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 Coarse fish to disappear from the menu

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PostSubject: Coarse fish to disappear from the menu   Thu Apr 08, 2010 12:16 pm

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Coarse fish to disappear from the menu

New bylaws expected to be given ministerial approval before Parliament is dissolved will, for the first time, impose strict limits on what fish coarse anglers in England and Wales can take from the water.

The measures, proposed by the Environment Agency (EA), follow detailed consultations with the angling community and have its broad support. The aim is to give greater protection to coarse fish in rivers — large coarse fish especially. An unacknowledged driver behind them is a clash of cultures, reported here at length in the past, between British anglers and East European immigrants, with particular problems arising in East Anglia and the East Midlands.

British anglers put back the vast majority of the fish they catch and so regulation of what they can and cannot take has never been necessary. In Eastern Europe, however, coarse fish are regarded as food.

In recent years properly licensed immigrants have, legally, been taking many of the large fish they catch for the table, so reducing the quality of fishing for everyone else.

A bigger source of contention is the large number of Eastern Europeans fishing without licences who take fish — and the emergence of gangs netting whole stretches of rivers, canals and lakes, and selling the stock.

Bankside clashes between local anglers and the incomers have resulted, as have some prosecutions, although not nearly enough to act as a deterrent.

It is hoped that by framing the rules in a way that puts table-sized fish clearly off-limits, localised pressures on stocks can be reduced. Tensions, however, are unlikely to be eased overnight. No mention is made of extra resources to police the law-breakers and plans by the Angling Trust, the sport’s representative body, to educate immigrants into British ways may, although soundly conceived, prove too slow for some to show benefits.

The proposals the EA has come up with treat separately fish in still waters and fish in rivers. Fish in contained still waters — that is, waters that have no inflows and outflows — are regarded as the property of the lake owner, but fish swimming free in rivers technically belong to no one. Owners will continue to write the rules on the former. The new constraints are aimed at the latter.

A list of 14 native and long-established river fish — dace, roach, chub, carp, barbel, perch and the rest — has been drawn up. Under the new proposals, up to 15 immature specimens from this list — that is, fish up to 20cm in length — can be taken on a given day, along with one pike of up to 65cm and two grayling a day between 30cm and 38cm.

In practice, most British anglers will still take no fish at all. However, by allowing very small fish to be taken, the new rules will enable anglers who pursue predatory species still to use the smaller fish as baits, and the exceptions for small pike and medium-sized grayling will enable those few anglers who occasionally eat these species to continue to do so.

Two groups of fish are not on the protected list. One is the tiddler species such as gudgeon, bleak and minnows, which are not felt to be under threat. The other is alien species such as the zander, a predatory — and, as it happens, delicious — pike/perch that was introduced some decades ago and that has been chomping its way through native species in East Anglia and parts of the Midlands ever since.

At the same time as these measures are introduced a belated ban will be announced on the removal from any water of freshwater eels, a once plentiful species now in catastrophic decline and the subject of Europe-wide conservation. Likewise the Twaite shad, a rare and threatened migratory species, will become off-limits, like its already protected cousin, the Allis shad.

The changes affecting trout fishing remove an anomaly in the law that, hitherto, has banned fishing for brown trout in lakes, in winter. Close seasons were originally introduced to protect fish while spawning. Trout spawn in winter and need running water to do so — and a ban on fishing in lakes was lumped in when a ban on river fishing for trout in winter was introduced. While the winter close season for brown trout on rivers will remain, the close season for brown trout on enclosed still waters will be abolished because, on lakes that have no streams entering or leaving them, spawning cannot take place, so there is nothing for a close season to protect.

This move complements the abandonment of the close season for the rainbow trout, a non-spawning alien fish that took effect some years ago. From now on both fish may be targeted in winter and, if the lake owner agrees, be taken.

If the change to the trout close season merely tweaks existing legislation, the changes to protect coarse fish break new ground. They are, however, likely to leave many wondering how, if existing regulations cannot be enforced with present resources, the new and more complex ones are to be.

Although the EA does valuable work, its record on enforcement has long been a source of frustration for anglers. About £25 million a year is raised from anglers through a mandatory rod licence, but much of that goes on sustaining the EA’s bureaucracy and funding back-office projects of sometimes questionable relevance. In particular, the agency has been unwilling to fund enough bailiffs and although licence sales continue to rise from earlier derisory levels, it is still difficult to find an angler who has had his permit checked even once.
The end result is that the new laws will require a presence at the waterside to give them full effect — but the police have other priorities and the EA continues to put too few men on the bank. With more cuts in EA budgets certain once the election is out of the way, only optimists will expect early transformation.

Brian Clarke, Times Fishing Correspondent
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