Two Years On – Are we now ‘fit to frack’

20 Jul

The Angling Trust is part of a coalition of countryside and nature conservation organisations that came together two years ago to assess the potential risks of fracking to the UK’s natural environment, landscapes and climate. Since then, we’ve been calling for tighter environmental regulation of the fracking industry and asking to see a compelling case that fracking is compatible with the UK’s climate change commitments. These formed the two key tests we wanted to set out for the fracking industry.

The launch of 'Are we fit to Frack?' outside Parliament in 2014 with MPs Alan Whitehead(Lab), Tessa Munt (LibDem) and Zac Goldsmith (Con)

The launch of ‘Are we fit to Frack?’ outside Parliament in 2014 with MPs Alan Whitehead(Lab), Tessa Munt (LibDem) and Zac Goldsmith (Con)

In this joint blog we’ve come back to our original recommendations and assessed the progress against them, just over two years after our reports were published. We’ve also looked at recent evidence produced by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) on the compatibility of commercial-scale fracking with our carbon budgets. While there has been some progress, on both counts (compatibility with carbon budgets and wide regulatory improvements) we have concluded that there is still some uncertainty and still some way to go. For example, we’re concerned that because wells are not monitored after being formally decommissioned, future accidental pollution costs could fall on the taxpayer; and we’re also concerned that fracking may still occur near and beneath protected areas. We’re also concerned that the CCC thinks that fracking is not compatible with our carbon budgets unless new regulation is introduced, and that the UK Government has said it has no plans to do this.

Anglers and river groups in the USA fought a long and tough battle against fracking.

Anglers and river groups in the USA fought a long and tough battle against fracking.

Anglers, in particular, have every right to challenge claims that fracking can be undertaken at minimal risk to our rivers and watercourses when evidence from the USA – albeit with a far more lax regulatory framework – points to the exact opposite. At the time of the launch of our original ‘Fit to Frack ‘ report  I posted this article which may be of interest:

Not Fracking Fit

Anyway, if you want to see the updated situation then please read on.

Martin Salter – Angling Trust National Campaigns Coordinator

Introduction

In response to government claims that the controversial practice of fracking would only take place within a ‘world class’ regulatory framework to deliver maximum protection to the environment we, a partnership of wildlife and landscape conservation organizations, came together in 2014 to reach a better understanding of fracking and its risks on our countryside, wildlife and the climate (the ‘Fit to Frack’ coalition consists of RSPB, National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, Salmon and Trout Conservation and Angling Trust (the organisations that published the original report) as well as Campaign to protect Rural England who were later formally welcomed into the coalition). The result of this was the publication of two significant reports to explore these risks.

Fracking through the water aquifer can never be risk free

Fracking through the water aquifer can never be risk free

These reports analyse the experience of fracking in the USA to assess the risks to the UK’s natural environment, and asked the question ‘are we fit to frack?’ We made it clear that while we do not necessarily oppose hydraulic fracturing as a practice, nor the exploitation of shale gas or oil reserves, we do believe commercial shale gas extraction should only go ahead in the UK if it can be objectively demonstrated that the regulatory framework for the industry is fit for purpose, and offers sufficient protection to the natural and historic environment. Therefore, as part of our assessment, we identified ten necessary improvements to the UK’s regulatory regime. We also posed an important question: we asked Government or industry to produce a compelling case that fracking is compatible with our carbon budgets and other climate change commitments. These regulatory recommendations and our question around climate change served as what we saw as two key tests for governments and the industry.

Since then, hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) of unconventional onshore gas and oil reserves has risen to even greater public prominence. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland all have moratoria in place or strong planning presumptions against the exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon reserves. This means that it is only England, right now, that is going full steam ahead on fracking.

This was demonstrated when 159 new onshore oil and gas licenses were issued across England in 2015, and confirmed last May when the first fracking operation license since 2011 was approved.

This is the perfect moment to come back to our reports and to review progress on our recommendations. But before doing so we’d like to touch on the other key test we have set out – whether fracking can be compatible with the UK’s climate change commitments. The UK Government recently released the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) report on the compatibility of fracking with the UK’s carbon budgets. The report says that fracking on a commercial scale will be incompatible with our carbon budgets unless three key tests are met, and that meeting these tests will require new regulations. In their response to the CCC’s report, the UK Government has said that it is confident that the tests can be met based on existing regulation. We are sceptical of this, particularly since a large part of meeting the tests relies on meeting the UK’s carbon budgets in other sectors of the economy. At present, the UK is off track for meeting its 4th carbon budget, so this appears to be a shaky assumption at best. The UK Energy Research Centre’s (UKERC) recent report also concludes that the prospects for fracking in the UK are very limited for similar reasons. Therefore, with regards to climate change, we are not convinced that the UK is fit to frack.

We discuss the progress made below. Overall, there has been some progress from government and the industry. But the key test for the regulations and frameworks will come if industry activity increases from a small to a larger number of test sites, and from testing to full scale extraction.

Our regulatory recommendations have been partially, but not wholly fulfilled, and therefore we still do not consider that the UK is fully fit to frack.

If you would like to read a more detailed analysis of progress against our two key tests on regulation and climate change, this follows below.

Progress on our ten recommendations

1. Avoid sensitive areas for wildlife and water resources by creating shale gas extraction exclusion zones.

Government has announced a ban on fracking at the surface within a full range of protected areas, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), National Parks, Natura 2000 sites, World Heritage Sites (WHS), the Broads, Ramsar International wetlands and groundwater Source Protection Zone (SPZ) 1. This is an important step in the right direction providing much needed protection for some of England’s most sensitive wildlife and nature reserves.

We consider it important that appropriate buffer zones be applied to these sites, but this should be done on a case by case basis depending on the site and its conditions. We also consider it important that, based on appropriate evidence, this exclusion be extended to Local Wildlife Sites, SPZ 2, and SPZ 3 in certain cases.

Because fracking is a new onshore industry in the UK, we consider it important and safest to rule out fracking beneath these sites altogether. However, Government has not gone this far. It has set a depth threshold, banning fracking at less than 1200m beneath AONBs, WHS, National Parks the Broads and Source Protection Zone 1. The measures the Government intends to put in place at the surface will provide some important protection for nature. But, they do not go quite as far as we had hoped, therefore leaving risk of direct impacts on these internationally and nationally important places

2. Make Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) mandatory for shale gas extraction proposals.

The 2015 Infrastructure Act made it obligatory for the Secretary of State to receive an assessment of environmental impact before granting consent to a hydraulic fracturing well. We welcome these developments, but we do not consider this to be the same as an EIA assessment that complies with the EIA Directive. This may sound like a technicality, but the scope and terms of the assessments mentioned in the Infrastructure Act are left worryingly undefined. We consider that a full Environmental Impact Assessment would be required for each fracking well application in order to fully assess the environmental risks.

We do welcome a commitment from UK Onshore Oil and Gas, the industry body, that all fracking proposals will require an EIA, but again this is a voluntary, rather than a mandatory measure.

3. Require shale gas operators to pay for a world-class regulatory regime.

We have received assurances from Government that regulatory bodies have received increases in their budgets and teams to resource their regulation of the industry, despite cuts elsewhere to their budgets from central government. We have also been assured that this money has come from appropriate costs for permits charged to the industry. It will be important that these teams be protected from cuts as the industry progresses and should benefit from appropriate increases in resources if the industry grows.

4. Prevent taxpayers from bearing the costs of accidental pollution

The fracking industry now has access to insurance schemes that ensure that the taxpayer is protected from the cost of environmental impacts while the well is operating, even if an operating company goes bust. Only after the Environment Agency approve the decommissioning is industry allowed to hand back their environmental permit.

