What does the EU referendum result mean for fish and fishing?

27 Jun

The short answer to the question posed in this title is that no-one yet knows.  All we know is that by a fairly small margin the majority of people who voted in the referendum opted to leave the EU, and that we will have a new prime minister (and probably a new leader of the opposition) by the autumn.  Things are unlikely to be much clearer until then and there may have to be another general election to allow people to have a say about the direction of our next steps into what David Cameron called uncharted territory.  There may even be another referendum in Scotland about independence which could lead to the break-up of the UK.

The Angling Trust remained neutral about the referendum out of respect for the wide range of views of our membership about the issue.  Our job is to represent our members when there is a clear consensus about an issue.   Now that the referendum has been held, we now need to fight for the best deal for fish and fishing amidst the mayhem that has been created.

Many EU Directives are vitally important for protecting fish and there are many in the environmental sector who are concerned that they will be torn up.  However, if we are to remain in the Single Market, which seems more likely than not, we are probably going to have to abide by many of the rules of the European club.  Someone once told me that the only country to implement all EU environmental directives is Norway, which is not an EU member.  I don’t know if this is precisely true, but the point is clear; countries outside the EU, but wishing to have unfettered trade with it, must follow its rules to avoid giving them an unfair advantage.


What does the future hold for regulation of pollution?

We will be pressing for EU environmental legislation such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Water Framework Directive, Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive and the Habitats Directive, all of which are already written into UK law, to be maintained and implemented in full to protect fish, other aquatic species and habitats.   It’s unlikely, in my view, that they will be repealed in the near future but there’s no doubt there are those who would wish to see them gone.   At the moment all our agencies remain committed to a process of implementing these important protections and we simply don’t have enough civil servants to write and consult upon the legislation that would be required to replace them, particularly in light of the past 8 years’ of cuts to government departments.

However, in leaving the EU there is a risk that these Directives will slowly be watered down over the years that follow and that the UK might not be subject to revisions, in which case we will have to fight for new safeguards to protect rivers from pollution, abstraction and hydropower.  There may be an upside to this in the form of opportunities for greater freedom for fishery managers to control predators, but in the grand scheme of things these Directives protect more fish than predators kill.

And it’s not just the Directives that are important as there’s also a host of European Union regulations covering important issues like emissions and pollution control which need to be defended. If the European Communities Act is repealed all of these will cease to apply to the UK and this would have a substantial effect on our environmental protection framework.

The European Commission will no longer be able to hold our government’s feet to the fire on these issues in the future, so the Angling Trust & Fish Legal may have to fight more legal battles and judicial reviews (which are expensive and risky) to protect fish stocks.

High Court Fish Legal and David Wolfe QC

Fish Legal lawyers and David Wolfe QC fighting for protection for fish in the courts.

Leaving the EU could mean an end to EU subsidies for farmers which are subject to some very complicated and inefficient rules but, given the political influence of the well-funded NFU, the UK government is likely to fund these in future.  The AT will continue to press for sensible regulation of agriculture to reverse the growing impact it is having on the water environment.  We have always maintained, and will continue to maintain, that subsidies should be linked to the achievement of improved outcomes for the water environment.  There is an opportunity for a simpler system that would be less of a burden to farmers, allow more appropriate measures for the UK landscape and reduce pollution.

The marine fisheries picture is probably the most complicated of all.  For all the talk of taking control of our own waters, the boundary line will be difficult to define given our proximity to other countries, and our commercial fleet currently spends a great deal of its time fishing in EU waters. It may well be that commercial fishing pressure could actually increase in some UK waters which is the last thing we need to see.

Then there’s the tricky question of the ‘grandfather’ fishing rights of other nations to fish ‘our’ waters (and vice versa) established long before the EU came on the scene become more apparent. Above all else fish are highly migratory creatures and will not respect any new lines that are drawn on maps so it’s difficult to see how there cannot be some sort of UK involvement in a Common Fisheries Policy of sorts.

team england boat

We’ll be fighting for a fairer deal for sea anglers

Whatever the future holds anglers can be sure that the Angling Trust will continue to fight to ensure any new arrangements for sea fisheries management benefit both fish stocks and recreational sea anglers and that we continue to stress the far greater economic and social value of recreational sea angling when it comes to allocating catches.

