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When fishing does not count as self-isolation

Exploring the confusion of a ‘for example’ during the coronavirus clampdown.


Andrew Griffiths
Andrew Griffiths

There has been some confusion about the meaning of the government’s ‘lockdown’ rules on permitted exercise, with some anglers wondering if the wording would permit fishing as one of the allowed daily exercises.

The confusion is justified. The wording of the government document is: “one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household.”

It is that phrase ‘for example’ that has caused confusion. That clearly implies other forms of exercise are allowable, and so some anglers have been asking: is fishing one of them?

Michael Gove only added to the confusion in an interview on the morning of the March 24 by stating that tending your allotment was considered an acceptable form of exercise under the new rules - so allotmenteering was added to the list of running, cycling and walking! Though this, of course, seems perfectly acceptable when the ‘for example’ is taken into account - digging your garden is good exercise after all. But then so is fishing the river.

The confusion has led to a cacophony of social media spats pitting one sporting activity against another.

The Wye and Usk Foundation, for example, was using the ‘for example clause’ as late as March 25 open one of their Passport beats, with special rules to follow social distancing and local travel only, with ‘local’ defined as being within 10 miles. But, after a furious backlash on social media and claiming ‘clarification of the government’s essential travel definitions’ they backed down the next day and closed too.

The Angling Trust has been quick to take a lead on this. New CEO Jamie Cook wrote to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on March 24, asking for clarification. At the time of writing none has been received, but in line with other sporting bodies the Trust has urged its members to stay at home and not to fish. The Environment Agency, while not issuing instruction, is supportive of its position, the Trust tells me. The Trust also tells me that Sport England is meeting with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport today (March 26) to seek “clarification and consistency across outdoor sports”.

The main angling bodies have followed suit. To my knowledge angling is now effectively closed in the UK. However, as yet, there has been no specific government instruction to do this.

The closing down of angling seems to be an act of self-policing by the angling community, and in many ways a commendable one at that. While there can be no more risk of transmission of the virus when fishing alone in a river than when running, walking or cycling, the act of doing so feels self-indulgent in the current crisis. Taking the temperature of social media (with the caveat that it is alway risky to extrapolate to real life!) it seems that it is the act of self-sacrifice, the gesture of ‘all being in it together’, that is every bit as important as any equivalence of risk when compared to any other activity.

To talk about fishing while we are in the throes of a global pandemic seems at best insensitive and at worst downright disrespectful to those on the frontline fighting the threat the nation faces, let alone to the dead and dying. But that question of permissible exercise is an important one for the longer term public health of the nation.

1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Over 20% of people in England have reported having suicidal thoughts. At this time of ‘home confinement’ 15% of the UK’s adult population live alone.  There is already evidence of an increase in domestic violence for those that don’t. There is an epidemic of type 2 diabetes and obesity, a large contributing factor being lack of exercise. These problems are not going to go away because of coronavirus - in fact it is a pretty safe bet that ‘life in lockdown’ will exacerbate them. Two weeks ago, if you remember, we were being told how beneficial is time spent in nature for our mental and physical wellbeing. A week is a long time in a pandemic.

Some restrictions that are in place now will be with us for a long time. Working our way through this virus attack and coming out the other side is going to be a long haul. It doesn’t do any harm to lift up our heads and prepare ourselves for a likely future. We have to ‘dig in’ with sustainable lifestyle changes that suppress viral transmission rates if we are going to beat this without collapsing our health infrastructure.
The measures currently put in place are set to be reviewed in three weeks. Then, if not before, there is likely to be some clarification of the permitted exercise rules, beyond the cycling, running and walking. Is angling likely to be one of them?

To answer this question it might be best to ask it another way: is the activity likely to pose a significant risk of transmission of the disease, or a risk of placing an unacceptable risk of burden on the NHS? To the solitary activity of fishing one might answer ‘no’, but if your fishing involves significant travel, then the risk of getting to your fishing may still be viewed as unacceptable.

Put another way, it is maybe a mistake to look at this on an activity by activity basis, but instead on a degree of risk basis. Can you practice social distance in the open spaces? Can you stay local - as in, preferably, on foot or bike kind of local? Is it relatively safe to do? If you are an angler and fortunate enough to be able to answer ‘yes’ to these questions, then my guess is you may be fishing again before too long.

But if you are used to travelling some distance for your fishing, then the rod may have to hang on the wall for some time yet. Stay safe everybody.

The new emergency laws were published on  March 26 2020 and can be found here. There is a very good Twitter thread from a knowledgeable source interpreting the new laws here.

The Angling Trust has created a coronavirus support hub on their website, which can be found here.

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