However, research has shown that 30% of existing decommissioned UK onshore conventional wells have (albeit very minor) leaks. Our concern is that there is no monitoring in place after the lifetime of the well is deemed to have ended, and that leaks of this kind may go unnoticed in future. If one of them were serious, then it is unclear who would bear the cost if an operator had already been allowed to hand back their environmental permit.

Although not explicitly addressed in our initial recommendations, post-decommissioning activities also potentially directly relate to preventing taxpayers from bearing the cost of pollution. Therefore we’d like to emphasise that regulations should not only cover the lifetime of the well and its decommissioning, but also concern post-decommissioning activities. A regime is needed in order to ensure that a Government agency can undertake long-term monitoring to check for leaks beyond the lifetime of the well. Additionally, a fund should be available to protect the tax payer from paying for the costs of leaks that could pose a threat to the environment or human health.

5. Make water companies statutory consultees in the planning process.

We welcome the importance of this being recognised and it being introduced. We also welcome the ongoing collaboration between UKOOG (the industry body) and Water UK and British Water. The real test will be if the industry develops and these relationships need to be put into practice across many sites.

6. Require all hydraulic fracturing operations to operate under a Groundwater Permit.

We welcome the introduction of new hydrogeological assessments. We also welcome the clarification provided in the Environment Agency’s advice to the oil and gas sector that fracking constitutes a groundwater activity wherever there is a risk that injecting fracturing fluids might create indirect pathways for pollutants to enter groundwater, even where that is deep below the ground surface. We are still concerned that the risk of pollutants entering groundwater through drilling fluids and borehole acidisation might still fall outside permitting requirements.

7. Make sure Best Available Techniques for mine waste management are rigorously defined and regularly reviewed.

The Environment Agency (EA) has put some Best Available Technique programmes out to tender and is awaiting the results. We also await these with interest to provide more detail on how operators will be asked to demonstrate that they are ensuring the best possible protection for the natural environment.

8. Ensure full transparency of the industry and its environmental impacts

Environment Agency has now assured us that all monitoring data will be supplied to them and made publicly available through the public register.

9. Ensure monitoring and testing of shale gas wells is rigorous and independent

We are concerned that while Health and Safety Executive assesses the independence of the ‘independent well examiner’, this examiner can, if approved, be from the same company as that which is operating the well (as long as they are not within the line management of the well operations). We consider it a minimum requirement that well examiners should not work for the same parent company as the operator and ideally should be required to be employed by the regulator rather than from another company in the same industry.

10. Minimise and monitor methane emissions

Strict control of methane emissions was one of the conditions set out by the Committee on Climate Change in a previous report for ensuring that fracking did not pose a risk to short term carbon budgets. Therefore, careful monitoring of it and action to address any escapes of methane would be necessary to minimise climate impacts.

We welcome the introduction of baseline monitoring of groundwater methane levels through the Infrastructure Act. However, we are disappointed that a similar provision has not been introduced for airborne methane levels.

Summary

While we welcome many of the voluntary measures that have been implemented by the industry since 2014, in our view such measures are insufficient to ensure that the natural environment is appropriately protected. Voluntary measures can complement but not replace mandatory regulation and legislation put in place by Government and relevant regulatory agencies.

Evidence from across a broad range of sectors and issues demonstrates that voluntary approaches are rarely if ever an appropriate substitute for well-designed, implemented, and enforced regulations, particularly where the risks associated with even low levels of non-compliance are high. A report by the RSPB launched in November 2015 assessing more than 150 of such voluntary schemes found that over 80% performed poorly on at least one key performance indicator, with 75% of UK-based voluntary schemes failing to achieve their stated targets.

We welcome voluntary commitments from the industry to undertake baseline monitoring for soil, air and water, notwithstanding our concerns about the effectiveness of voluntary schemes noted above.

We also note that the late David McKay, former Chief Scientific Advisor to DECC recommended that Best Available Technique and ‘green completions’ would be required in order to minimise methane emissions from fracking operations. Given that methane is a far more potent gas than carbon dioxide in terms of climate change, we hope that the Best Available Technique guidance from the Environment Agency will recommend Reduced Emissions or ‘green’ Completions and the EA is expected to produce this BAT at some point this year.

 

On the road again

14 Jun
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Bass anglers on the march in Cornwall in protest against unfair and disproportionate restrictions on our sport

It feels like my feet have barely touched the ground since returning from my Australian trip in April. Once I had ploughed through the inevitable backlog of emails and got my diary into some sort of order it was clear that I was going to be on the road a fair bit over the next couple of months. The Angling Trust were holding their first ever forum in Cornwall and the timing was perfect, coming soon after the well attended demonstration by bass anglers outside the constituency office of Fisheries Minster and Cornish MP George Eustice. I was due to share a platform with the highly respected long time bass campaigner Malcolm Gilbert.

Now I can get to Paris or Brussels from my home in Reading far quicker than I can to Cornwall and without needing to stay overnight. But seeing that the forum was on a Saturday morning, and I had long promised myself a day out with the well known Cornish bass guide Austen Goldsmith, this was too good an opportunity to miss. Which is how it was that Regions Organiser John Cheyne and myself found ourselves heading down the M5 at an ungodly hour on a Friday morning to rendezvous with Austen at a jetty somewhere near Falmouth.

It was still early in the season for bass and although they had been showing in numbers off the Eddystone Reef near Plymouth Austen had yet to see them in his local waters. Sadly an easterly wind ruled out a trip to the Eddystone in Zen 2 – a well appointed 20 ft centre consul that has accounted for some great catches over the years – so we stayed close to the shore fishing the Manacles and the ground outside the Fal estuary. Plenty of fine pollack and a few chunky wrasse came our way, particularly to John who is in a class of his own when it comes to lure fishing. Although we remain untroubled by bass it was good to spend time with one of the UK’s best known bass guides talking over the issues that have so concerned anglers and conservationists.

Angling Trust Regions Manager John Cheyne with Austen Goldsmith and a chunky Cornish wrasse.

Angling Trust Regions Manager John Cheyne with Austen Goldsmith and a chunky Cornish wrasse.

The commercial overfishing of bass stocks was the main topic at the forum the following day as Malcolm and myself went through the catalogue of stock mismanagement that has afflicted this fine fish over the last 30 years. And although anglers are justifiably angry at the unfair and wholly disproportionate restrictions that have been imposed on us by Eustice and his colleagues, with a zero bag limit followed by a one fish only limit in the second half of the year, there remained some reasons for optimism. At long last politicians and the EU had woken up to the fact that bass stocks were under threat and that action was needed. The winter trawling of spawning aggregations has been banned, there is now a new, more sustainable minimum landing size of 42 cms and vessel catch limits are in place for the first time. Best of all has been the agreement we wrung out of ministers ahead of our bass debate in the House of Commons that has seen Defra officials commence work with us on a long term management plan for bass. Something that bass angling groups had been calling for since the 1990s. It is not enough but it is a start and we made it clear that the Angling Trust will not rest until we secure a fairer deal for both anglers and for the long term future of bass stocks and that means getting the nets out of the fishery.