And then there is the economy.  All this uncertainty, coupled with the prospect of more complicated trading arrangements with Europe, may well lead us back into a recession.  Apart from the wide-ranging impacts that this will have on people’s personal lives, it will also be bad for fishing and the many jobs that it supports.  As they have done in recent years, people will cut back on expenditure, buy fewer day tickets, drop their club memberships and buy less tackle.  There may even be more cuts to the already heavily-sliced Environment Agency and Defra which will give them even less resources to add to the contributions of anglers via the rod licence, so there will be less protection for fisheries.

Immigration was a key issue in the referendum debate, but leading figures in the Leave campaign are now distancing themselves from claims that it will be much reduced in the future as a result of the vote last week.  Free movement of labour may well be one of the conditions in trade negotiations. What is undeniable is that there has been a nasty side to parts of the referendum campaign and some people in migrant communities have been left feeling uncertain and insecure.

The Angling Trust will continue to work with the Environment Agency to support our migrant anglers and to ensure that they have the necessary information to fish responsibly.  We are proud of our team in the Building Bridges Project and the work that they do to bring the angling community together. We will continue to develop our highly successful partnership with the EA’s enforcement teams and the Police to tackle fish theft and poaching.  The vast majority of anglers would be appalled by some of the racism and hatred that has been targeted at migrants and ethnic minorities in recent days.  Hopefully this will be a short-lived phenomenon and we should all make it clear that it is unacceptable on social media and by the water.

The changes in the top teams at Westminster will mean that we will have to build new relationships with ministers and shadow ministers but we have done this before. We have strong relationships across all sides of politics and on both sides of the referendum debate. Our National Campaigns Co-ordinator Martin Salter has immense experience of the political process, and he will be working closely with the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group, which includes some very influential MPs, to influence the debate.  We have become an important member of the European Anglers Alliance in recent years, with our Head of Marine David Mitchell chairing the Sea Sub Group and Head of Freshwater Mark Owen representing the Alliance in Brussels on several freshwater issues, and this will give us the ability to understand and influence negotiations in the coming months.

One thing is very clear: at a time of immense political turmoil, the need is greater than ever for individuals, clubs and fisheries to join the Angling Trust & Fish Legal to give us the resources and political weight of numbers to speak up for fish and fishing and if necessary take legal action to influence the many fundamental decisions which will be made about management of fisheries, and the freedom for anglers to fish for them, over the coming months and years. If you’re not a member already, please join us here: www.anglingtrust.net/join

Further reading on this: http://www.theopike.com/brexit-a-new-hope-for-the-environment/ 

Why we are taking the government to court

19 Nov

The Angling Trust, Fish Legal and WWF-UK are in the high court today fighting a judicial review of the government’s failure to stop agricultural pollution degrading 44 rivers, lakes and estuaries which are specially protected areas in England.  We believe that the government was required by the EU’s Water Framework Directive to stop this ongoing pollution in these sites by 2015.

Agricultural pollution is fast becoming the most significant reason why our rivers are failing to support healthy fish populations.  The Environment Agency has, over the past few years, analysed the reasons why 83% of our rivers are failing to achieve the European standard of Good Ecological Status across the country.  Rural diffuse pollution (i.e. from lots of small sources, rather than from the end of a big pipe, which is known as point source pollution) is now nearly topping the list.

Reasons for Failure to Achieve Good Ecological Status

Reasons for failing to achieve Good Ecological Status

This pollution takes many forms.  Rain landing on wet, compacted fields runs off the surface of the soil and into rivers, carrying with it slurry, soil, pesticides and fertilisers, all of which are lethal to fish and the invertebrates they eat.  Badly maintained gutters allow rainwater from roofs to wash farmyard muck into drains.  Broken pipes divert filthy water into streams.  All these trickles add up to a mighty load of pollution.  Just because it doesn’t come out of a big pipe doesn’t make it any more deadly to our aquatic wildlife.  It’s often referred to as causing death by a thousand cuts.

A big contributor to agricultural pollution is the proliferation of maize production, which has increased from 8,000 hectares in England in 1973 to 183,000 hectares in 2014.  Much of this growth has been to power anaerobic digesters which receive generous subsidies from the government in addition to existing farm subsidies.  Maize is harvested late in the season and it leaves bare, compacted fields exposed to heavy rainfall which washes soil, pesticides and fertilisers into our rivers.  Other crops like potatoes and asparagus disturb the soil and make it much more susceptible to erosion as the pictures below show.

