VEGA News Item

Fishy Tales and Politics - 05/03/2009
Should Close Seasons for Spawning Fish be Observed?
1. A report in the Times (02 March 2009) describes under the heading "Unity Bait fails to land salmon and trout brigade" the matter of angling unity. The founding in January of the Angling Trust, "a body originally conceived to unite the sport's hitherto competing representative bodies" is cause for only qualified celebration, because "at the 11th hour and with so many organizational, social, political and environmental issues to be addressed, the Salmon and Trout Association (S&TA), the body that represents game fishing, opted out. Just months before the deal was due to be signed and soon after putting out unequivocal pro-unity messages, the sport's best-resourced and most effective lobby group achieved charitable status after 100 years of existence without it," the report explains.

2. On acquiring this status the S&TA "suddenly discovered that the status prevented it from pursuing full union with the Anglers' Conservation Association, the National Federation of Anglers and the rest." The S&TA has pledged to collaborate closely with the AT and it "very likely will, but still the longed for complete unity has not been achieved" states the report.

3. The report surmises that the change of tack involved "questions of status within the new body and individual ambitions - both problems that have held back unity in the past. Whatever the reason, the AT deserves support as the best available hope, as does the S&TA for much of the excellent work it does. Yet angling has come out of this process weaker than it might have. Unquestionably, the sport's voice has been diluted."

4. The report next tackles "the debate on the close season for coarse fish," which "is at once trivial and threatening. For almost 2 decades those who have a commercial interest have sought to get the close season on rivers abolished. Now, with just a fortnight left of the season, they are at it again, with letters and articles everywhere urging a change of priorities."

5. The tackle trades and media that service coarse fishing want an end to the long-established close season that runs from mid-March until mid-June. When no one is fishing anglers have "no incentive to buy tackle and tackle advertising, a staple for angling's newspapers and magazines." This campaign is "not only self-interested, it is myopic," comments the report, stating that its success would mean "great damage to the sport as a whole."

6. "A group that wants to give away its quarry no respite at all, even when that quarry is breeding and at its most vulnerable, would be showing not the concern for fish that the commercial lobby professes, but a cynical disregard for their welfare and blindness to the world outside," states the report in a striking definition of what the report describes as "not a scientific matter, it is an ethical matter, a matter of sporting values."

7. The wish to protect coarse fish while spawning led to the introduction of a close season in the first place. The first legal protection came into law in 1878. That protection was modified between 1884 and 1907, and in 1923 a specific close season of 93 days was introduced to run in the spring, when most coarse fish spawned. In the 1990s the Environment Agency (EA), under great pressure, abolished the close season on lakes and canals; only the close season on rivers remains. The tackle trade and others are now calling to have even "that set aside." They want the EA "to research the extent to which fish might or might not be adversely effected (sic) by angling when spawning." It is "an attitude that missus the point completely, declares the report," which continues: "Anyone who cannot recognize that, or is blinded to it by the prospect of commercial gain, must have had all sense of sportsmanship - not to mention political awareness removed with scalpels."

8. A joint meeting a couple of weeks ago of the Thames Fisheries Consultative Council and the National Association of Fisheries and Angling Consultatives debated the matter of a close season. Votes by the audience after the 2 sides had presented their cases and after that showed a consistent 90% in favor of keeping the close season as it is. The reporter, Brian Clarke, Fishing Correspondent of the Times says: "I have little doubt that, were such a poll to be taken of anglers nationally, a similar result would be obtained."

9. Matters of country "sports" and rural politics, as well as the RSPB/gamekeepers conflicts, will attract attention up to the next General Election and beyond. "The public, on whose support angling's future ultimately depends, needs to be assured that the vast majority of anglers do respect their quarry, as votes such as that above and the existence of so many fish conservation groups attest. It is only a minority that wants to have the close season on rivers abandoned - and that for the saddest of reasons," declares the report.

10. Hunting, shooting and fishing will still have a lot to answer for in preserving their presence in a countryside that belongs to animals of all kinds with respect on all sides, as territories are got and defended as harmoniously as possible, and with consequently reduced harassment and rapine.  

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