats are available for hire nationally on any given day. Taking into account the short season and based on conversations with a random selection of skippers it would appear that they strive to make at least 100 sailings per season weather permitting. Taking an average passenger group number of 10 and extrapolating: – 78 boats x 10 passengers = 780 anglers per day x 100 days at sea = 78,000 angler days per season x €118.52 “average daily spend per tourist sea angler” = €9,244,755 directly spent in rural areas nationally by tourist sea anglers availing of charter boats. Based on Failte Ireland’s metric of 36 full time equivalents (FTE’s) per one million spend on tourism, Ireland’s charter boat infrastructure enables 333 full time rural jobs.

Thornback ray, a sport fish in decline off Co. Wicklow, Ireland.

Is official Ireland doing enough to support, maintain and expand on the sea angling charter boat sectors ability to create both gainful employment and a destination marketing message? Absolutely not!

When it comes to sea fisheries management the Irish Government only recognises commercial fishing activities relating to the catching, processing and trading of seafood products, to all intents recreational angling is an add on that receives the crumbs left over from the commercial sectors table. This is a remarkable oversight given the current emphasis on maximising Irish resource investment. Taking a management accountants view with regard to return on investment (ROI) from sea fisheries, recreational angling can no longer be ignored if Ireland indeed is to fully maximise the financial return from its marine resource.

Referencing just two of the target markets Kit Dunne and his fellow charter boat skippers tap into, figures for the UK show that there are 150,000 specialist sea anglers (those who fish at least twice a month) who travel to sea fish annually outside the UK staying up to eight bed nights, (Drew Associates, 2004). Dutch sea anglers generate €700 million turnover nationally and want “appealing fishing adventures both at home and abroad”. In 2013 650,000 Dutch residents went sea angling, 90,000 of which targeted bass, with 19% going fishing 10 – 50 times a year, this cohort like their UK counterparts deemed specialists. In Ireland’s favour 59% go charter boat fishing while 38% shore fish (Sportvisserij Netherlands Annual Report, 2013).

A nice tope and one happy Wicklow Boat Charters customer.

Based on the above info relating to Holland there are 130,000 resident specialist Dutch sea anglers of which approximately 76,700 go charter boat fishing. If one assesses the potential financial return to Ireland from a focussed marketing effort at what is a receptive (specialist) target audience resident in the UK and Holland alone; Taking the above participation figures multiplied by the average tourist charter boat sea angler weekly spend derived of €711.14, the UK worth “€107 million” and Dutch worth “€54.54 million” combined specialist target sea angler markets equate to a €161.54 million financial cake which Ireland currently is only cutting slivers off.

The TDI report of 2013 attributed a direct economic contribution of €121 million to out of state anglers, approximately 33% or €40 million derived from sea fishing across all disciplines. The above figure of €161.54 million only takes into account those interested in charter boat fishing who reside within the UK and Holland, clearly the potential is huge and Ireland currently is not doing enough to attract this business.

In fact the country is shooting itself in the foot on two fronts, primarily by not truly recognising at Government level the socio – economic potential of recreational sea angling and secondly through severe public service rationalisation depriving itself of employing experienced international marketers/business developers with a deep understanding of the needs and wants of tourist recreational sea anglers.

Presently charter skippers, many of whom are practicing on an increasing basis “catch and release” have to share the inshore fishing grounds with commercial operators who target with fixed and mobile gears the same fish that tourist sea anglers want to catch. When charter skippers advertise on social media channels their good returns, within a short period these fish often disappear, hunted down by commercial interests many of whom would be friends and neighbours of the charter skippers.

Wicklow Boat Charters Offshore 105, Lisin 1.

Non quota sport fish much loved by sea anglers such as smooth hound and ray are not immune to this practice, captured in tangle nets for use not as food but as pot bait. Given the investment Irish charter skippers have made, for some in excess of €100,000, this situation is unacceptable and has to be reviewed by Government in light of the information presented within this piece. Ireland’s inshore waters and their limited fish resources have to be managed more productively.