Just add rain!

Just add rain…

Potato field washing away

The after effects of rain – several feet of soil have washed into the nearest river

Agriculture is facing a sustainability crisis.  Nearly all soils in fields are compacted and lacking in humus, making them vulnerable to erosion at a rate far higher than new soil is being created.  You can see in the picture below the slabs of compacted soil removed from a field in Herefordshire.  Even though there was standing water in the field, the soil below is bone dry.  Compacted soils stop water soaking into the ground, so not only do they cause flooding and pollution, they also stop the recharge of underground aquifers and make us more vulnerable to droughts in the summer.

Compacted soil

Slabs of compacted soil

Dry soil beneath compacted soil

Bone dry soil beneath, despite water standing in the field

Many farms cause more pollution than badly-performing sewage treatment works that would face tough regulatory action.  Voluntary measures such as the Catchment Sensitive Farming scheme, designed to address these problems have not achieved their objectives, but the government has not implemented a single Water Protection Zone to tackle agricultural pollution – the mechanism it said it would use in the River Basin Management Plans (published in 2009) alongside voluntary measures.  These zones would involve implementation of local solutions tailor-made for each area suffering from pollution; as opposed to national, top down binding rules that all farmers have to follow.

The poor management of our soils has released about as much carbon and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere as burning fossil fuels.  It contributes very significantly to flooding.  The vegetables grown on these soils have a much lower nutritional value.  “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself”, so said Franklin D Roosevelt.  Protecting our soils would have huge benefits for society, and would be relatively easy to do.  It just requires a few changes to the way we grow food.

We need to stop growing the wrong crops in the wrong places.  Maize, potatoes and asparagus grown on slopes need winter cover crops to keep water and soil from running off the land in the winter.  Government rules often require farmers to grow buffer strips along the side of watercourses, which is all very well, but I’ve seen countless examples of surface run-off coming out of gateways and into drains, which carry the polluting soil and other nasties straight into rivers.

Soil washing out of gateway

We need buffer strips along roads and farm tracks as well as rivers

Another measure that would help is contour ploughing – ploughing horizontally across slopes and not vertically to stop water, sediment and pollution running down the slopes straight into the water course.  New farm technology is available to break up the hard, compacted tram lines from tractor wheels to stop water running off the surface.  A vital key to solving this problem is returning organic matter to our soils and allowing earthworms and fungi to restore healthy soil structure and function.  The less we plough, and the more cover crops and compost we use, the stronger the soil becomes.  This would capture vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, reduce flood risk, produce healthier food, safeguard the future of our soils and reduce the impact of pollution.

Just a few hundred pounds invested around the farmyard can divert clean water from roofs into drains and keep the muck and other pollutants on the farm where it can be used productively.

So why aren’t we rushing to do these things?  We believe that the government has taken an ideologically-driven decision not to regulate farmers, against the advice of its own agencies.  They have cut and cut again the budgets of the regulators and have instructed them not to take a hard line with farmers who are causing pollution.

This is why the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, in partnership with WWF, are fighting a judicial review in the Royal Courts of Justice over the next two days.  We want to see firm but fair regulation of an industry which receives billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money every year; it seems only right that if we pay them lots of public money, they should not cause pollution of water supplies and contribute to flooding villages and towns.  Good farmers need to see that their neighbours and competitors are receiving sanctions when they cut corners.  There must be proper regulation of this sector, given that it has such a massive influence on the health of our environment and the services it delivers to society, including the health of our fish stocks.

Please support this case by making a donation to the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, or better still by joining up as a member.  We need more support if we are to take on huge battles like this, and win.  Visit www.anglingtrust.net to give us your support.

Is the Angling Trust Still Independent?

27 Sep

In my last blog, I wrote about the new contract for rod licence revenues to fund the work of the Angling Trust.  Because this comes from the Environment Agency, some of our members have been concerned that this might mean that the independence of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal to challenge the Environment Agency, the government and its agencies might in some way be compromised. It’s understandable how people might reach this conclusion, but I can guarantee that this is not the case.

The first point to make is that we have been funded by Rod Licence revenues from the Environment Agency for the past 5 years and I don’t think anyone could accuse us of shying away from criticising the Environment Agency or government in that time.  This new contract just formalises the work that we have been doing on an informal partnership basis for many years.

