|Mark Isherwood: 4. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the benefits that access to waterways brings to Wales? (OAQ51188)
Lesley Griffiths: In addition to considering activity tourism and recreation participation reports and strategies, the Welsh Government has undertaken significant public engagement. The recent consultation on sustainable management of our natural resources received around 15,000 responses. All show the value and potential of water recreation activities such as angling and boating and why a resolution to current disagreements is necessary.
Mark Isherwood: Thank you. The September 2017 update on the report ‘The value to the Welsh economy of angling on inland fisheries in Wales’, collated by the Sustainable Access Campaign Cymru, found that under the current arrangement for access to Welsh rivers, around 1,500 Welsh jobs and £45 million in household income is supported by angling on inland fisheries each year. There are 1.7 million days fished on inland fisheries in Wales by licence holders, generating £104 million annually, and that the contribution to the Welsh economy of angling on inland fisheries in Wales must exceed over £125 million annually in Wales. In that context, how do you respond to the concern expressed by Salmon and Trout Conservation Cymru that it would not be in the interest of the ecological integrity of such habitats to move to unfettered access under the proposed extensions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and that environmental protection is paramount when consideration is given to increased access to the natural resources of Wales, and especially the fragile ecosystems in and around rivers and lakes?
Lesley Griffiths: I think your question lends me to say that it’s really important that you get the balance right, and that’s absolutely why we’ve consulted on such an important issue. You’re quite right, fishing tourism, in both domestic and day-trip visits to Wales, is very important. I think it was about £38 million in 2015. You referred to a report in 2017, but I know in 2015 it was about £38 million per year. I think it also highlights the importance of developing a framework so that we can facilitate responsible access opportunities, going forward.
David Rees: Cabinet Secretary, I have received many representations from constituents regarding this matter in particular, and I think, as you’ve pointed out, there is resolution that needs to come together between the two groups. Now, you’ve just mentioned fishing tourism, but many of our citizens actually enjoy fishing as a pastime, and therefore enjoy the activities they undertake, not as tourist activities, but as part of their spare time. Do you agree with me that, actually, a way of resolving these by coming together and getting an agreement that is voluntary between the organisations is the best solution, not having something imposed upon them?
Lesley Griffiths: Yes, I do, but I think—. You know, when I was a backbencher, this was a very hot topic, and I think the consultation showed it can be incredibly divisive and incredibly polarised, so it is about getting that resolution. We want to see that because it is vital for our tourism. So, I’m hoping that, following the analysis of the consultations and when we come forward with resolutions, we’re able to engage with all the stakeholders to make sure we have the absolute best way forward.
David J. Rowlands: Cabinet Secretary, following on from the comments earlier, I’m sure you’re aware of the potential for conflict that free access to Wales’s waterways may bring between those who use them in differing ways, in particular anglers and canoeists. I would say that David Rees is quite right in that if we can get some consultation between these two groups, that’s the best way forward. Unfortunately, the feedback to me from the angling societies is that there doesn’t seem to be that desire for talking coming from the canoeists.
I’ve been contacted by a number of angling societies, and have had meetings with Isca and Hay-on-Wye, one situated on the river Usk and the other on the river Wye. Both showed considerable concern with regard to canoe activity on the rivers, which, at this moment, is not regulated. One important factor pointed out is that canoes do not carry any form of identification, so any canoeist committing offences or simple nuisance cannot be identified. Does the Cabinet Secretary intend to bring in regulations to make registration and, hence, identification a mandatory requirement? Are there any plans to get canoeists to pay a fee for access to our waterways, as, of course, anglers have to, by way of fishing licences and/or society fees?
Lesley Griffiths: I mentioned in my answer to David Rees that it’s an incredibly divisive issue, and it’s a divisive issue that’s been around for a long time. However, I think this is our opportunity now to get it right. I would certainly want to bring all the groups together. I don’t want to take sides with any group, but if we can facilitate groups coming together, then I’d be very happy to do that. In relation to your specific policy questions around identification and fees, again, that is something that we would have to look at, coming out of the consultation.