Dream fish from far off places

On May Day in 1997 I was elected as the MP for Reading West and was Westminster bound, on the same date some 19 years later I found myself heading up the M40 to be one of the guest speakers at the Barbel Society show. My job may have changed but I was still doing what I love – campaigning for fish, fishing and the environment upon which our sport depends. While Steve Pope and his colleagues were happy to give myself and my new colleague James Champkin a stall for us to promote the work of the Angling Trust they were more keen for the presentations in the main auditorium to focus fishing rather than politics. This was probably best given that Steve and I are on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to issues like our membership of the EU with me being a paid up supporter of Environmentalists for Europe and Steve favouring Brexit. (You can find out more here: http://www.environmentalistsforeurope.org/)

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It might not be a barbel but who wouldn’t want to catch a beautiful golden mahseer like this fine Himalayan specimen caught by film maker Stu Walker

Consequently, my talk was a collection of overseas fish porn from my various expeditions since I retired from Parliament in 2010. After all there was little point me talking to a room full of barbel experts about pellets and hair rigs so I thought it would be better to take them on a tour of some of the ‘giant barbel’ to be found out there beyond our shores starting with the mighty mahseer of India. As it happens I followed on from fellow travelling angler Stu Walker who showed a brilliant film of his latest trip to the Himalayas in search of the golden mahseer so the audience may have overdosed slightly on bucket list locations. You can find the trailer for Stu’s film here and it’s well worth a look: http://youtu.be/d5K3rfzSzJA

London Bound

At times I have considered moving further into the country to be closer to some of my favourite fishing locations but the work that I do requires me to be close to London since this is where most of the decisions are made that impact on angling. In any case the fishing around Reading is pretty good and with Paddington just 29 minutes away by train I am hardly likely to find anywhere more suitable. I had invitations to several events in the capital, including an opportunity to see Sir David Attenborough open the Woodberry Wetlands in Hackney, so I was glad to have an easy commute. It’s worth giving a mention to the London Wildlife Trust and to Thames Water whose partnership and successful Lottery bid has created a wildlife haven on a reservoir site in the middle of a densely populated part of London.

Sir David Attenborough at the opening of the Woodberry Wetlands in London

Sir David Attenborough at the opening of the Woodberry Wetlands in London

If there is ever a living legend the epitomises all that is good about British broadcasting and the BBC it is David Attenborough and I felt privileged to be watching the great man speak so eloquently and passionately about the importance of protecting our wildlife in the week of his 90th birthday.
My good friend and film maker Hugh Miles has written a lovely account of his time on the road with David Attenborough when, in 1971, he was chosen as the cameraman to head into the jungles of Papua New Guinea to try and meet up with tribes who had yet to encounter white folks. You can read about Hugh’s adventures here: http://hughmiles9.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/exploring-new-guinea-with-david.html

Surrey Stunners

I’ve been delighted at the way our Crucian Conservation project has captured the imagination of anglers and fishery managers. The EA’s excellent fish farm at Calverton has turned out record numbers of pure bred crucians and new, bespoke crucian fisheries are starting to spring up across the country.

The other week I drove over to Surrey to help launch Catch a Crucian Month at an Association of Crucian Anglers fish-in at Godalming Angling Society’s splendid Marsh Farm fishery. Crucian enthusiasts from around the country were spending two days targeting their favourite species and promoting a new ID guide to help entrants in the Catch a Crucian Month photo competition identify the difference between true crues and the various hybrids that have become all too commonplace.

There are two versions of the new guide which have been produced by the Environment Agency fisheries experts and they can be found at http://www.anglingtrust.net/crucian

Launching Catch a Crucian Month down at Marsh Farm in Surrey with members of the Association of Crucian Anglers

Launching Catch a Crucian Month down at Marsh Farm in Surrey with members of the Association of Crucian Anglers.

The competition is open to all and runs throughout June. It is designed to promote crucians as a species, to assist in the recognition of true crucians, to encourage more anglers to take up crucian fishing and to highlight the need to develop specific crucian waters in line with the aims of the National Crucian Conservation Project. The competition is sponsored by Bait-Tec and Angling Direct with some great prizes and entries will be judged by a panel of leading crucian crusaders including Chris Yates, Hugh Miles, crucian expert Peter Rolfe and Angling Artist Chris Turnbull.

There’s still time to get those photos submitted and all details, including rules and information for entrants, can be found at http://www.catchacrucian.wordpress.com

The following week saw me heading for Surrey again but this time for pleasure rather than work as I was to join friends Will Barnard and Phil Morton in a hunt for a big golden orfe. Both these guys had big six pounders to their names but I was an orfe virgin which was something I intended to rectify. The lake was fishing patchily and although Phil had a few fish the rest of us could only tempt the odd tench. Finally, I found a spot in a deeper channel into which the orfe had retreated as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I laid a trap for them with a mix of sweet fish meal groundbait, dead maggots and casters and an hour later a couple of fine fish made a mistake and another species was ticked off the list. At 5lbs 6ozs each these were chunky specimens and although the orfe look stunning they are indifferent fighters and I can’t really see myself spending too much time trying to improve on these weights.

Stunning colours make the golden orfe an impressive capture although great fighters they are not.

Stunning colours make the golden orfe an impressive capture although great fighters they are not.

Summer of Shows

Next month sees back to back shows and the Angling Trust team will be at the Game Fairs at Stoneleigh Park July 22-24 and at Ragley Hall on July 29-31. The following weekend we will be at the BBC’s Countryfile Show at Blenheim Palace so there’s a good chance we may bump into you at one of these great events.

Fisheries Facts and the EU

1 Jun
Richard Benyon MP was made a parliamentary bass champion by the Angling Trust for his work in trying to prevent over fishing - now he has a few hard truths for those arguing that our fisheries would be better off outside the EU.

Richard Benyon MP was made a parliamentary bass champion by the Angling Trust for his work in trying to prevent over fishing – now he has a few hard truths for those arguing that our fisheries would be better off outside the EU.

Whilst the Angling Trust is remaining neutral over the vexed question of whether or not Britain should remain a member of the European Union in deference to the wide variety of views held by our members there are many of us with a track record of fighting for fishing who believe that it is vital that our marine fisheries are managed in cooperation with our neighbouring countries. One such person is former Fisheries Minister and Angling Trust Ambassador Richard Benyon MP and I’m delighted to reproduce his thoughtful article here.

Personally I’ve long been a supporter of Britain’s membership of the EU. And, putting aside the overwhelming economic case for remaining in an institution that has helped deliver an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity, there are reasons why we as anglers should remind ourselves of how the EU has delivered many important protections for fish and wildlife. Cleaner rivers, improved sewage discharge standards, better bathing beaches, habitats and water framework directives – there is a long list of environmental achievements that have come from Brussels rather than Westminster.

That’s why I was pleased to be invited with Richard Benyon and other wildlife and environmental campaigners to attend the launch of Environmentalists for Europe – E4E- headed up by Stanley Johnson, the former MEP and father of Boris (who takes a somewhat different view!)

Environmentalists for Europe was launched earlier this year in Westminster.

Environmentalists for Europe was launched earlier this year in Westminster.

You can find E4E on Facebook or check out the website here: http://www.environmentalistsforeurope.org/

Anyway…have a read of what Mr Benyon has to say …

Fisheries: Facts not Fantasy by Richard Benyon MP 

I am not surprised that the Brexit campaign have made fisheries their poster boy. The failures of the old Common Fisheries Policy are an easy hit. It was not the EU’s finest hour. But a closer look shows the weakness of the highly simplistic arguments and downright inaccuracies of the ‘leave’ campaign.

They would have us believe that if only we could throw off the shackles of EU mismanagement and bureaucracy our brave fisherfolk can harvest plentiful seas freed of pesky foreigners. No. Not true.
Most of the comments I have heard about the evils of the CFP tend to come from the mouths of those unaware of recent significant reforms in fishery management. Reforms that were promoted by British Ministers and officials and agreed unanimously by all EU countries. A British Government successfully leading a popular reform agenda in Brussels. Under these reforms European waters will no longer be micromanaged from Brussels. Fisheries will be (are, in some areas already) managed by countries that fish a particular sea basin. Fishermen and scientists will be in control of saying what quantities of each stock can be harvested. The ghastly practice of throwing away perfectly edible fish is banned for most species and all countries in Europe are signed up to a legal requirement to fish sustainably. As I told the Prime Minister after the successful conclusion of our reform negotiations in 2011, “you see, you can reform the EU’.