It’s important to note that the funding comes from rod licence revenue, rather than from the EA’s grant in aid, or from Defra.  It is anglers’ money being returned to be spent on angling. Most of our criticism of the EA is about other departments than fisheries, such as flood defence, water resources, pollution regulation, hydropower etc.   Now that we have our position as preferred contractor confirmed, after a competitive tendering process, we can be even more confident that any criticism we level at the EA or Defra cannot affect the funding that we receive to deliver this contract.

By way of evidence, we have just launched a judicial review of the government and Environment Agency’s failure to tackle agricultural pollution in protected areas, which we are fighting robustly (see news about this on our web site HERE).  We have also recently challenged the Agency very strongly about its water quality monitoring regime and its corporate failure to address the decline in salmon populations.

Furthermore, we have been very clear with the EA, including in meetings with its Chief Executive and Chairman, that we will remain a ‘critical friend’ which will involve criticising them robustly when they fail to protect fish and fishing, which is their statutory duty.

Finally, if ever we were in a position where we were told to stop being critical or lose our funding, we would immediately go public about attempts to silence us and if necessary withdraw from the contract.

The role of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, first and foremost, is to represent our members.  Indeed, Fish Legal is legally required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority to act in the best interests of its members.  It is of course a shame that less than 0.1% of anglers currently support us by becoming individual members and so we have to seek external funding to pay for our ambitious programme of work to protect and improve fish stocks and fishing, but there it is.

All of the campaigning and political lobbying carried out by the Angling Trust, and all of the legal work of Fish Legal, is funded by membership subscriptions, donations and legacies and cannot be funded by rod licence revenue.  If we are to grow our capacity to do more in these areas, which we need to do, we need more people to pay us just £25 a year as an individual member, whether or not the club they belong to is affiliated to the Angling Trust and/or Fish Legal.

Please join us HERE

Sign up for the FREE fortnightly e-newsletter from the Angling Trust and Fish Legal to get news from the world of fishing, top tips and special offers at www.anglingtrust.net/subscribe

Big Plans for the Future

26 Aug

Sign up for the FREE fortnightly e-newsletter from the Angling Trust and Fish Legal to get news from the world of fishing, top tips and special offers at www.anglingtrust.net/subscribe

The Environment Agency recently gave the Angling Trust a huge vote of confidence by appointing us, through a formal competitive tendering process, to be the delivery organisation for a major new contract delivering angling services over the next 2 – 4 years, funded by rod licence income, building on work we have been carrying out in partnership with the Agency over the past few years.

The work will involve an expansion of our programmes to get more people fishing and buying rod licences, particularly through our Family Fishing initiative, and appointment of a new angling promotion officer to bring angling to new audiences.  We will be developing the angling forums we hold in each of 8 regions, to give anglers the opportunity to have their say, and to get involved in initiatives to improve fishing.  We will be expanding the Angling Improvement Fund to support clubs and fisheries, improve facilities and protect fish stocks, and offering expert advice about other funding.  We will soon be announcing the successful bids from the latest round of the Fisheries Improvement Fund, which this time focussed on getting kids fishing and protecting fisheries from predation.  See the list of successful applicants HERE

Martin Salter Addressing a Regional Forum

Martin Salter Addressing a Regional Forum

We are also hoping to roll out the highly successful Voluntary Bailiff Service across the country from its initial pilot area of South East England and expanding our Building Bridges programme for migrant anglers.  We will continue to develop our relationship with the Police to fight illegal fishing and fish theft and our projects to deal with angling litter and invasive species like signal crayfish.  This new contract allows rod licence funds to go further, because the Angling Trust has unique access to match funding from organisations like Sport England and a huge network of volunteers.

Although winning the contract will help build a firm financial basis from which we can operate, the money must be spent on some very specific projects and we still need much more membership income to pay for representation, campaigns and legal action.  These things can only be funded by members and not the rod licence.  While Fish Legal made a substantial surplus in 2014-15 that will be reinvested, the Angling Trust had a corresponding loss.  Just a few thousand more members would give us much greater financial security and more funds to take on the many threats to our fish stocks and fishing.

It’s important to stress that the Trust will remain entirely independent from the Environment Agency despite this contractual arrangement and will continue to be effective in our wider role of the governing body for the sport of angling and champions of anglers rights.  We will work closely with the Agency to resolve issues and improve things which adversely affect angling but we will not shy away from challenging government and its agencies where this is needed.

