After the success of the anti-hunt movement in getting the sport on to the political agenda, animal rights campaigners have stepped up their attempts to have angling disrupted and eventually banned.
Fishing on both public and private land will be in the firing line during a campaign that coincides with the start of the coarse fishing season.
From today, 300 people in 15 counties are being mobilised to take part in angling sabotage. Their disruptive tactics include using high-powered water pistols aimed at an angler's float, canoes to frighten fish and taped bamboo canes to unsettle fishing lines.
Up to four million people take part in angling, Britain's biggest participant sport. Animal campaigners decided to target fishing after getting hunting on to the political agenda. The Countryside Alliance, the umbrella organisation that has co-ordinated support for hunting, believes that many hunt saboteurs have now moved on to target angling.
Anglers could fall victim to direct action by the animal rights fringe group Pisces (Campaign for the Abolition of Angling), who say that this is their most serious attempt yet to ban the sport.
Clare Persy, co-ordinator of Pisces, said: "The recent publicity surrounding hunting has generated a lot more interest in our movement."
Although angling has long been classified a blood sport by some in the animal rights movement, it has never gained the momentum of campaigns against hunting and shooting, partly because it is debatable whether fish can actually feel pain. Pisces insists angling is barbaric.
"We will talk to the anglers and hopefully raise awareness about the cruelty of fishing, but sometimes they get fairly abusive," said Ms Persy. "We are quite prepared to go on private land because that's where the animals are being harmed." Some activists will don wetsuits and masks for the "non-violent riverbank direct action". Exact locations are secret, but attempts will be made to disrupt fishing in Yorkshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Aberdeenshire, Berkshire and Northamptonshire.
Not all of the opponents of hunting support the campaign against angling. Ben Stewart of the League Against Cruel Sports said: "We have a neutral policy on fishing. We don't necessarily regard it as a cruel sport and we condemn anybody who breaks the law by trespassing on private land. However, I'm not surprised that the campaign is getting more attention."
The Countryside Alliance, which incorporates the British Field Sports Society, claims that frustrated hunt saboteurs are joining the anti-angling movement. Spokesman Paul Latham said: "We think that some of the animal rights activists are frustrated with their leadership targeting hunting first and foremost and that's why Pisces has seen an increase in their membership.
"But if they took on angling, they would be alienating a lot of people. Hunting is in the front line of sabotage action and in many ways this is keeping angling out of the spotlight."
Steve Partner of the Angling Times, which has infiltrated the anti-angling movement, said: "There has been some rise in the number of anti-angling demonstrations in the past 18 months.
"Sabs have tried to ruin organised fishing matches. It is difficult to imagine that this movement will gain any significant support because the image of a lone fisherman on a quiet riverbank is a far cry from the public perception of hunting."
Ken Ball, president of the National Federation of Anglers, said: "We have had unsavoury incidents and some protesters have even targeted women, children and elderly anglers. But I believe these groups have small memberships."
Few anglers believe the fishing saboteurs will ever win their case to get the sport banned. Fishing enjoys the patronage of many Labour MPs, who realise that anglers constitute a significant proportion of the electorate. Jack Cunningham, the Minister of Agriculture and a keen fisherman himself, has a personal interest in the sport.Reuse content