North Sea cod stocks are recovering thanks to EU quotas and, as Richard Benyon argues here, we can't manage highly migratory species like bass and herring on the basis of national boundaries. Fish don't read maps!

North Sea cod stocks are recovering thanks to EU quotas and, as Richard Benyon argues here, we can’t manage highly migratory species like bass and herring on the basis of national boundaries. Fish don’t read maps!

Fish Don’t Read Maps!

As Fisheries Minister I sometimes had to remind people that beyond our inshore waters there are relatively few species that hang around in one part of the sea. They might spawn in one country’s waters and shoal in another’s. Fish operate in ecosystems not according to lines on maps. In the case of North Sea Herring for example, most of the juveniles live in the south east corner around the German bight, whereas the adults tend to congregate around the Shetland Isles prior to spawning at various sites along the British coast. Cod are found throughout the North Sea but prefer spawning along the border between UK and Norwegian waters.This is important when you consider the complex network of bilateral arrangements that would have to be agreed if we left the EU.

Commercial fisherman like to claim they are feeding the nation but In fact the UK fleet exports 45% of its catch. 80% of that quantity goes to EU countries. For example 90% of fish landed in Ramsgate are sold in the Boulogne Fish Market

Commercial fisherman like to claim they are feeding the nation but in fact the UK fleet exports 45% of its catch. 80% of that quantity goes to EU countries. For example 90% of fish landed in Ramsgate are sold in the Boulogne Fish Market

Never mind “Project Fear”, “Project Fact” is needed here. The UK exports 45% of its catch. 80% of that quantity goes to EU countries. For example 90% of fish landed in Ramsgate are sold in the Boulogne Fish Market – for 15% more in value than they would get at home. When you visit North East Scotland you see vast European registered refrigerated trucks driving south and many don’t stop until they reach France or Spain. UK fishing vessels fish in the waters of other EU countries. In addition to wider sovereign waters fishing rights UK fishermen have rights within the 6-12 mile limit of four other member states: Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands. For example trawlers out of Brixham exploit the valuable scallop stocks in the Baie de Seine. Trawlers out of Peterhead fish in Dutch and German waters. Many of the foreign vessels fishing in UK waters do so because the companies that own them bought from UK fishermen and with them the right to fish. It is important to note that the UK is allocated about 30% of the EU’s total catch even though it has only 13% of the total sea area (ie the UK EEZ compared to the entire EU EEZ, but not including territorial waters).

UK fishing vessels have rights within the 6-12 mile limit of four other EU member states: Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Trawlers out of Brixham exploit the valuable scallop stocks in the Baie de Seine. Trawlers out of Peterhead fish in Dutch and German waters. It is important to note that the UK is allocated about 30% of the EU’s total catch even though it has only 13% of the total sea area.

UK fishing vessels have rights within the 6-12 mile limit of four other EU member states: Ireland, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Trawlers out of Brixham exploit the valuable scallop stocks in the Baie de Seine. Trawlers out of Peterhead fish in Dutch and German waters. It is important to note that the UK is allocated about 30% of the EU’s total catch even though it has only 13% of the total sea area.

In a post Brexit world what would “taking back control of our fisheries” really mean? Some suggest it would mean an end to quotas. No. Quotas would still be needed to regulate the quantity of fish landed. Would it mean an end to regulations on net sizes and engine emissions? Well, perhaps if a truly ignorant Government was elected that did not care a damn about the health of our seas, our environment or the future economic value of fisheries and the communities they support.

I have been a vocal critic of the pre reform CFP but it is simplistic to blame it for all the woes of the fishing industry. Professor Callum Roberts of York University has produced a graph of cod stocks in the North Sea. It shows a steep decline since the late 19th century. There are only two periods when cod stocks rose: 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. I’ll leave you to work that one out. There is not even a blip in the descending line at the time the UK joined the CFP. The truth is that our technical ability to harvest fish on an industrial scale has improved every decade and successive Governments’ ability to regulate the industry effectively has always been behind the curve. The absurd centralised nature of the CFP just made the problem worse – as did sea temperature rise, acidification and other environmental factors.

The ironic fact is that the “leave” campaign’s use of fisheries to support their case has come at a time when the future is starting to look bright for our fishing industry. Certain stocks are rising. North Sea cod has been one of the success stories of reformed EU management, showing strong recovery in the last few years and now approaching a healthy stock size for the first time in decades. Other stocks show signs of improvement. Our commitment with our EU partners to manage our fisheries to Maximum Sustainable Yield will deliver the increased biomass of fish that has so long been wished for. “Leave” offers our fishing industry only uncertainty and a myopic view of how to manage a complex environment. As Professor Roberts puts it, “The stocks of many species in UK waters have improved considerably with the reform of the CFP. The signs are positive”.

Richard Benyon is MP for Newbury and was Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries from 2010-2013

Monster Bluefish in an Australian Paradise

23 Apr

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What do you do when a bucket list destination – the sort of place you might visit the once – becomes an obsession? That’s what has happened to me with Lord Howe Island, a place so beautiful and unspoilt and with such great fishing that the moment you are on the plane home you start thinking about how long it will be before you can return. This was my third visit in five years to this tiny piece of rock, stuck so far out in the Tasman Sea that most Aussies have never heard of it never mind been there. Luckily for the 300 or so hardy souls who call this corner of paradise their home there is a loyal army of LHI enthusiasts who return year after year, often bringing their grown up children and grandchildren with them, to experience a pristine World Heritage Site where time stands still.

I’ve written previously on these pages about the magic of this place and the sheer variety of the fishing available to the visiting angler so have a look here if you want a bit more background at http://www.fishingworld.com.au/news/report-paradise-revisited. There’s even a full Fishing World magazine feature from my first trip in 2011 still available at http://www.fishingworld.com.au/news/the-last-paradise-lord-howe-island

So what’s left to say?

Well first of all although I caught kingfish I’m not going write about ‘The Kings of Lord Howe’ despite the fact that these are probably what the place is best known for in angling circles. With the Admiralty Islets to the north and the famous Balls Pyramid to the south there’s plenty of habitat to attract kingies in both size and numbers and a number of the local charter boats target very little else usually by fishing deep on heavy gear. Sadly the sharks have wised up to the boats and it can be a challenge to avoid them whilst still deploying anything like sporting tackle.

I absolutely adore sight fishing and the lagoon on the eastern side of the island contains part of the world’s most southerly coral reef which teems with fish including a number of species only found in this location such as the oddly shaped Lord Howe doubleheader wrasse. And although the crystal clear waters of the lagoon can be tackled from the shore and the island jetty there’s nothing to beat getting out on the water in a small boat with a local guide. There is nobody that can match the expertise and experience of my good friend Gary Crombie who has lived on the island all his life and runs Oblivienne Sportfishing which specialises in targeting the lagoon fish on light tackle.

The ‘grand slam’ of species that we were after included silver drummer, bluefish, double headers and silver trevally. In the past we have landed all four in the space of a short morning session but this time it took us a couple of trips – only because on the first time out I got comprehensively smashed by a turbo charged trev which rocked me and sliced my 20lb braid in about ten seconds flat. I’ve caught GTs and golden trevally elsewhere in Australia but I can honestly say that pound for pound the silvers pull harder than their bigger cousins and indeed anything else with fins that I’ve ever hooked.