Sign up for the FREE fortnightly e-newsletter from the Angling Trust and Fish Legal to get news from the world of fishing, top tips and special offers at www.anglingtrust.net/subscribe


3 Jul

I’ve handed over my blog this month to Rod Sturdy, who has very kindly written this article below about our Tidal Lagoon campaign.  The views expressed are his own, but clearly in support of the work that the Angling Trust and Fish Legal do.

Rod began fishing in his local park lake at the age of twelve, and from there he graduated to chub and roach from the river Tees in North Yorkshire. He now lives in Surrey within striking distance of the river Mole, as well as the Medway and the Eden in Kent and does a lot of surface carp fishing on small waters in the area. Latterly he has enjoyed winter fishing on the Test in Hampshire. He has contributed numerous articles on various angling subjects and personalities to ‘Waterlog’ magazine, as well as many posts on environmental and political subjects in support of the work of the Angling Trust on the ‘Fishing Magic’ website (www.fishingmagic.com).  He remains a passionate angler as well as a member and promoter of the Angling Trust.  

If you would like to support our campaign, please send a donation payable to Fish Legal to Eastwood House, Rainbow St., Leominster, Herefordshire, HR6 8DQ.  

Rod Sturdy with a fine chub

Rod Sturdy with a fine chub

Rod Sturdy writes:

The proposed, and now officially approved, tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay has been the subject of some concern and intense scrutiny on the part of environmental and wildlife interests, not least angling representatives and Fish Legal.

The scheme will involve building 6 miles of ‘sea wall’ in order to harness the power, via turbines, of 4 tidal flows per day, at a cost of £750-850 m. The company behind the project, Tidal Lagoon Power (TLP), has a number of such schemes lined up at a total cost of £126 bn. The claimed output for this first one is 400 GWh, enough to power 120,000 homes.

The Swansea tidal lagoon, with its 6 miles of sea wall, is fairly huge. The next one on the list, Cardiff, is no less than seven times as large, with a claimed capacity enough to power 1.5 million homes.

Furthermore, TLP claim that, within ten years, tidal lagoons could be supplying 8% of the UK’s electricity needs. For comparison, this is roughly equivalent to the contribution of one of the UK’s remaining coal-fired power stations, Drax in North Yorkshire, to UK electricity needs.

From a conservationist, and specifically an angling perspective, this scheme leaves too many unanswered questions. A number of interested parties, including of course anglers, quite rightly remain very concerned about the possible impact on marine and freshwater fish migration routes and habitats. Essentially the scheme uses hitherto untested technology. Fish Legal has drawn attention to important shortcomings in modelling of impacts on the environment.

TLP has, as developers tend to do, claimed that impacts will be minimal, and that their scheme will actually benefit the local marine habitat.

Effective monitoring of the impacts of this scheme, which is due to start in 2016, still has to be agreed. It is all proceeding far too quickly for comfort.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, after pressure from Fish Legal, has insisted on an ‘Adaptive Environmental Management Plan’ being in place. This, it is claimed will allow modification of the way the installation is run if it proves that it is having an adverse impact. The problem with this is of course that it will involve efforts to correct something after the event, and then possibly too late in the day.

It really would be a crying shame if this project permanently disrupted salmon migration routes, not only to and from the Severn, Usk and Wye, but also with them a number of noted rivers in Wales such as the Neath, Afan and Tawe. The possibility cannot be ruled out, and the geographical area of potential impact is very large.

So let me say it now: I urge you to support the work of Fish Legal in its ongoing monitoring of, and challenge to, this potentially very damaging scheme. And when I say ‘support’ I mean cash donations to enable Fish Legal to carry on the campaign. And joining the Angling Trust & Fish Legal if you are not already an individual member.

We will be in for a prolonged battle, given the government’s clear determination to be seen to be supporting ‘green’ projects.

Greenness – or in political terms the drive to be seen to be greener than green – is now an established part of the political scene: for some years we have been susceptible to overtures from mainstream politicians when they assure us that their particular policies are the greenest ever.

The green factor is also highly significant in the marketing of many products: cars, washing machines and the rest bought by consumers who like the idea that the appliances they use do minimal damage to the environment.

