Bass Battles

30 Nov

C

richard returning

An Irish bass is returned to fight another day. In Ireland no netting is allowed for bass – could the same be about to happen in the rest of Europe?

Things are certainly hotting up in the battle to protect declining bass populations from continued exploitation by the netsmen. With scientists at the widely respected International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) warning that bass stocks in northern Europe are now in deep trouble because of commercial overfishing the EU Commission have for once listened to anglers and conservationists and proposed that in 2017 there should be a complete ban on netting for bass.

This is something we at the Angling Trust have been seeking for a number of years as you can read here:
Time to get rid of the bass nets

A boatful of bass that will never have a chance to breed and replenish

The science tells us there’s no room any longer for gillnets in the bass fishery

Not surprisingly angling groups across Europe have launched a national campaign, backed by the angling trade and some of the biggest names in the sport, to persuade EU Fisheries Ministers to adopt the Commission’s proposals to end damaging gill netting in favour of sustainable commercial hook and line and recreational fishing only. Here in the UK angling TV presenters Matt Hayes and Henry Gilbey are amongst those urging Britain’s 800,000 recreational sea anglers to back a national petition in support of the net ban. The campaign is also supported by the European Fishing Tackle Trade Association (EFFTA) and the Angling Trades Association.

Over 7000 anglers have already logged on to the special Save Our Sea Bass campaign page to add their names to the petition and to lobby their MPs and the Fisheries Minister George Eustice ahead of the EU Council meeting on December 12th. Anyone reading this who wants to show their support for bass conservation and a fair deal for bass anglers can find the campaign details here:

Send an Email

Despite the clear scientific advice issued by ICES in 2014 for an 80% cut in bass fishing mortality across the EU area, recorded bass landings by UK commercial vessels actually rose by 30% (from 772 tonnes to 1,004 tonnes). The current ICES advice is for a complete moratorium on all harvesting of bass. There is no doubt that inshore gill-netting has played a significant part in the decline of bass stocks. For example, in 2014, UK gill netters landed 646 tonnes of bass – more than the ICES 2016 Northern Stock advice of 541 tonnes for whole of the EU.

EU scientists told us in April 2015: “The spawning stock biomass is declining towards the lowest historically observed level.” In 2016, we reached an all-time low for the spawning stock biomass: 7,320 tonnes and the estimate for 2017 is even worse at just 6,219 tonnes. The Commissions proposals, although seemingly tough, actually exceed the scientific advice for a sustainable catch limit and leave absolutely no scope whatsoever for netting to remain within the European bass fishery.

Political failure

It is clear that we are paying the price for the repeated failure of politicians and fishery managers to follow scientific advice on bass conservation measures. Last year’s disproportionate restrictions on anglers, which saw us reduced to a zero (Jan – June) then a one fish bag limit for the remaining six months of the year while commercial catch limits were actually increased, caused huge outrage leading to demonstrations outside the constituency office of George Eustice and condemnation in parliament. There is no doubt that last year’s measures were bad for bass, bad for coastal businesses and damaging to our sport.

The Charter Boat Sector was particularly badly hit by the anglers bag limits and a survey carried out by the Professional Boatman’s Association (PBA) showed that an estimated £2.87 million is likely to be lost by those charter boat businesses which take anglers to sea to fish recreationally for bass. These losses amount to more than 50 per cent of the total value of commercial bass landings in the UK, with individual charter skippers reporting an average of 22 fewer bookings and losing more than £8,000 in revenues.

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Cornish bass guide Austen Goldsmith is a strong supporter of the proposals by the EU Commission to ban the bass nets

Well known Cornish bass guide Austen ‘Oz’ Goldsmith is fully behind the proposals to get rid of the bass nets. Here’s what Oz told me:

“As a professional bass fishing guide I have seen first hand the effects that gill netting can have on our bass fishery along with all the other marine life it entangles in the process. I have seen gill nets strung across beaches only yards from the shoreline where children play in the water. I have witnessed officers from my local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority spend tens of thousands of pounds in man hours in a bid to catch a small group of commercial fishermen who bend and break the laws by netting in protected Bass Nursery areas under the cover of darkness . I have seen commercial boats landing thousands of kilos of bass in single a week as the fish shoal up in January prior to spawning and more importantly I’ve personally experienced the negative effect that this irresponsible practise has had on my local Manacles reef in the following years.”

Like the Angling Trust Austen believes that it is economic madness to allow gill netting to continue and that a sustainable commercial hook and line fishery working alongside a rejuvenated recreational bass sector will deliver a far greater return whilst contributing to the recovery of the species. He added:

” I have seen hook and line caught bass fetch £18 a kilo on the open market and gill netted bass fetch £ 2 a kilo. There are many stakeholders dependant on the Bass fishery who are extracting high value with low impact so why, when stocks are threatened, should we continue to allow a relatively small group of netsmen to generate far less value from the stock at the price of a huge and damaging impact on the environment? Quite frankly nobody can expect to see the netting of bass continue for much longer.”

