If it hadn't been such a sad and serious subject, I'd have had a good laugh over the sorry way that our Minister responsible for Britain's fisheries, the Rt Honourable Elliott Morley , floundered when questioned on BBC 2 the other day about the North Sea cod problem and the new, limited, restrictions that have been proposed.

Why didn't the EC impose a complete ban on cod fishing to give the North Sea cod a real chance? he was asked.

Morley responded - "To impose a complete ban on cod fishing means closing all fishing in the North Sea that would involve closing down every country's fishing fleet for 12 months, it's just not realistic to do that."

Interviewer: "So for you, keeping some fishermen going in the short term is more important than guaranteeing the survival of stock in the long term?"

Morley: "Well, there's not much point guaranteeing the survival of stocks if you've no fishing industry to pursue that."

Interviewer: "But there is no point defending the fishermen's interests if there are no fish there"

Morley: "Absolutely, but we're going around in a circle here, but the point is that you can not close down, which you seem to be arguing for, the whole of the North Sea and expect to have a fishing industry intact at the end of it, because there won't be one"

Poor, bewildered Morley, spinning round like a hamster in a cageAnd if he - and his civil servants at MAFF - can't figure out how to keep a hold on the North Sea cod for the commercial fishing industry, what are the chances of future sport for us sea anglers - right at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak?

Not that we count, of course, we sea anglers. Legally we don't exist -or at least the concept of recreational angling doesn't. Not in the eyes of MAFF.

Hang on, thougha lot of us have believed for some time that this is absurd, that as far as the inshore waters around Britain are concerned, rod and line fishing is almost certainly more important, economically, than trawling, and contributes more to the wealth of the UK than commercial fishing does. A lot more.

And that has now been proved - In Wales they recently published the Nautilus Study into Inland and Sea Fisheries in Wales (search for it at www.wales.gov.uk ) was commissioned by that nation's new Welsh Assembly. And, its conclusions - and its lessons - apply to the rest of the UK, something which must be of deep concern not just to anglers, and to sea anglers in particular but also to the taxpayers of this country whether they are fishermen or not.

The Nautilus Report shows something that sea anglers have always suspected but could never prove, that the value to the economy of their sport - recreational fishing as it's called in the report - not just exceeds, but far exceeds that of commercial fishing. And it's figures were later reviewed by the South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee which, although its chief concern is with commercial fishing, not angling, not only agreed with the Nautilus conclusions but revised them upwards - substantially.

The figures are staggering. Very briefly they state that while commercial fishing contributes perhaps 16 million to the economy , the value to Wales of sea angling is not far short of - hold it! - 100 million. When you figure, on top of that, that the commercial figure includes the - very valuable - crab and lobster catch, then inshore trawling for bottom fish is worth considerably less than that 16 million.

People get sentimental over commercial fishers, right? Last of the hunter gatherers, heroes of The Perfect Storm, all that stuff. In reality, though, inshore trawling isn't really very romantic. Many of the virtually unregulated, under-10-metre boats - they're the kind you see nearly running themselves ashore as they scratch at every little patch of rough ground below high water mark - are crewed - often owned - by part timers who have other jobs - just like the gill netters and the commercial rod-and-line bass fishermen. They don't fight the stormy seas much - they don't even stay out at sea overnight a lot of the time.

What they are all doing, of course, is recklessly exploiting a resource that belongs to all of us. And now it's been discovered that, economically, they're a waste of space.

Can you imagine what it would do for the prosperity not just of Wales but of, for instance, the West Country, the seaside towns of southern England, of the East Coast if they could offer first class saltwater angling? The miracle is how many British sea anglers, most of the time for very indifferent results, travel long distances at weekends to the coast for their sport from Coventry, from Manchester, from London

If all that seems a long way from the bewildered Mr Morley and the plight of the North Sea cod, then that isn't really the case. Sinisterly, anglers in the South-East of Britain, from Hampshire to Kent, are reporting an upsurge in the numbers of small fish and small species. Rockling and pouting for instance, that a decade or two back were regarded as nuisance fish, are now enthusiastically targeted. Match fishing, meantime, is booming - it's the only way to create any interest in - let's be blunt - trash fish.

The trash fish are there and abundant because the top of the food chain has been lopped off

How different things would be if, around our coasts up to say a 10 mile limit, only rod-and-line fishing was permitted. It wouldn't only be tackle shops and bait diggers, and charter boat crews who'd benefit but - as Nautilus has shown - pubs and b&b's, petrol stations, corner shops, you name it

If the rape of the North Sea goes on though - because Mr Morley and his fellow fishery ministers in the EU are running round in circles, that's not a prospect, though, is it?