Another Throwback in Unpoliced Blood Sport
1. "Coarse fish to disappear from the menu" heads a Times review (05/04/10) of byelaws expected to be given ministerial approval before Parliament is dissolved. It is pertinent in the debate - or argument might be an apter word - over blood sports and the corollaries of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The byelaws will, for the first time, impose strict limits on what fish coarse anglers in England and Wales can take from the water. They are also significant in bringing the treatment of fish into concepts of sentience and pain and in the handling, rearing and killing of animals for "eating", "sport" and "pleasure", as well as for display and other exploitation for commercial purposes in zoos, circuses, and in private collections and pastimes, to which may be linked experimentation. Like hunting with dogs, the "catch" with coarse fishing is usually not eaten, but it is thrown back for angling on another day's play.
2. The intended byelaws will, for the first time, "impose strict limits on what fish coarse anglers in England and Wales can take from the water." These considerations have developed since the passing of the anti-Hunting Act and must be saved from the trivialization that hunting is attracting. We note the facile but changing pronouncements that David Cameron has been uttering and the enjoyment he has reported on his huntin', shooting, and fishin' activities. By contrast Hilary Benn, the present Minister of State at DEFRA, is a committed veggie and strong supporter of the anti-Hunting Act, and Alastair Darling, the Chancellor, and Sara Brown, the Prime Minister's wife, have voiced objections to the taking of seals for food and their skins, and consumption of foie gras. Prince Charles and the Royals seem disposed to preservation of these traditional activities, although they would probably not participate in a return to bull and bear-baiting, nor to demotic pastimes such as hare-coursing and badger-baiti
3. The measures now proposed by the Environment Agency, after "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. A clash of cultures has arisen between British anglers and East European immigrants, with particular problems arising in East Anglia and East Midlands. There are therefore some highly unpleasant political aspects. British anglers return most of the fish they catch; regulation of what they can and cannot take has never been necessary, but in Eastern Europe coarse fish are regarded as food - as they were some time ago, in British monasteries with lakes and ponds.
4. In recent years, properly licensed immigrants, have legally been taking many of the large fish they catch for the table; this "reduces the quality of fishing for everyone else," states the Times; worse, "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," observes the Times, noting the lack of resources known only too well by animal welfarists for policing in a countryside that is far from rural idylls of times of peace and contentment lorded over by the squire "in his castle, with the poor man at his gate." But even then there were incomers and the "nouveaus riches."
5. Framing the rules in a way that puts table-sized fish cleared off-limits, localized pressure on stocks can be reduced. Tensions, however, are unlikely to be eased overnight, owing to the lack of the 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," states the Times, indicating that even some of its readers might not readily pass up the chance of a free meal at the expense of some British peculiarity.
6. The EA's proposals 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, according to the Times (and, we note, to hungry immigrants whose first language is Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian etc and, even then, misunderstood or ignored in any piece of Euro-jargon when it suits them. We jest, of course).
7. A list of 14 native and long-established river fish - dace, roach, chub, carp, barbell, 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 3cm 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. (65cm equals about 12 inches or 1 foot).
8. Two groups of fish are not on the protected list. One is the tiddler species such as gudgeon, bleak and minnows. They are "not felt to be under threat." The other group is an alien species such as the zander, a predatory pike/perch introduced some decades ago. It has been establishing itself in East Anglia and parts of the Midlands in competition with native species. It is said to taste delicious. At the same time as these measures are introduced a belated ban will be announced on removal from any water of freshwater eels, "a once plentiful species now in catastrophic decline and the subject of Europe-wide conservation." The Thwaite shad, a rare and threatened migratory species, will likewise become off-limits, like its already protected cousin, the Allis shad.
9. Changes affecting trout fishing remove an anomaly in the law, which has hitherto banned fishing for brown trout in lakes, in winter. Close seasons were introduced to protect fish while spawning. Trout spawn in winter and need running water to do so. A ban on fishing in lakes was lumped in when a ban on river fishing for trout 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 with no streams entering or leaving them, spawning cannot take place, so there is nothing for a close season to protect.
10. 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 owner of the lake agrees, be taken.
11. If the existing laws cannot be effectively monitored and policed, it is unlikely that the latest revisions do anything but complicate matters even more. The EA's record on these matters is debateable: "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 fund 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.
12. The Time's report ends with the result 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."
13. Here's another instance where we would look to Hilary Benn, Britain's Minister of State for the Environment, Farming and the Environment, to reinforce his abhorrence to hunting with dogs to a comprehensive and kinder attitude to the other animals in their attempts at expressing the full joys of well-being.
14. Angling remains a profitable business. "My love of angling landed me a publishing empire" is "how I made it" in the words of David Hall, founder of the eponymous publishing company. After several failures he "started afresh" in 1985, mortgaging his house in Rugby to raise £19,000 and started a series of specialist fishing titles, such as 'Total Flyfisher', 'Total Carp' and 'Match Fishing'. By 1989 sales had exceeded £1 million and by 2000 he had 10 titles and was running trade shows such as the 'Tackle Trade World Fair' in Amsterdam (Sunday Times, 11/04/10). This "small business also runs the 'Evesham Angling Festival', which attracts more than 50,000 visitors on August Bank Holiday weekend. Hall remains chairman of the company and is busy launching new titles, including one for the gun trade.