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Welsh bass guide Matt Powell believes that unsustainable gill netting is a prime cause of the worrying decline in bass stocks

Recent studies have shown that a bass caught recreationally is worth up to 40 times that of the same fish taken by a netsmen and more generally, recreational sea angling in the UK is far more economically significant than the commercial fishing sector. We’ve been working with our colleagues at the European Anglers Alliance to produce a short film entitled Sea bass – Crisis, Value, Solution, about the long-term management of bass and the economic case for getting rid of the nets.

Sea Angling 2012, the study of Recreational Sea Angling (RSA) carried out for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows that:

* There are 884,000 sea anglers in England who directly pump £1.23 billion p.a. into the economy (£2.1 billion including induced and indirect impacts)
*10,400 full time jobs are dependent on sea angling (23,600 jobs including induced and indirect impacts)
*The VAT alone which is collected from sea anglers dwarfs the entire value of all commercial fish landings in England yet RSA is consistently well down the list of government priorities when it comes to resource sharing and allocation.

However, this could all be about to change if, at long last, we see an end to the dreadful gillnetting that has done so much damage to fish stocks, seabirds and cetaceans.

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Sign the bass petition here

We are pushing hard to ensure that, at the EU Council meeting on December 12/13,all the European Fisheries Ministers – including Britain’s George Eustice – implement the Commission’s proposals in full, without any backsliding or watering-down as happened last year. For anyone needing more information Angling Trust has set up a special bass campaign page with full briefings on all the issues.
http://www.anglingtrust.net/nomorebassnets

Most importantly of all we need every angler to sign our petition and show the politicians that we are serious about giving this fantastic sporting fish a future. If you’ve not already done so please take two minutes to sign the petition today. It’s available here:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/172441

Autumn Gold

16 Nov

I love this time of year. The colours changing with the season, the nip in the air and the fish on the munch before the really cold weather moves in and food becomes scarce. It’s surprising therefore, with so much good fishing to be had, that the tackle shops are emptying out and fewer anglers are on the banks. So for those of you who have packed your rods away far too early here’s a little taste of what you’ve been missing..

Tidal Thames Milestone

I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy some great sport recently on several of my local rivers but pride of place has to go to my first ever two pound roach from the Thames.

Martin's first ever two pound roach from the Thames - and in the middle of London !

Martin’s first ever two pound roach from the Thames – and in the middle of London !

I was checking out a new stretch of the tidal Thames in Chiswick, in West London, as a prospect for next year’s Thames TideFest Angling Championship in the company of good friends Will Barnard, Angling Development Manager for Thames Water and local writer and river specialist Sean Geer. The tidal Thames is a big, challenging place to fish with powerful currents and sometimes treacherous banks requiring specialist equipment and a careful approach. It really is a far cry from the gentle flows and comfortable grassy edges to be found further upstream on the middle reaches. The fishable spots are where there’s a sloping gravel shoal that gradually becomes uncovered as the tide drops. Google Earth can point you in the right direction but the only way for us to find out if the area we had in mind was suitable to host a match section was to get in the river and fish the tide down to slack water.

Having watched the tidal specialists at work at the last three TideFest Championships I knew better than to turn up with a seat box and all the usual match fishing paraphernalia. This is a place where the angler has to move every twenty minutes and across ground so hard and stoney that most bank sticks won’t even scratch the surface. I borrowed a tripod from my mullet fishing mate Paul and hung a groundbait bucket in the middle with all my other bits and pieces in a bait apron. This way I could follow the water down and be re-positioned within seconds without any fuss.

The tidal Thames is no place for comfortable seat boxes - the tripod is the way to go

The tidal Thames is no place for comfortable seat boxes – the tripod is the way to go

Sean and Will opted to fish the float while I went for the feeder. As it turned out this was the right choice for although the float can produce some tremendous sport with roach, dace and bream, on this particular October day the fish remained further out in flow. I began with a heavy, solid groundbait feeder with worm and maggot on a No12 hook and after a slow start I started picking up a few modest bream before the roach put in an appearance as the tide slackened off a little. I was missing too many bites on the heavier gear so I switched to a lighter cage feeder, shorter hook length and just three red maggots on a No14. This seemed to make a difference as I began to connect more easily with the tentative bites, landing first a roach/bream hybrid then a brace of specimen roach with the biggest a real beauty weighing in at 2lbs 2ozs.