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Crom spends as much time drifting around the lagoon looking for fish – obviously avoiding the sanctuary zone areas – as he does fishing. That is fine by me as I like the hunt and it’s great when we spot a school of good sized drummer or bluefish and get them feeding in the berley trail of wet bread and tuna oil. Tactics couldn’t be simpler. Just a lightish spinning rod – I use a 9ft four piece travel rod from Sonik with a casting weight of 20 to 40 grams – some braid and a fluorocarbon leader of 15 to 20lbs which I sometimes grease to make it float. At the business end is a No 2 hook and a piece of bread crust for surface fishing, pinched bread flake for a slow sinking bait or a lightly weighted prawn if we need to get below the swirling drummer and down to the trevs underneath.

The silver drummer are prolific and not hard to catch if you follow Crom’s advice, although those that hang around the island jetty are super educated and need a bit of fooling to get them to take a bait. I rashly promised one of the youngsters staying at Pinetrees Lodge – somewhere I’d highly recommend – that I’d catch him one if he and his mum would like to join me for a pre breakfast session. For a while they teased us by taking every piece of berley and ignoring our crusts but by scaling down to a smaller hook I eventually got 7 year old Will Taylor connected to a powerful drummer that obligingly charged out into the lagoon rather than smashing us up under the timber. The smile on his face and the relief on mine in the picture says it all.

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Blue Dreams

Crom and I caught plenty of drummer ourselves from his well appointed 5 metre side console boat ‘Bonefish’ including some chunky samples in excess of a couple of kilos. We had a crazy session on the double headers with fish after fish off the same coral bommie and I eventually brought a couple of decent silver trevs to the boat after a blistering scrap. When we tried for them we caught kingies on trolled garfish and we even found some large spangled emperor but couldn’t get them to feed in the bright sunshine. However, without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of the trip for both of us was the appearance of some super sized bluefish.

Sadly, these beautiful creatures, once found around Sydney in sufficient numbers that they named a particular rock south of Manly ‘Bluefish Point’, have now become extremely rare almost everywhere except on Lord Howe. In fact, in the rest of New South Wales the bluefish or ‘Blue Drummer’ are now designated a catch and release only species.

Now I’ve had bluefish before at Lord Howe but nothing over a kilo. They are sometimes in shoals on their own but are usually to be found amongst the drummer. Fortunately, when they are fired up they can be more aggressive than their silver friends and there’s a very good chance that a bluey will beat them to the bait. In the three sessions I had with Crom during my last trip we came across two substantial shoals of bluefish and on the first occasion there were some exceptional specimens amongst them. Apparently, the larger fish do put in appearance around the big tides in the Autumn so for once I found myself in the right place at the right time which is half the battle in any form of fishing.

I’ve no idea what the official record is for a bluefish but what I do know is that some of the fish we landed that day were as big as any that Crom has seen for a very long time. We put the biggest at not far off three kilos and probably around 30 years old which is a monster by any measure. Watching these amazing turquoise blue creatures sip a bait of the surface and then crash dive for the coral as they feel the hook is an image that will remain with me forever. Fortune was on my side that day, although a longer rod and pair of soft hands helped, and the bigger fish stayed connected. Bluefish look better in the water than they do on the boat as they quickly lose their colour in the air but hopefully this picture sequence will give you a flavour of what it is possible in this amazing fishery.

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If you are ever planing to take a fishing rod a Down Under you really should think about a visit to Lord Howe. It benefits from an incredible piece of legislation that restricts both numbers of visitors and residents, prevent commercial fishing and exploitation by property developers and preserves a world class pristine environment in which unique and endangered species can thrive and prosper.

You can read more here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/australiaandpacific/australia/8325719/Lord-Howe-Island-Australia-an-island-entire-of-itself.html
I’ve no idea when I will return to the place they call ‘The Last Paradise’ but I know for sure that I will.

More Info on Fishing Lord Howe

Oblivienne Sportfishing: http://www.fishinglordhoweisland.com.au/

Pinetrees Lodge: http://www.pinetrees.com.au/pinetrees/what-to-bring

Lord Howe Island: https://www.lordhoweisland.info/

Blue Drummer: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/58227/Bluefish-Primefact-159-final.pdf

Back at it Down Under

22 Mar
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A nice Aussie salmon from Sydney Harbour got Martin off the mark on his latest trip Down Under

Australia has become a second home to me of late and right now I’m on my fifth visit in seven years. I’m mainly here on holiday and to catch up with old friends but I was asked to do a bit of work for New South Wales Fisheries to help spread the habitat gospel amongst anglers in the Murrumbidgee River catchment.

Now in the 18 months or so that I’ve been in Australia I’ve travelled and fished many places on this beautiful continent but I’ve never been deep into the bush so I very much welcomed the opportunity to attend the recent Leeton Bidgee Classic fishing tournament as a guest of the Fishers for Fish Habitat Network and to share a few thoughts on how we look after our rivers and the important wildlife that they contain.

I was also looking forward to catching my first Murray Cod but sadly that didn’t happen although some fine fish were landed over the course of the weekend.

I first came out to Australia after spending 26 years in frontline politics in the UK. I decided to retire from the House of Commons at the 2010 election as I wanted to concentrate on campaigning on the things I care about rather than the things my constituents wanted me to do.

My love for rivers, fishing and the environment was of course shared by many of the people I represented both on my local council and later in my parliamentary constituency. I was extremely fortunate to be able, at times, to combine business with pleasure when I was appointed as Parliamentary Spokesman for Angling by Tony Blair and later on by Gordon Brown.

My job was to be the interface between the recreational fishers and the government and as a lifelong, passionate angler it couldn’t have been a more perfect role for me to play.

It was in that role that I helped bring the various groups together to set up the unified peak body for recreational fishing in England – called the Angling Trust – and which I now work for as their head of campaigns.

But first to the fishing…

First fish

Leaving a wet and freezing London and arriving to 30 degrees of blazing sunshine is always a shock to the system but is something I can cope with!
Jet lag after a 23 hour flight plays havoc with my sleep patterns for the first three days but it does mean that I’m awake well before dawn and can be on the water for first light. My mate Ollie told me that there had been a few kingfish showing in one of our favourite Sydney Harbour bays so I went down there to throw a few poppers and soft plastics around. The kingies were not at home but a nice Aussie salmon did a passable impression of one and I was off the mark.

 

The next day my old mate and Aussie fishing celebrity Al McGlashan kindly offered to take me marlin fishing. Al reckoned that 2016 had been the best marlin season in New South Wales for years and although things had quietened down a bit we were still in with a chance of getting a Blue if we went wide out of Sydney. It turned out that he wasn’t wrong and just as it looked like being a blank day we had a screaming take and young Thomas Eisenhammer – I guy I had fished with back in 2010 – took the rod and expertly brought 160lbs of extremely angry blue marlin to the boat where Al tagged and released it. It would have been great to have had three takes giving us all a chance of a fish, and this had been happening quite regularly this season, but marlin fishing is a team effort so we all basked in the reflected glory of Tom’s capture.

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Al McGlashan takes the leader as an angry Blue Marlin comes to the boat.

 

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Safely tagged and ready for release – something that should be the norm for all marlin anywhere in the world.

Australia is a country of extremes and there’s no two forms of fishing out here as far apart as chasing marlin with 24 kgs game tackle on the open ocean and targeting blackfish from the rocks on float gear and 3kgs hook lengths. However, I love it all and my mate and fellow Fishing World contributor John Newbury is an acknowledged expert at this style of fishing. John and I have a shared interest in politics, conservation and rock fishing and we’ve recorded some good catches in the past so I was really looking forward to our day out together.

For once the blackfish didn’t want to play and despite trying two of our favourite north shore marks only three fish came our way and none of them to my rod.

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John Newbury – doing what he does best and catching blackfish on float tackle and green weed.

Top End trials

Now it is almost rude to spend a few weeks in Oz and not go to the tropical Top End for some of the great barramundi and blue water action that is to be found up there. Plus a trip up to Darwin provided the perfect opportunity to catch up with Jim Harnwell – the former editor of Fishing World and my pommie mate and top fisho Phil Bolton who now lives down on the south coast.

