In 2023, the UK’s Angling Trade Association will celebrate its 50th Anniversary. The ATA has come a long way since the Angling Foundation (AF) in 1969 and eventual founding of the ATA in 1973, but the pressure to achieve its aims for the industry has never been greater.
The original remit of the Angling Foundation “to protect and promote the sport of angling both now and for future generations, with special reference to the environment” is not so different from todays statement and the role that ATA plays in the protection of fisheries, fish stocks and the promotion of the trade.
In those early years, the AF and ATA accomplished many things and financially supported many initiatives from wheely boats for the disabled and the Waterside Watch environmental campaign to the National Anglers Council’s Angling Proficiency Awards and a highly influential publication entitled “The Creation of Low-Cost Fisheries.”
Fast forward to 1987 when the ATA funded an advertising campaign and a £30,000 consumer research study, which found that there were over three and three quarter million anglers in the country, of which half were under 25-years-old. It also found that over half of those anglers were introduced to angling by a friend or relation. One result of this work was the birth of Take a Friend Fishing (TAFF), which was relaunched again post-Covid in 2020.
In a bid to boost numbers still further, the ATA was involved in support of schools campaigns and a follow up survey in 1989 to assess change since the 1987 event showed an increase in angler activity above four million, a gain of some quarter million in two years.
It is figures such as these that show the power of the angling trade to affect industry change as an association as opposed to that power being dissipated by a range of short-term promotions. Cohesive long-term aims are now being achieved by the ATA’s two main brands – National Fishing Month (NFM) and Take a Friend Fishing (TAFF) – as we see the junior licences in the ascendancy in recent licence figures.
Between 1988 and 1994, schools remained one of the focuses of the TAFF campaign, targeting tens of thousands of pupils a year between the ages of eight and 18. Then, as now, ATA campaigns were backed by literature and information campaigns. In summer 1996, the “Give Angling a Go” campaign was launched to target would-be anglers from all communities and bring them into angling.
In 1992, National Fishing Week was founded to add value to all of the works being done by ATA and AF. From its humble beginnings in the last week of August each year, that week is now a month and, following a relaunch post-Covid with a new festival format, NFM continues to add value to the many recruitment campaigns being supported by the ATA.
With an increasing requirement for competent coaches, the Professional Anglers Association was formed in 1999 with ATA support and went on to produce hundreds of qualified coaches capable of promoting angling to new potential enthusiasts.
In the following years, the ATA went on to be involved with Comic Relief or Angling Sport Relief, work with disabled anglers and something called the Moran Committee. A subsequent call to arms saw angling organisations working together for the first time and saw the formation of the National Anglers Alliance (NAA), which has eventually evolved into today’s Angling Trust.
After some years of decline and a lack of investment, aside from the sea angling fraternity, the industry finds itself catering for a customer base of less than one million licence holders. After investing an estimated two million pounds worth of tackle, time, and money back then, the call to arms is back and ATA must fight again to re-establish angling as a top five choice for a trip out.
It is against this backdrop that the ATA is now pushing forward. As ever, the game plan for ATA is growth through long term stability, investment, and support for industry stakeholders. Given the support, the ATA can again be the founding rock on which all else stands. This will be the overarching theme for the coming board meeting on December 20th at which some tough decisions must be made for 2023 and beyond.
Acknowledgement and thanks to Bruno Broughton for his contribution to the above.