Now I’ve been lucky enough to have caught two pound plus roach from 8 different English rivers but never one from my beloved river Thames. To be honest I never really expected to get one as although there’s some great roach fishing to be had on this river it’s rare to hear of fish in excess of a pound and a half much less to catch them. However, the Thames has been on unbelievable form this season so I guess if I was ever going to catch a two pounder from this wonderful river then this was the year it was going to happen !

Test at its Best

Being a river roach fanatic is a tough gig in these days of increased cormorant predation, although to be fair there are some signs that the fish are learning to adapt their behaviour to better survive the ‘Black Death’. There were nearly four years between my last two pounder and the one in October from the Thames but, just like buses, two came along at once. Not for me this time but to my Angling Trust colleague Dave Wales who joined us for a special guest day on the fabulous Broadlands stretch of the River Test in Hampshire. This was the same venue that produced a specimen roach last year for Jon Cruddas MP, another guest and great friend of angling.
I have a bit of a love/hate affair with the Test. It is a truly wonderful chalk stream but some of the fishery management practices further up the river are not a great advert for our sport. Sure enough cutting down most of the marginal habitat, mowing the grass to bowling green standard and stocking the river with over sized trout will ensure guaranteed action for the wealthy fly fisherman with more money than skill. Luckily, Jon and Neil who run Broadlands are more than just fishery managers. They are both accomplished anglers who understand and care about the river and who ensure that vital habitat is retained. As a result their stretch is full of truly wild fish of all species and provides some wonderful winter coarse fishing for chub, roach, dace and grayling.

This two pound Test beauty was truly a fish of lifetime for Dave Wales

This two pound Test beauty was truly a fish of lifetime for Dave Wales

Dave had been having a bit of rough time with his health of late so we suggested he went in a renowned roach swim which also had the advantage of being close to the fishing hut and car park. Despite a bright sunny day and clear water, more suited to chub and grayling than the shy biting roach, Dave managed to extract a couple of beauties by long trotting maggots and corn through the swim. The best went 2.04 and was his first two pound roach in over 50 years of angling. We all gathered around to witness the weigh in and the smiles say it all.

These moments are all better if shared with friends

These moments are all better if shared with friends

MPs at the Castle

I’ve written before of how lucky we are to have a group of MPs in parliament who are always ready to pick up issues on behalf of angling. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling is something I set up in 2005 with my Conservative opposite number Charles Walker MP and I’m delighted that it is still going strong. Two or three times a year I try to get a few members of the group together for a days fishing and to bend their ears regarding the Angling Trust’s current campaigns.

Last month we were extremely fortunate to be offered a chance to take them on the famous Castle beat of the Hampshire Avon just south of Salisbury. This hallowed stretch was made famous by the writings of the then Longford Estate river keeper, the late Tom Williams, whose regular Angler’s Mail column ‘My River’ was essential reading for those of us of a certain age. In addition to Shaun Leonard of the Wild Trout Trust and Avon Roach Project co-founder and organiser Trevor Harrop we were joined by Labour leadership contender Owen Smith MP and of course Jon Cruddas and Charlie Walker. For some inexplicable reason most of the guys wanted to join my boss Mark Lloyd in fly fishing for pike but I knew this stretch held a massive head of chub which should be a far more reliable target on a low clear river.

Once again our love of fish and fishing crosses all political differences

Once again our love of fish and fishing crosses all political differences

And so it proved as Jon Cruddas and I set about plundering a shoal that had taken up residence in the shadow of the Castle Bridge. I set Jon up with my favourite Drennan Acolyte rod and a dumpy waggler rig to catch on the drop as I fed a steady stream of maggots down the the run. I had a feeling it might turn out to be a red letter day when I ran the rig through without any bait to test the shooting and depth and the float buried as a chub took the bare hook !

One happy MP - Jon Cruddas with one of a huge chub haul taken in the shadow of Longford Castle

One happy MP – Jon Cruddas with one of a huge chub haul taken in the shadow of Longford Castle

We actually only fished the swim for a little over four hours but in that time Jon and myself amassed a huge bag of fish, and, when we got tired, we invited the struggling fly fisherman to have a go at trotting with our ‘young flies’ rather than the fluff they were chucking around with little success. Both Owen Smith and Charlie bagged their share on the float and Owen even decided to take advantage of my careful feeding by pinging out a fly that looked suspiciously like an imitation red maggot and promptly landed the biggest fish of the day at 6.03.

Three MPs (one retired), a bridge and a shoal of chub. What could possibly go wrong!

Three MPs (one retired), a bridge and a shoal of chub. What could possibly go wrong!

The keeper, Pete Orchard, was keen to relocate some of these chub further down the fishery so we used a keep net. By the time we packed up there were 36 chub for 140lbs ready to be loaded into the aerated transfer tank. A truly amazing day in great company that we will all remember for a long time.