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All aboard the Green Machine with Pete Zeroni – also known as ‘The Angry Dragon’ !

We were guided by the legendary Peter Zeroni who took us out in his fantastic boat Barraddiction also known as the Green Machine for obvious reasons. And on one of the days we were joined by Warren ‘Wazza’ Smith who knows more about fishing in this region than almost anyone. The Northern Territory is a beautiful but unforgiving part of Australia with stifling heat and humidity one minute and violent electrical storms arriving the next. We got caught in a couple crazy ones where the wind went from five to fifty knots in the blink of an eye and with those crocs about tipping the boat over was not really a good thing to do.

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The storm is about to hit us before we could make the boat ramp at Darwin

Unfortunately, there had not been a good wet season up north this year so the barra weren’t really fired up and feeding themselves silly on the baitfish pouring off the floodplain. This wouldn’t have been a problem as we were planning to spend two of our three days out wide chasing Spanish Mackerel and Queenies but the great big tropical low that brought those storms had also dirtied up the blue water so this option was closed to us. Luckily Pete and Wazza can always find a feeding fish somewhere and although we didn’t break any records a few nice barra came our way with Phil and Jim landing good size specimens on the troll from the South Alligator River. We also managed a few Queenies and a range of other species by throwing small jigs and poppers in and around Darwin Harbour but sadly the elusive milkfish for which this area is famous were nowhere to be seen.

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Jim Harwell looking pleased with his big Barra

 

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Hooked up on an Adelaide River Barra

 

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Phil with a modest queenfish from Darwin Harbour

Now that I’m back safe and sound in Sydney and already thinking about when I can next visit the ‘Top End’ and spend some time with the hardy souls that call this place their home.

Back to Leeton Bidgee

I’ve attended plenty of fishing competitions in the UK but nothing quite like the Leeton Bidgee Classic. This is a genuine community event in a sparsely populated part of rural Australia that attracts close to a thousand people over the three days that it takes place and raises money for the re stocking of Murray Cod and yellow perch into the Murrumbidgee River. The fishing is from both boat and bank and there are $35,000 worth of prizes and the chance to win a great trailer boat. Entertainment is provided every evening and everyone camps by the river at a great site just outside town at Gogeldrie Weir.

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Helping out with the annual restocking on the Murrumbidgee River in NSW as part of the Leeton Bidgee Classic

I was accompanied by Scott Nichols from the Aquatic Habitat Rehabilitation Unit of NSW Fisheries and we received a wonderful warm welcome from both organisers and competitors. We even got to help out with the re stocking and give interviews to the local paper promoted the work of the Fish Habitat Network.

Here’s some of what I said in my speech at the prize giving ceremony:

“We are all here because we love fishing and we want our kids and their kids to be able to enjoy fishing as much as we do.

So here’s three suggestions..

1) Stop doing harm

No more ripping out important bank side vegetation, stop people dumping bad stuff on the land that washes into rivers and kills fish, get those irrigation pumps screened so we reduce fish mortalities, maintain a minimum environmental flow in the river, remove barriers to fish migration and try and manage cold water discharges so they don’t damage fish spawning cycles.

None of this is rocket science and it’s been done in Europe, the UK, the USA and in Canada and you can do it here.

Pump screening is the most obvious one to me. I looked at some figures yesterday that showed a staggering12,000 fish per day extracted from a 12 inch pipe on the Condamine River in QLD while on some of the NSW rivers they counted 240 fish per day being lost to the system.

In NSW alone you have 4546 pumps with a 200mm pipe diameter. This equals an awful lot of fish being removed – far too many to keep your fisheries sustainable.

There is direct loss of fish through shearing as they pass through the pumps but, as you know, there is also loss from the natural system to canals that feed irrigation districts, but have no way of allowing fish to get back to the river channels.

And before anyone tells you it can’t be done be aware that in many countries the fitting of fish screens is a requirement of any major abstraction licence.

2) Start making it better

Let’s get those all important buffer strips along every possible km of river to provide habitat for fish and wildlife

Let’s look at narrowing and speeding up flows to create better spawning grounds

And of course it’s great that events such as the Leeton Bidgee Classic are raising cash for much needed restockings but we need to recognise that this can only be part of the solution. We need to to let the fish breed and to create habitat that allows this to happen.

The big one on Australian river systems is re-snagging and we know this works.

The Murray River Re-snagging programme in 2006/7 saw a threefold increase in the Murray Cod population following the introduction of over 4,000 large snags so this has to be a no brainer and is a great way to get fishos involved in improving their own fishing.
3) Support Fishers 4 Fish Habitat

I’m proud to be over here to support and promote the work of Scott Nichols, Craig Copeland and their team in the Fish Habitat Network.

We all believe passionately that the only way these things will get fixed is with concerted efforts from recreational fishers. That means getting involved and engaged and not just assuming someone else will do it for you because life ain’t like that.

Craig has travelled a fair bit on a Churchill Scholarship and looked at good practice from around the world including the work we do in the UK at the Angling Trust.

They have formed a group modelled on our successful US sister organisation Trout Unlimited – which is called called Ozfish Unlimited

This has the backing of people like Steve Starling and Michael Guest. It’s basically a national fish habitat advocacy network and you can join and find out more at ozfish.org.au

It’s a sad fact of life that Fishers in the UK or America are three times more likely to get involved in habitat issues than here in Australia – and that simply has to change and I’ve no doubt that it will.

Of course your fisheries will never be absolutely perfect in a challenged landscape with climatic extremes and population pressures but I know we can do better and we have to do better if want good freshwater fishing for future generations”

More fishing to come

So far the fishing has not produced anything too dramatic but I’m only halfway through my stay out here and I always travel in hope. Later today I’m driving three hours north of Sydney up to meet up with my mate Ben Doolan, another NSW Fisheries guy and top angler. We are going to be targeting long tail tuna and big kingfish out of Port Stephens which is one of the prime fishing locations on the Central Coast.

STOP PRESS>>>>>>>>>>>>

Last night was a success. In the company of Ben ‘ Fishfinder General’  Doolan I  finally caught something a bit special in the shape of a beautiful 35lbs longtail tuna on a mackerel live bait. I’ve had longtails before but not of this size and it gave a great fight before coming alongside Ben’s rather diminutive boat in a rolling swell.

Hopefully my luck has changed and a few more big fish will come my way before I have to fly back to Blighty.

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Success at last in the shape of this fine longtail tuna caught on a float fished mackerel livebait in a short evening session with top NSW angler Ben Doolan

Battling for Bass

16 Feb
Welsh bass guide Matt Powell with the sort of fish that should be commonplace around our shores if it wasn't for commercial overfishing

Welsh bass guide Matt Powell with the sort of fish that should be commonplace around our shores if it wasn’t for commercial overfishing

As someone who lists among his interests fishing, the environment and politics it is always an intriguing moment for me when these themes collide. And so it was the other day when, after months of furious lobbying and agitation about the need to conserve stocks of sea bass in the North Atlantic fishery, we finally had our day in the chamber of the House of Commons.

This was thanks to newly elected North Cornwall MP and mad keen angler Scott Mann who agreed to lead a backbench debate in the House of Commons to highlight the unfairness of the current bass measures on recreational sea anglers. The debate was titled “Conservation of sea bass and the effect of related EU measures on the UK recreational fishing industry.”

But first some background….

Bass Facts

The European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) is an iconic sporting fish, much loved by anglers with a recreational value of £200m to the economy and only comparatively recently considered a suitable table fish thanks to changing tastes and various promotions by celebrity chefs. In the 1980s bass were primarily pursued as a recreational species but over the last 30 years commercial harvesting has increased to the point where stocks are in danger of a catastrophic decline.

