It’s time for anglers to take a stand to protect their sport and the rivers, says Bob Dales
One after another, fishing enthusiasts see signs of a downward trend.
First, there have been huge quantities of water abstracted from the rivers.
They have reduced the habitats not only for fish, but also for the insect life on which the fish (and birds) rely for food. Diffuse and direct pollutions continue despite all the efforts to eliminate them.
Predators of fish have been allowed to multiply; cormorants, now in huge flocks inland, find the rivers and still waters easy sources of fish.
Saw-billed ducks have started to make inroads in the stocks of fish.
There’s predation by mink on many river catchment areas and predation by seals of the migratory fish returning to their native waters and migrating back to sea.
The dredging up of tonnes of sand eels from the bed of the North Sea for use as fertilisers or to make into food for caged fish, has robbed the migratory fish (and sturgeon) of a staple food at a vital time.
Predation by otters of river and stillwater fish has recommenced.
The two main operators of the Otter Project have stated that they will not contribute to the cost of re-stocking the affected waters with fish.
The anglers are already paying for a regular re-stocking, which is costly. If, in addition, they have to cater for the appetites of the otters, fisheries will no longer be viable.
As far back as 2002, our efficient Met scientists concentrating on climate change, warned that there would be more severe floods, longer droughts and violent rainstorms. They were specific in their warning; acute shortages of water for the public supply and the ruination of crops, so the fate of fisheries can be imagined.
It is not, of course, known which parts of our country will suffer extreme weather conditions, so all fisheries may be vulnerable.
Governments so far have been obsessed by the need to reduce greenhouse gas emission, so much so that they do not appear to give proper consideration to reducing the effects of climate change.
Although they know that there will be alternate periods of excess and no water at all, there are no plans to create additional storage reservoirs to which more flood water could be diverted, the water being used to step up dangerously low flows in a subsequent drought.
Some commentators state that there is an even greater threat to fisheries – treated sewage pouring into our rivers still contains residues of the contraceptive pill and HRT, and, with other substances, cause fish to become infertile. Removal from the treated sewage of these substances would be difficult but possible, but the cost would be so heavy that there are no plans for it.
So far, the dreaded disease of salmon in Scandinavia has been kept out of Britain, but yet another threat to fisheries has emerged.
The killer shrimp, dikerogammerus villosis, which has spread over Europe, has been found here. It kills the insects on which fish feed.
Yet another threat is hydropower. The Environment Agency has identified 23,000 sites where there is a potential power source on the rivers in only England and Wales.
It is clear there will be damage to fish stocks.
There are four different turbines which can be used, but it is claimed that the Archimides Screw will cause less damage to fish.
The work of installation, especially where concrete is used will have an adverse effect on water quality, but, long term, the danger to fish will be continuous.
The rivers are the jewels of our countryside and targets for tourists, day-trippers, and the public generally.
For the rivers to be distorted by these installations will become a matter for public concern, especially as there may be a number of installations on one river.
Every farmer and other landowner is being canvassed by companies offering hydropower schemes, with the attraction of reducing the cost of fuel on their own premises with a bonus for selling surplus energy to the National Grid.
To consider each application in the detail required will be an increase in the burden of work of the Environment Agency.
It may well be asked if fishing in our country is on the way out; to preserve it is certainly becoming more difficult, and over all the problems there is the cloud created by a number of national organisations determined to ban all angling, alleging that hooking a fish causes cruelty.
They ignore scientific evidence to the contrary, but by placing their belief or allegation in the minds of the public, politicians will be swayed accordingly.
As there are four million anglers, it could be expected that they would have a powerful voice and be able to make the strong case for angling, which contributes billions of pounds to the national and local economies.
They also do more than anyone else to conserve the aquatic environment.
Additionally by their fishing licences they subsidise the Environment Agency by more than £12m every year.
That strong voice, however, is missing. Only a small fraction of the total numbers of anglers support the two national bodies, the Salmon and Trout Association, with experience of conservation for more than100 years, and the new Angling Trust.
As a result, both are under-funded. They cannot afford a professional PR organisation nationwide, and they have no professional regional officers – and decisions about water, and, therefore, fisheries, are now made regionally.
The army of anglers who fail to join these bodies no doubt think they will always be able to take their rods and tackle to their usual waters, but they may find some or all of the above dangers have materialised.
It will be too late for them, then.
They cannot make the excuse that they cannot afford the subscriptions of the national bodies. Together, they are less than a tankful of petrol for their cars. The time has come for them to be realists, and stop dilly-dallying.
By opposing action which would harm the rivers and the fishers, the national bodies work also for the public, whose support should be wholehearted.