Avon chub spectacular

I avoid writing about otters on rivers because all it does is bring out the knuckle draggers from under the stones. My own views are well know but for clarity let me state that otters are a real problem on some rivers where there is an imbalance between predator and prey or where there are other factors that have lead to poor fish recruitment. There was never any excuse for either rearing them or undertaking the irresponsible release programmes that we saw in the eighties and nineties. These are apex predators with a legitimate place in the food chain. They do not need humans to survive. If we stop poisoning them they will recover without our help and they’ve certainly done that.

We just have to accept that we live in a world where the vast majority of the public would rather see an otter in the wild than a fish so if anyone thinks that any government is going sanction any form of otter cull then they need a serious reality check.

The Avon has always had otters on it and nowadays it’s got a lot more. So how has this affected the fishing? There is no doubt that there are less barbel about, although they are a hell of a lot bigger than 20 years ago, and there are welcome signs this year of some successful recruitment which augers well for the future. I think the pike are less plentiful as one predator feeds on another. There’s plenty of dace about and, speak it softly, there’s the beginning of a roach comeback, partly due I’m sure to the great work of Trevor and Budgie at the Avon Roach Project. But without a shadow of a doubt the chub fishing on this river has never, and I mean never, been so good. My friends are landing some phenomenal catches on the Somerley waters north of Ringwood and now almost expect to catch a couple of six pounders in a bag of ten or so fish on any half decent day in a good swim. This really is as good as chub fishing gets.

Despite the otters the chub fishing on the Hampshire Avon has never been so good.

Despite the otters the chub fishing on the Hampshire Avon has never been so good.

To prove the point let me end by a brief description of my last outing. I needed to catch up with Trevor to discuss some work related matters and, since it was a nice day, I thought we could best do this on the river bank. We arrived at 11am at a spot with some form for good bags of chub. The wind was off our backs so I could comfortably fish alongside the far bank bushes with a three gram bolo float. Three pints of maggots and five hours later Trevor had netted 26 chub for me for over 80lbs. As we walked back across the water meadows in in the fading light he turned to me and said: “You know what mate? Those guys are right. The river is f**ked. The otters have eaten all the fish!”

So forget the doom mongers, get out there and enjoy some of the great autumn river fishing that we have in this country.

Why all the fuss about this great big carp?

3 Oct
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‘The Big Rig’ caused a big fuss but Tom Docherty deserves congratulations for landing the largest ever carp caught in the UK

I see it didn’t take long for the recent story about the new British Record carp and the so called online death threats to the lucky captor Tom Docherty to be twisted out of all proportion by our wonderful tabloid media and to be pinged around the world.
Within 24 hours I had requests from colleagues in Australia to explain what on earth was going on. The Aussies by and large hate carp, quite unreasonably in my view, and are trying to resist the spread of this non-native species which they blame for damaging both the habitat and recruitment of their indigenous fish. As a consequence, they think it beyond parody that British anglers could get worked up over something they consider to be nothing more than a pest which is only fit for garden fertiliser.
Now whilst I’m not by any means a dyed in the wool carp angler I do enjoy catching them from time to time as they look good and pull hard. This season I’ve spent some enjoyable time catching fish well into double figures off the surface and by float fishing in the margins. A few years ago I spent some time targeting carp in my local River Thames which was challenging but fun. I’ve even been on the occasional carping holiday abroad and was lucky enough to land one or two whackers including a brace of French fifty pounders. So I have huge respect for those dedicated guys who are prepared to spend them time trying crack hard waters for big carp that have seen it all before. Of course, it’s a bit bonkers that certain fish get given names as if they were pet cats but we all know that while smaller carp can be almost suicidal in their desire to be captured there are plenty of bigger, wiser specimens swimming around in our waters that are the very opposite of pet fish.

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Martin doesn’t claim to be a ‘dyed in the wool carper’ but he does enjoy catching them from rivers like this lovely common carp from the Soane in France

The average Aussie angler wouldn’t believe the lengths we have to go to persuade these wily creatures to even pick up a bait. Consequently, there are carp fishers who are up there with the finest anglers I know and who could catch fish anywhere. And there are others who are just mono species specialists who only know how to fish one way – but what’s new about that? I’ve met plenty of fly fisherman who wouldn’t know one end of a stick float or fixed spool reel from the other and vice versa.
Like all branches of our sport carp fishing is not to everyone’s taste and it does have its critics but here at the Angling Trust we remain enthusiastic advocates for both carp and those who choose to fish for them. We have spent a fair bit of time successfully lobbying the Environment Agency so that carp anglers can benefit from the new rules allowing a three rod licence and we have secured increases in funding for otter proof fencing to protect fisheries at risk from predation. Only last week we were delighted to announce a new tranche of Angling Trust Ambassadors including Bev Clifford, the owner of Carp Talk magazine and the TV star and carp enthusiast Scott Maslen. Our ranks were recently boosted with the appointment of Carp Team England manager Rob Hughes as one of our Angling Promotion Officers and we are working on finding new ways to involve carpers in the work of the Angling Trust.