Regarding promotion, there are enough reports which clearly show that a fundamental weakness in Ireland’s approach nationally to marketing its tourism product is that much of the existing product in both private and public ownership is not packaged, presented, and made accessible or marketed to best effect either internationally or domestically. (Final progress report of Tourism Action Plan Implementation Group, P.19, March 2006).

Charter boat operations are seasonal with many skippers working two jobs, the boat and an off season occupation, they have limited time and money to invest in marketing. Relative to tourism centred small to medium sized enterprises (SME’s) Failte Ireland recognised this fact as far back as 2005 (Failte Ireland, Competing Through People, 2005). To make matters worse SME’s involved in tourism tend to compete against rather than work with each other which leads to a fragmented industry (Griffin and Carty, Tourism Research Centre D.I.T. October 2006).

It should not be left up to independent SME’s involved in tourism to sell Ireland as at best they will sell themselves well, however in terms of a national message the end result ends up being disjointed and singularly weighted creating a confusing picture for any potential tourist, and confusion limits decision making. “At a national level Failte Ireland advocates that cooperative marketing opportunities are the most effective means of accessing overseas markets in a more cost effective manner (Dr. Catherine O’Gorman, D.I.T, 2005.)

Recreational sea fishing aboard an Irish charter boat.

Only 15% of charter skippers when surveyed were positive about the support they get from Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), (TDI, 2013). The agency could redress this by fighting the sea angling charter boat sectors corner harder in Government. An area to focus on could be a breakdown of individual investment within the sector inclusive of EU capital grant aid. Government investment of taxpayers’ money implies a duty of care to protect and maximise the return. Formal recognition of recreational sea anglings contribution, both existing and potential, within the Dept of Food, Agriculture and the Marine and subsequently within the Marine Institute and collaboratively within Born Iascaigh Mhara would enable this while also progressing the sentiments expressed within the “Our Ocean Wealth” integrated marine plan document.

Investment in charter boat infrastructure creates sustainable jobs, enables Ireland to be marketed abroad in a good light through the provision of aesthetic images and stories of clean seas, outdoor activity, beautiful scenery and people having a nice time. The current state of affairs where recreational sea angling plays second fiddle to commercial sea fishing interests mitigates against recreational sea anglings potential to contribute on a national level, parity between the two sectors and a collaborative, inclusive management plan for inshore sea fisheries needing to be worked towards.

Currently the Irish charter boat sector helps sustain 330 full time jobs, skippers such as Kit Dunne have invested serious money not just in there own businesses but in Ireland incorporated, they are a major element of Ireland’s tourist infrastructure and need to be recognised and treated as such. The tourist sea angling market within the UK and Holland alone is worth €161.54 million and these people want to travel in particular to Norway, Iceland and Ireland (Radford, Riddington, Gibson, July 2009), a trait that Ministers Coveney (Fisheries) and Donohoe (Tourism) should be made fully aware of, responsibility for that action ultimately resting with Inland Fisheries Ireland.

As a national investment, taking into account financial turnover, placing recreational sea angling on a par with commercial sea fishing is a no brainer. Sea angling in a depressed world market turned over a direct €40 million nationally in 2012, correspondingly and allowing for quota restrictions Ireland’s whitefish fleet only contributed €52 million (B.I.M online). By value the combined UK and Dutch recreational sea angling markets worth €161.54 million create the opportunity for even more tourism based jobs and a positive international marketing message to be developed. In contrast, commercial over fishing of inshore whitefish stocks which directly affect EU quota allocations limits the ability of Ireland’s commercial whitefish sector to expand. Irish Politics can no longer turn a blind eye to this fact, recognition of and investment in recreational sea angling returns big, especially in rural areas. Official Ireland needs to finally grasp this fact and understand that recreational sea angling can be a king maker……..

See also: Recreational Sea Angling no longer the Poor Relation.

Ashley Hayden © January 2015