But all that appears to be green is not necessarily blameless. Highly green-sounding ‘bio fuels’ are a case in point. Hailed a few years ago as the ‘sustainable’ replacement for fossil fuels, they are now largely discredited. The chief reason is that it takes vast areas of land to grow biofuel crops in sufficient quantities, which has resulted in rainforest being cleared on a big scale. Not to mention diverting large quantities of grain from food to fuel production, thereby raising food prices, disadvantaging the poor even more.

Old-fashioned ‘Greens’ used to lecture us about re-engaging with the landscape, the ‘good earth’. They told us that we should grow our own vegetables and produce our own power to cover our – necessarily modest – needs. Self-sufficiency on a small scale was the watchword.

But most of all the Greens told us to turn our backs on ‘finite’ fossil fuels, used to power the evil motor car and to power huge lorries transporting building materials for new roads, which were unnecessary because we should all give up private transport. Oh, and of course these same heavy goods vehicles were also used to distribute cheap, mass-produced supermarket food, which of course we should ideally have been producing in our own back gardens.

All so very last century now. And totally unworkable.

So the green emphasis has now understandably moved to ‘renewable’ energy sources. The real trouble with these is that, due to their relatively low individual output, they necessarily have an enormous footprint: unsightly, inefficient wind turbines by the score covering huge chunks of the landscape, acres upon acres of solar panels (although admittedly this particular technology is improving), not to mention hydropower installations everywhere.

And with this footprint goes an enormous potential for environmental damage.

Interestingly, a further downside to the Swansea scheme and similar future ones is that whilst they can without a doubt supply electricity, it is at a very high price. TLP is asking for a guaranteed price of £168/MWh, something which is set to push up domestic energy prices to new heights. And of course this factor would make the UK supremely unattractive to potential industrial electricity users.

It really does seem that many such ‘renewable/sustainable’ schemes are only considered in the first place because governments, obsessed with the bogeyman of global warming, are caught up in a desperate scramble to ‘go green’ and phase out fossil fuels. Because when examined carefully, the technologies governments go for are not really viable. Just consider: five tidal lagoon projects covering an enormous total area, costing £126 bn, causing who knows what environmental havoc…is it really worth the disruption for a small fraction of the UK’s electricity needs?

In addition, it would be the supreme irony if this type of ‘green’ installation were to turn out to be a significant nail in the coffin of an already threatened species, the Atlantic salmon.

Will our regulators protect salmon from tidal lagoons?

Will our regulators protect salmon from tidal lagoons?

A TLP promotional film naturally pushes out the ‘green’ PR message: the project is a great example of ‘eco-regeneration’, with the lagoon wall providing an artificial reef for the promotion of marine life. TLP also suggests that future lagoons could be used to enhance sea defences, given the prospect of rising sea levels.

It would be interesting to know the cost to the environment of tidal power and hydropower schemes in terms of construction emissions. TLP claim that the Swansea Bay scheme has a design life of 50 years. So how long before the huge fossil fuel input needed to build it is wiped out by the ‘green factor’, with all its claimed benefits for the environment? Some considerable time, I suspect, and perhaps a fair chunk of that 50 year life.

As things stand, I personally would favour nuclear power as a tried and tested, efficient as well as emission-free option for domestic and industrial energy. With modern know-how, and provided reactors are sited inland out of reach of potential tsunamis, they cover our electricity needs in a highly efficient and safe manner.

And as for fossil fuels, I think we have to accept that we will realistically not be free of them for some time to come. That’s not to say that I won’t be one of the first in the queue when the first really efficient, reasonably-priced electric cars come along…

But I digress, Let’s for the moment worry about tidal lagoons! Once more, I ask you to support the work of Fish Legal and the Angling Trust.

Rod Sturdy, Guest Blogger, 3 July 2015

Climate change – a real issue for the future of fish and fishing

12 May

Our fish face many threats, with which we are all too familiar.  Sewage and agricultural pollution, low flows in rivers, commercial overfishing at sea, and unsustainable predation are the rule rather than the exception.  This month I want to highlight the potential impact of a changing climate on fish stocks, and hence on the availability of quality fishing.  All serious scientists agree that global temperatures are rising as a result of human activity (burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests and releasing methane from agricultural sources).  Even if we take concerted global action, temperatures look set to rise by at least 2 degrees centigrade.  This may not sound much, but it will have disastrous consequences for our way of life, and on fish and fishing.