Organisations like the National Federation of Sea Anglers, now part of the Angling Trust, and the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S.) have been campaigning for the introduction of bass conservation measures for more than 20 years. Things looked hopeful in 2004 when the Net Benefits report by the Cabinet Office recommended that fishery managers look at making bass a recreational-only species.Sadly, the reports stayed on the shelf, bass stocks continued to be over fished and the unsustainable minimum size limit (mls) of 36cms remained in place until last year’s long overdue rise to 42 cms – the absolute smallest size at which bass reach maturity and are able to reproduce.

Scientific advice on the status of bass stocks is issued annually by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) – not to be confused with the terrorist organisation with a similar sounding name!

In June 2014 ICES recommended an 80% cut in bass mortality across the EU area for 2015. This followed the 2013 advice for a 36% cut which was stupidly ignored by the politicians. Far from reducing the 2014 bass landings by UK vessels actually rose by 30% – much for all the hype about nasty Europeans coming over here and stealing our fish.

We cannot go on like this

We cannot go on like this.

Currently the bass stock biomass estimated at 5,270 tonnes across the North Atlantic fishery, a mere 20 tonnes above the limit of 5,250 at which future regeneration becomes critically endangered and well below the trigger point of concern set by ICES at 8,000 tonnes.

Following the failure to reach agreement at the European Fisheries Council meeting in December 2014 the UK took the unusual step of pressing the European Commission (EC) to introduce a series of emergency measures to protect bass. These included a new minimum landing size of 42cms and a ban on the trawling of spawning aggregations in order to help save declining bass stocks in the English Channel, Southern North Sea and Irish and Celtic Seas. These measures came in the following month but the situation continued to deteriorate and the ICES advice for 2016 recommended a 90% reduction in landings on the previous year. The emergency measures are estimated to have reduced catches by only 36% and the EC accept they simply didn’t go far enough.

Bass fishing in 2016

On the run up to the crucial European Council meeting in December those of us whose job it is to speak up for fish and fishing approached both the Commission and our own ministers to make it clear that whilst most recreational sea anglers were prepared to play their part they expected to see fair, effective and proportionate package of measures that would help rebuild bass stocks.
When the new proposals from the Commission were eventually published they included a complete bass fishing ban for commercial vessels and recreational anglers (including catch and release) in the first half of 2016 and in the second half of the year a monthly one tonne catch limit for vessels targeting sea bass and a one fish per day bag limit for recreational anglers. This was much more severe than anticipated and was a consequence of the years when the politicians ignored the dire warnings of a stock collapse.

Now banning catch and release fishing for bass was never going to work – after all how can you stop a bass attacking your lure when targeting other species like wrasse or pollack? At the Angling Trust we lobbied strongly in favour of retaining catch and release and against the one fish recreational bag limit describing the proposals as unfair, unenforceable and totally disproportionate. We produced data and briefings for our own Fisheries Minister George Eustice disputing the ridiculous figures that claimed that anglers were responsible for 25% of all bass mortalities and showing the high survival rates for returned fish. And while the ministers trekked off to Brussels to argue over the quota allocations we all waited to see what would emerge from the latest round of negotiations.

And what a pig’s ear they made of it!

Of course were pleased to hear that we had won the fight to retain catch and release but angered and appalled to learn that EU Fisheries Ministers had once again ignored the science and caved in to pressure from commercial fishing interests. They had cynically and granted four month exemptions to commercial hook and line and the highly damaging bass gill net fishery – responsible for over 50% of all landings – which they wrongly referred to as “low impact” . Why cynical? Because the only months that the netsman were to be restricted were February and March when they catch fewest fish.

Worse still the Commission’s plans for bass conservation were furthered watered down by the politicians when they increased the monthly commercial vessel catch limits from 1 tonne to 1.3 tonnes. By contrast the ban on anglers from keeping any bass during the months of January to June and limited to just one fish per day for the rest of the year were nodded through. Thousands of anglers are now at risk of criminalisation if they try to keep the self-same bass that a netsman is free to kill during the January to June moratorium.
The current situation cannot endure. The recreational bag limits are disproportionate and grossly unfair, they make a mockery of the law and fail to acknowledge that recreational sea angling is the most sustainable form of bass fishing which delivers the best economic return. Displaying stunningly poor judgement government ministers have tried to face both ways on the issue and have been caught out playing fast and lose with the facts:

  • They boasted on BBC TV that the measures would have little or no impact on inshore commercial boats so how is this a bass conservation measure?
  • They claimed to have secured a good deal for bass when in fact they increased vessel catch limits meaning more bass will be killed
  • They tried to say that anglers were happy with a one fish bag limit when they were told in no uncertain terms that his was unfair and unacceptable.
  • They claimed that because drift nets were subject to the full six month moratorium some 90% of all gill netting would be restricted yet their own figures show that it would be less than a third.

With the protests mounting some 14,000 extremely angry anglers submitted a petition to Parliament and the Angling Trust made sure the issue was on the agenda of national TV and press. We mobilised our supportive MPs and we were extremely grateful to Simon Hart, the MP for Pembrokeshire, for getting us in front of the Environment Minister Liz Truss so she could hear anglers outrage for herself. The meeting with the Cabinet Minister was given further relevance by the forthcoming debate secured by Scott Mann where the actions of ministers would be put under scrutiny.

Bass in Parliament

On the run up to the day Angling Trust and BASS members had been lobbying their MPs to attend this important parliamentary debate to speak support of introducing revised measures that reduce bass mortality by restricting rather than increasing harmful commercial harvesting methods such as gill netting. We asked them to promote sustainable fishing methods such as hook & line fishing for both the commercial and recreational sectors

After an excellent debate which can be read here

Or watched in full, starting at 15.03pm.

Scott Mann MP moved the following motion which was agreed without dissent:

That this House believes that the recent EU restrictions on recreational sea bass fishing are unfair and fail to address the real threat to the future viability of UK sea bass stocks; and calls on the Government to make representations within the Council of the EU on the reconsideration of the imposition of those restrictions.”

The vast majority of MPs who spoke were in favour of our calls for bass to be managed primarily as a recreational species alongside a sustainable hook and line commercial fishery. Many newly elected MPs highlighted the importance of recreational fishing and attacked the way that anglers had been treated as opposed to the exemptions handed out to the gill netters.

For me the only disappointing note was the failure by some to acknowledge that cooperation between countries is vital to managing a shared fishery and a migratory species like bass. The vast majority of our bass are caught by our own inshore fleet but some of the more rabid Euro sceptics seemed blind to this inconvenient truth.

The recovery of the American Striped Bass shows what can be done with good conservation and sensible fishery management

The recovery of the American Striped Bass shows what can be done with good conservation and sensible fishery management.

Replying for the government environment minister Rory Stewart conceded that they may have to revisit commercial catch limits next year in order to comply with scientific advice. He also repeated the government’s offer to work with recreational angling organisations on a long term management plan for bass which builds on the lessons of the recovery of the striped bass fishery in the USA where a greater proportion of the stock is reserved for recreational fishing.
We put a huge amount of effort into getting this debate and briefing MPs so that they understood the genuine anger and frustration of recreational sea anglers at the appalling way they were treated last year by the EU fisheries ministers. It would be churlish not to welcome the commitment from Rory Stewart on behalf of the government to re visit the commercial catch limits and to work with the recreational sector on a long term plan for bass learning the lessons of proper professional fishery management from places like Ireland and the USA. However, after such a big let down the government really does now need to follow up their warm words with some practical action to rebuild bass stocks and properly recognise the economic value of recreational fishing.