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Rob Hughes, Manager of Carp Team England, now works at the Angling Trust

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Carp Talk’s Bev Clifford has recently come on board as an Angling Trust Ambassador

But I digress.

There is no doubt young Tom Docherty landed the fish of his dreams when a new record carp weighing 69lb 13ozs finally rolled over his outstretched landing net at the prestige Avenue Fishery run by respected carp enthusiast Rob Hales in the beautiful English county of Shropshire. I wanted to congratulate Tom on a great fish and Rob on creating a great fishery and that really should have been the end of it. Sadly, we now live in the internet age that has enabled the sad, bad and mad to become overnight journalists and commentators. Sadder still is the fact that recreational fishing, that most relaxing and natural of all pursuits, is by no means immune from the outpouring of bile and vitriol that is all too often a feature of social media. Having spent over half of the 25 years I served as an elected representative in the UK in an web free environment I can tell you I was glad to get out of it in 2010 and leave the internet trolls behind. Our recent poisonous debate over Brexit was an unedifying spectacle in general, particularly so online, where the levels of naked racism plumbed new depths. So the point I’m making here is that carp fishing, like any activity enjoyed by large numbers of people, has its fair share of mal-adjusted followers who feel empowered by the platform, and anonymity, that social media provides.
Apparently, the charge sheet against Tom and his fish included claims that it was imported from abroad and stocked in a manmade puddle “not much bigger than a swimming pool” so it could be easily captured as new British record fish. The truth is obviously, somewhat different.
The Avenue is one of a number of specialist carp fisheries run by Rob Hales and is far from a puddle. Far from being a swimming pool it is a rich, 17th century estate lake of over ten acres in which fish thrive and prosper. Rob deliberately grows on fish he has selected for stocking in nearby reservoir and ensures that only the fittest and the best are stocked into his waters. He uses the offspring from the fastest growing and healthiest fish to ensure that the best possible genetic lineage is maintained in his fisheries. And what on earth is wrong with that? Stocked fisheries exist all over the world and are an important angling resource.
The Aussies have stocked barramundi into their water supply dams where they’ve grown to trophy sizes and provided great sport. In the USA largemouth bass are regularly stocked to supplement local recruitment and here in the UK most of our stillwater fisheries have received some form of stocking at some time in their history. To object to the capture of a fish just because once upon a time it was stocked from somewhere else is to object to the basis of a fair amount of what we do and enjoy as anglers.
Although, it was exaggerated out of all proportion there was a bit of jealousy and unpleasantness around on social media but as far as I’m aware the ‘death threats’ are not being taken seriously by either Tom, Rob, the police or anyone else who can hold a pencil the right way up. I’m afraid they are the product of the age in which we live and if you look hard enough on Facebook or in the unmoderated comments section of most major publications you will find the same trolls posting stuff online that they would never dream of saying to anyone’s face.
I hope Tom’s fish is accepted as a new British record carp and that he carries on enjoying his fishing just as much as he did before all this kerfuffle sprang up. As for the trolls and keyboard warriors – well I’ve always found the delete button a more than useful tool in these circumstances.

What a river !

19 Sep

As regular readers of this column may recall I only work part time as National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust and, when I’m not fishing, I do a bit of freelance work on other projects to pay the bills and keep me out of trouble. In recent years much of this work has centred around the campaign to clean up the tidal Thames in London. After flirtations with other streams, not least the Kennet, Hampshire Avon, Dorset Stour and the mighty River Wye, I am content to describe the Thames as my favourite river.

The tidal Thames - superb fishing in the heart of London

The tidal Thames – superb fishing in the heart of London

This might seem a strange choice at first glance, after all the Thames has not given me any of my personal best specimen fish. I may have grown up on its banks at Runnymede, Staines and Egham but it was the Kennet that delivered me those memorable catches that still burn bright in my fishing brain. Like the red letter day in 1982 when I had five two pound roach in an afternoon or the following summer when I was lucky enough to catch 30 barbel in a morning on a stick float and centrepin from the famous raft swim at Padworth. Back then the Avon and the Stour were the rivers to head for to seek specimen fish and much time and money was spent driving away from the Thames Valley and eating up the miles on the M3 in search of dreams. Even in their heyday these were not easy rivers but persistence and a modicum of ability eventually brought results. My first double figure barbel came from the Avon at Fordingbridge and a giant roach, a whisker under three pounds, slid over my outstretched and shaking landing net on the Stour just upstream from the New Weir at Throop.