Many people think that climate change will only affect delicate fish like trout and grayling, but it will also have a huge impact on coarse fish as well.  One of the biggest threats to carp is Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) and the UK has seen numerous outbreaks of this vicious disease in recent years which have led to fisheries being closed and huge numbers of dead fish being dumped into the ground.  KHV thrives in warm water and all the recent outbreaks have coincided with years when summer temperatures have been slightly above average.

Rising temperatures will makes sea levels rise due to the expansion of sea water and melting icecaps, coupled with deeper low pressure systems which lead to storm surges.  In recent years, there have been more and more saltwater incursions to the Norfolk Broads, which have led to hundreds of thousands of coarse fish keeling over.  These incursions will become far more common in low lying areas and estuaries, which are often the most productive coarse fisheries.

The impact of climate on sea fishing is uncertain.  What is certain is that fishing will change as fish migrate to find optimum conditions.  It’s likely that warmer waters will cause more poisonous algal blooms, fuelled by fertilisers washed off farmers’ fields.  As crops fail, there will also be greater economic and political pressure to exploit fish stocks even more unsustainably to feed a growing global population.

River full of soil

The River Wye in spate, full of soil. This will only get worse with climate change.

Salmon are already nearing the edge of their natural range in the south of the UK.  Rising temperatures, coupled with low flows, could lead to their extinction in Southern England and Wales.  Sea survival of salmon has plummeted in the past 40 years from around 30% in the 1970s to a handful of percent today.  The truth is we don’t know why, but several years of skinny grilse indicated that the fish were going to sea and not finding the food they had come to expect over millennia due to a warming Arctic Ocean.  These fish have survived for millions of years through much bigger climate fluctuations than 2 degrees, but it’s the speed of modern climate change that makes it harder for them to adapt.  As they move further north, we lose a heritage and a tradition.

Once famous salmon rivers like the Tamar, Hampshire Avon, Test and Itchen could see their stocks wiped out within the lifetime of young anglers who are just learning the art of speycasting today.

All freshwater fish, and particularly sensitive species such as trout and grayling, will suffer from warmer water in the summer months.  As water temperature increases, oxygen levels plummet, and rivers and lakes are much more susceptible to pollution incidents.  Rainfall patterns are likely to change, with more intense rainstorms causing damaging floods which destroy fish eggs and wash fish downstream and onto floodplains where they die in the fields.  More sporadic rain will probably cause more droughts which concentrate pollutants, reduce dissolved oxygen, reduce the wetted area of riverbed which provides food, and give predators a field day.

To respond to this threat, the Angling Trust has joined the Climate Coalition, which is a group of diverse organisations calling for real action on climate change by governments the world over.  Of course, climate change should be of concern to us all because of the impact it will have on our lives in so many ways, but highlighting the potential damage to our precious fish and fishing is a way of demonstrating how far-reaching that impact will be.


We are therefore encouraging anglers to back this campaign to call on governments to help make nature more resilient to climate change by reducing other pressures on natural systems, and to take action to reduce emissions which are causing the world to warm.

We can’t any longer pretend that Climate Change isn’t going to happen, or that we are powerless to prepare for it.  We must all take urgent action to stop it being worse than it needs to be.

If you want to get involved in the huge Speak Up rally in London on Wednesday 17th June then please click HERE for more details. Why not go along and speak up for the love of fish and fishing.

Our current analysis suggests that we can’t write plain English

20 Feb

This is the clearest and most incisive critique of what is wrong with the way our rivers are ‘managed’ I have seen. We need a revolution in water management in this country or we will all just have to sit and watch while our fisheries decline slowly and steadily. The Angling Trust will be working closely with WWF, RSPB and the Rivers Trust to try and bring about radical change.
Thank you Charles for this excellent piece.

One of the main aims of the recent WWF chalk-streams conference (my presentation is published in a previous blog entry) was to encourage people to comment on the Environment Agency’s latest River Basin Management Plans.

If you love rivers, this is important (if dry) stuff. These plans will define what the government will do over the next few years to improve our rivers. The public needs to say what it thinks in order to hold the government and its agencies to task.

In the afternoon we broke up into sub-groups and tried to make sense of the catchment summaries. I was given the Environment Agency’s summary for north west Norfolk, where I live. I couldn’t really make head or tail of it to be honest. But it was hard to concentrate, we were trying to read and discuss at the same time. Sure, there was the standard windy drift of vague statements…

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