This week we will be writing to thank all the MPs who spoke up for angling and to ask them to keep up the pressure on the government ahead of this year’s European Council Ministers meeting in December. One thing I can guarantee is that there will be no let up in effort or energy from the Angling Trust or our colleagues at BASS when it comes to fighting for a sustainable future for this wonderful sporting fish.

Bass are a recreational only species in Ireland which is why I shall be returning there again this year to sample their great bass fishing

Bass are a recreational only species in Ireland which is why I shall be returning there again this year to sample their great bass fishing

 

 

You can read our special Fishing Lines Debate Briefing complete with some great quotes from bass guides Henry Gilbey, Austen Goldsmith, Matt Powell and charter boat skipper Neil French from The Spirit of Arun  HERE

 

And our Bass Facts paper HERE

Flooding Lessons: Learned and Ignored

10 Jan
Kennet Floods Jan14

Protecting the floodplain and managing river catchments from source to sea will do more to alleviate flood risk than dredging can ever achieve

At a time when communities across Britain are mopping up after the floods which devastated the downstream areas of many river catchments it beggars belief that government ministers are even considering deregulating practices which their own experts have told them will move water downstream even faster. This is a policy that puts farmland above homes as is argued eloquently here by the respected environmental campaigner George Monbiot.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2016/jan/07/liz-truss-is-choosing-to-protect-farmers-over-flood-victims

It is somewhat worrying that reports by the Environment Agency on sensible catchment management appear to have been suppressed and deleted. This is just unacceptable so at the Angling Trust we have decided that a crucial Environment Agency document should be returned to public view. Titled “Evidence: Impacts of dredging”, and first published in 2013, we have now republished on our website.

Here are some of the more important findings:

“Increasing risk downstream: Dredging could in theory speed up flow and potentially increase the risk of flooding downstream. This is fully covered by the existing research.”

“Channels which have been artificially deepened by dredging silt-up more frequently as they return to their pre-dredged state. In these situations dredging will be an unsustainable activity since it needs to be repeated regularly. The best approach is to identify the sediment source and address the issue at source rather than treat the impact.”

“Dredging can damage ecology by directly affecting its physical habitat, disrupting riverine processes and reduced connectivity with the floodplain.”

Those of us who work with water and understand about rivers and their catchments approached this winter wondering how our politicians will react this time around. Would they jump, as many did in 2014, on the dredging bandwagon or will they take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture which shows how we need to think about managing catchments from source to sea before giving the green light to crowd pleasing policies which might actually make a bad situation worse?

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Dredging rivers risks increasing flood risk downstream and does huge damage to fish habitat and wildlife

There’s a golden rule of government that says never try and formulate a change in public policy purely as a response to a crisis. Resist the mob, ignore the media froth and give the ‘something must be done brigade’ the respect that their ideas deserve, which is not always a lot. Good policy doesn’t always make for good headlines but policy based on evidence is likely to deliver and endure a darn sight longer than knee jerk reactions and short term concessions to the loudest voices.
Then..

somerset floods 2014

Somerset Levels after the records rains of the 2013/14 winter

In 2014, when the farmers on the Somerset Levels, whose upstream neighbours poor agricultural practices had increased the flood risk, demanded a return to wholesale dredging our Prime Minister and his ministers were only too keen to ignore the evidence of their experts and roll over. Treasury rules were ripped up, evidential studies on the impacts of dredging were ignored and subsequently removed from government websites, and, inevitably, cheques were written on behalf of the taxpayer. All for a flood that affected a tiny fraction of the properties that were inundated this time or, indeed, in the floods of 2007.

Spud field on Anglesey April 2012

Poor agricultural practices have been responsible increasing run off and causing flash flooding.

In an artificial landscape like the Levels, much of which is below sea level, some dredging and pumping is inevitably necessary to allow the waters to drain in a seaward direction. But this is hardly a template for the wholesale changes that many were seeking to impose across the rest of the country where our rivers and flood plains are still functioning as dynamic systems in their own right.
There was a time in the 1960s and 70s when the old river and drainage boards treated rivers as little more than channels to convey water to the sea as quickly as possible. Functional flood meadows were drained for either agriculture or house building, bends were straightened and channels deepened. It was a discredited policy that was rightly curbed. The environmental damage was appalling, habitat for fish and wildlife disappeared and catchments that once functioned as nature intended with water flowing into the surrounding land and taking its time to re enter the channels changed into Jekyll and Hyde beasts. Either lifeless ditches or foaming torrents rushing flash floods downstream to threaten homes and communities at the bottom of the valleys.
Back in 2014 the Angling Trust joined water engineers and wildlife groups to express grave concern about any proposed increases wholesale dredging because the evidence from the Environment Agency shows that in many cases it simply increases the speed and volume of water heading into main rivers which will then flood more towns and cities. What has happened recently in Yorkshire is sadly a case in point. We produced a report entitled ‘Floods and Dredging – A Reality Check’ which I presented as evidence to the Select Committee inquiry into the 2014 floods. It’s probably fair to say that our interventions helped prevent what was agreed for the Somerset Levels from becoming the norm.
http://www.ciwem.org/media/1035043/floods_and_dredging_-_a_reality_check.pdf

benyon

Former Environment Minister Richard Benyon has spoken out strongly against a return to the wholesale dredging of rivers

There were a few politicians who were prepared to stand up and be counted including my former parliamentary neighbour and erstwhile Environment Minister Richard Benyon who challenged his own government to heed the evidence which showed that in many cases dredging rivers was either futile, as they simply readjusted their profiles, or at worse downright dangerousness. Benyon wrote a hard hitting piece taking his own ministers to task and warning of the dangers of listening to ‘armchair hydrologists’ rather than the advice of their own Environment Agency.
You can read it here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/13/beware-politicians-pretending-armchair-hydrologists
And Now..

So what about this time around, have lessons been learnt and is the dredging mob still in full cry?
It’s a mixed picture but it’s not without hope. The mood music at the recent parliamentary debate into the governments response to the floods had changed with MP after MP from both sides of the Commons citing the importance of upland catchment management. It was pleasing to hear them extensively quoting the widely acclaimed Prof. Dieter Helm from Oxford University whose report ‘Flood Defence: Time for a Radical Rethink’ makes the powerful case for holistic catchment management including incentivising farmers to store flood water rather than moving it on as quickly as possible.

See here: http://www.dieterhelm.co.uk/node/1414
Of course, there are those who still don’t get it, or if they do are more interested in pandering to the demands of agri businesses rather than helping flood victims or protecting the environment. Sadly, they tend to be found sat around the Cabinet table pretending to be Secretaries of State at DEFRA – the department that Monbiot has renamed as ‘Doing Everything Farmers Representatives Ask’!
As we have seen the current incumbent Elizabeth Truss has just announced her intention to deregulate dredging on smaller watercourses to protect ‘a million acres of farmland’ whilst her predecessor Owen Paterson has claimed that by increasing dredging in the Somerset Levels he personally saved them from flooding this winter.

Liz truss

The current Environment Secretary Liz Truss needs to explain to flood victims why she favours protecting farmland over homes or at least admit that she has not yet grasped the laws of gravity.

Well Truss will have some hard questions to answer when communities downstream from her deregulated zones next flood so I guess it won’t be long before her idiotic words and irresponsible shift in policy comes back to haunt her. Paterson, on the other hand, has thankfully been removed from office and a quick look at this December’s rainfall figures, compared to the long term average, for the South West (61%) and North West (191%) shows the nonsense of his claims and why is he was ill suited to ever hold this post.

Climate Change means more floods and more droughts and on this crowded island of ours we will only deliver the resilience necessary to combat these challenges by recognising that the laws of nature are a lot more powerful than the laws of man and that we need, where possible, to work with them.

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