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From static canal to a foaming torrent – the Thames is a challenging river to fish

So what is about Old Father Thames that stirs the passions of anglers of a certain age? I can only speak for myself but this is a river that has everything – it has history, majesty, size and serenity. It can be a frustrating and difficult place to fish, yet at times incredibly productive with catches to match anywhere else in the country. The current is often so placid that many stretches in the summer resemble a giant canal rather than a mighty river, yet at times the Thames becomes a foaming torrent, the power of which can take your breath away. I’ve fished it in all conditions, in all weathers and experienced all its moods. I’ve seen the river on its knees through pollution with signs posted up warning swimmers not to endanger their health by entering the water. I’m old enough to remember when parts of the tidal river in London were declared biologically dead and yet I’ve seen it recover with salmon traversing Molesey weir and in recent years sea trout finding their way upstream to Thames tributaries like the Loddon close to my home in Reading.

Angling journalist Keith Arthur is a massive fan of Old Father Thames.

Angling journalist Keith Arthur is a massive fan of Old Father Thames.

For me it’s where it all began. My first fish was the inevitable small perch on a worm from a stillwater but that wasn’t the place or the species that made me into a lifelong angler. It was on the Thames and its tributaries west of London where I learned my craft, starting with a trip, by bicycle as they all were in those days, to the tiny river Bourne near Chertsey. A six foot spinning rod and a metal centrepin reel that barely turned were hardly the best tools with which to run a float down the current but somehow I managed. And, a couple of hours later, when three small chub and the most magnificent roach in the world – all 10 ounces of it – lay quivering in the bottom of my tiny keepnet I was hooked for life.
These rivers became my world. The Colne at Wraysbury where I caught my first specimen roach, the Colnbrook just above the confluence with the Thames which threw up wonderful bags of fish when the main river was in flood and the Bourne from its source in Windsor Great Park right down to the main river. What I learnt on the tributaries I began to apply to the Thames itself. I caught roach and dace on hemp and elderberries at Laleham, I discovered how to beat the ever-present bleak by using the Dumpy float behind the gasworks at Staines and at Datchet, Windsor, Bell Weir and Penton Hook I caught barbel and chub on cheese and luncheon meat. Even when girls came along and priorities altered it was the Thames that kept calling me back. Returning home on holiday from University in the 1970s I would immediately dust the tackle down and plan a trip to a favourite swim to rekindle childhood memories.

The Thames is home to some monster chub but at long last the small ones are coming through again which is great news for the future.

The Thames is home to some monster chub but at long last the small ones are coming through again which is great news for the future.

Some 50 years later I still love the place and it is immensely satisfying to not only be working to improve and celebrate this wonderful river but to be witnessing yet another revival. Marlin, tarpon, tuna and bonefish are all very well, and I’ve experienced the thrill of all of these magnificent fish and many more besides, but river roach remain my favourite species and probably always will. On the Thames the roach seem to go through distinct cycles. In the early nineties we had some spectacular winter sport on bread punch around Reading as the fish shoaled up in the town centre. Very few were over a pound and a quarter but the quantity of fish between 6ozs and a pound made for some great stick float fishing. Eventually this died off, perhaps it was cormorants or perhaps the reasons were just cyclical – or more likely both – but the roach didn’t seem to be about in numbers. Yet a decade later they were back with a vengeance and we were enjoying great fishing at places like Goring and Wallingford. Again bread was the way to go in the winter with hemp ruling the roost in the warmer months. I think my best bag was around 40lbs taken one March afternoon, when I had sneaked away from parliamentary duties by accepting an evening speaking engagement in Oxfordshire, at a time when I knew the river would be sock on.

You never know what the Thames will turn up!

You never know what the Thames will turn up!

Salmon And sea trout can now be found in the river along with zander and even grayling.

Salmon and seatrout can now be found in the river along with zander and even grayling.

However, as any experienced Thames angler will confirm, nothing stays the same on this river for long. The massive summer floods of 2007 moved the fish all over the place. Carp were washed in from nearby stillwaters and the big shoals of roach seemed to have disappeared and we waited in vain for their return. But this remarkable river has the power to regenerate itself and Environment Agency surveys in 2011/12 -which were years of low flows and potential drought – showed the presence of successful spawning and a huge amount of fry in the margins. And guess what – the roach are back in numbers. Matches are currently being won around Reading and Oxford with anything between 15 and 35lbs – and a lot more than that if the bream put in an appearance. After a long absence, chublets are being caught up and down the river and the glory days of massive chub weights could be on the cards again. Down the road from me at Pangbourne the river is alive with hand sized skimmer bream so there’s obviously been good recruitment with these too. And just to add a touch of exotica to proceedings I heard last week of a grayling being caught in the main river – although this may have been a refugee from the tiny River Pang that decided to go for a wander – and of two big salmon turned over while electrofishing. Wherever and however these fish were spotted it speaks volumes for the water quality when grayling, salmon, sea trout can survive in the middle reaches of the Thames.
But there is one missing piece of the jigsaw of recovery and that’s the tidal river as it flows through London. The water flowing over Teddington Weir and into the tidal stretches may be the cleanest it’s ever been but the capital’s sewers, built in the 19th Century by the visionary engineer Sir Joseph Bazzalgette, were designed for a city of two million not the eight million that currently live here. Being a combined system that carries rainwater as well as domestic sewage Bazzalgette’s sewers needed some 36 storm overflows (CSOs) to discharge directly into the river to avoid flooding homes at times of exceptionally heavy rainfall. The massive increase in population means that these same CSOs now discharge millions of tonnes of untreated sewage into the river, each and every year. This does only limited damage in the winter at times of high flows but the impacts of a summer storm on a low and de-oxygenated waterway can be catastrophic. June 2010 saw a horrendous fish kill following such an incident and this is heartbreaking thing to witness on a river that has staged such a remarkable recovery that 127 different species of fish can now be found in the Thames estuary and along the Tideway. Even when there haven’t been mature fish floating dead on the surface we know that yet another year’s fry have been wiped out through lack of oxygen.

The Thames Tunnel will stop millions of tonnes of storm sewage overflowing into he tidal river

The Thames Tunnel will stop millions of tonnes of storm sewage overflowing into he tidal river

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After years of study an expert panel came up with an innovative three part solution which would see big improvements at all the five sewage works discharging into the tidal river, plus the construction of the Lee Tunnel to deal with the massive CSO at Abbey Mills. That work is now complete and the benefits for the river are becoming clear. The final stage is for the remaining CSOs to be intercepted and the sewage put into a massive tunnel, or supersewer, which would run under the bed of the river before being pumped into the expanded treatment works down at Beckton. This huge £4 billion civil engineering project was not without its critics but it was incumbent upon those of us who care about the river and its wildlife to make our voices heard. I did my bit for the cause whilst in Parliament but I retired from the Commons before the final approval for the Tideway Tunnel had been secured. Consequently, I’ve spent the last four years campaigning for the scheme to go ahead, working with like-minded groups and individuals in the Thames Tunnel Now Coalition. Both planning and ministerial consent have now been achieved and construction is under way. So the focus of my work on this project has turned to ways in which we can try to reconnect Londoners with their river. We need the whole community to appreciate the value of a cleaner Thames, not just the anglers, bird watchers and environmentalists. That is how TideFest was born and part of my job is to organise the event working with many of the same groups who campaigned to make the Tideway Tunnel happen.
Tidefest, now in its third year, has become a successful annual event to celebrate the recreational importance of the Thames Tideway to Londoners. It is based at Strand on the Green, Chiswick and other locations along the tidal river and is a day packed with loads of great activities for all the family.
This year there was paddleboarding, kayaking, river dipping, guided foreshore walks, boat trips, an angling competition, nature reserve visits, artists displays, seine netting, live fish tanks, museum discounts, children’s games, stalls, music, and refreshments. There were children’s activities including river dipping, water testing and games designed to explain and increase understanding of what’s going on in the river run by the environmental charity Thames21 with support from the Institute of Fisheries Management and ZSL.
Local people showed up in huge numbers in response to the call to ‘come along and enjoy the river’. Plenty of glorious sunshine ensured a great turnout on an action packed day on the water. Local MP Ruth Cadbury was one of the visitors and tried her hand at kayaking as well as visiting the stalls and marquees along the riverside embankment. Nearly all the pre booked events were completely sold out and we are looking to expand the size and number of activities on offer for next year.

There were some impressive weights of bream at this year’s TideFest Championship

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Martin and local MP Ruth Cadbury with a baby bass caught while river dipping at this year's TideFest

Martin and local MP Ruth Cadbury with a baby bass caught while river dipping at this year’s TideFest

TideFest 2016 – Record match weight in the London sunshine.
So with all this going on how did the river fish? Well I’m pleased to report that the Third Tideway Angling Championship saw a record weight of over 40lbs of bream for the winner Martin Davies who feeder fished maggots alongside Oliver’s Island below Kew Bridge.
32 anglers fished the two zones at Barnes and Strand on the Green and despite hot sunny conditions and the presence of over 2000 people enjoying walks, paddleboarding, kayaking, river cruises or simply strolling along the towpath, the bream fed well and there were three weights of over 30lbs topped by Martin Davies’s 46.11 of bream up to 8lbs. Second with the top weight at Barnes was Ricky Tomala with 32.11 followed by Steve Edwards with 30.09 then Gordon Bullock with 20.8. The top four shared a £1000 pay out. The event is sponsored by Tideway – formerly Thames Tideway Tunnel – and Thames Water and the match was organised by the Angling Trust with invaluable support from Will Barnard, Angling Development manager at Thames Water.
For me it was fabulous to see so many Londoners enjoying and learning more about this fantastic river. Although we had some stunning bream weights in our match the roach were quiet this year but I know there have been some great pleasure catches of red fins this summer and last year the section at Barnes threw up some real clonkers. The guys doing the seine netting at TideFest by Kew Bridge even managed to catch several baby bass which now use the tidal river as a nursery area. This all goes to show what a great river, wildlife and recreational corridor we have here in the heart of London – a river that has already received a boost from the huge investment programme at the five big sewage works and will be even cleaner and better once the Thames Tideway Tunnel is built.
And that, my friends, is why the Thames is my favourite river – it never fails to surprise and it just keeps on regenerating and getter better.

Check website or Facebook page at http://www.thamestidefest.net or http://www.facebook.com/thamestidefest for more information about TideFest.

Our Fishing MPs

11 Aug

This time last year I wrote about how the Angling Trust works to promote the benefits of angling to parliamentarians and how important the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling has been in giving us both a platform and access to supporters in both Houses of Parliament. You can read it again here:

Fishing for Votes ?

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Labour MP Jon Cruddas with a fine pollack caught on holiday with Martin from an Irish rock ledge

Amongst the group are some pretty passionate anglers including Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas and Labour leadership contender Owen Smith in the red corner and chairman Charles Walker and former fisheries minister Richard Benyon from the Conservatives. We pick up new recruits after each General Election and in 2010 fly fishing enthusiast George Hollingbery joined our ranks making an immediate impact by taking over as chairman and leading the charge for proper conservation of threatened bass stocks. We also signed up Marcus Jones, the newly elected Nuneaton MP and accomplished coarse angler who is now the local government minister.

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Parliamentary Angling Group Chairman Charles Walker (Con) congratulates his Labour colleague Jon Cruddas on his first ever two pound plus roach

After the 2015 election we have been pleased to welcome North Cornwall MP Scott Mann to the group. Scott has played a blinder on the bass issue and sponsored a parliamentary debate back in February which led directly to the government conceding the need to work with the Angling Trust and others on a long term management plan to conserve the species. We were also delighted when Mims Davies, the newly elected MP for Eastleigh in Hampshire, joined us as she has already been active in opposing options for a planned road scheme that could prove detrimental to important water meadows on the lower stretches of the beautiful River Itchen.

In addition to organising key debates the members of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group table parliamentary questions on issues important to fisheries and conservation, lobby government departments and help us arrange delegations to ministers to press home our arguments on behalf of our sport. They do this not for any other reason than because they have an interest in seeing angling thrive and prosper in Britain.

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Newly elected MPs Mims Davies (Eastliegh) and Scott Mann (North Cornwall) at the APPG on Angling AGM with Charles Walker and myself

During the 13 years I spent in Parliament I was a member of a number of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) and I consider many of them to be examples of our democracy at its best. Party political considerations are put to one side as elected representatives come together to espouse causes and issues of common interest. They cover issues as diverse as drought in Africa, breast cancer and abused and neglected children right through to sporting and cultural subjects such as cricket, jazz and art. You can find a full list here

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/160721/contents.htm

In common with many of the other APPGs the Angling Group has its secretarial services delivered by the appropriate national organisation for the area – in this case the Angling Trust, or more specifically me as National Campaign Coordinator. I fully admit that it is an important, but nonetheless enjoyable, aspect of my job enabling me to catch up with old friends in Parliament and keep the angling flame burning in the corridors of power. I started the group with Charles Walker back in 2005 and it’s great to see it going from strength to strength more than ten years later.

The 'offending' photo of Labour Leadership contender Owen Smith fishing two Conservative MPs !

The ‘offending’ photo of Labour Leadership contender Owen Smith daring to go fishing with two Conservative MPs !

And of course it’s not all meetings, reports and parliamentary questions as we do organise a handful of fishing trips every year to bring everyone together and as a way of saying thanks for all that they do for angling. Over the years we’ve been barbel fishing on the Wye, trotting for roach, dace and chub on the Test and Kennet, fly fishing for trout on the Itchen and Pang and for carp on a Berkshire lake. This year I’m taking them piking on the Hampshire Avon and we’ve already had trips targeting trout and carp.

Labour Pains

So what’s not to like about all of this? Surely we want our politicians to put party differences to one side, to be real people with real interests and to occasionally speak up for issues that matter to those of us who share the same passions? But apparently not so if you can use a harmless fishing trip to attack a political rival – for that is what happened this month to Owen Smith as Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters posted on Twitter and social media one of those stupid meme things deriding Owen for appearing in a photo with Conservative group members Charles Walker and Richard Benyon. They claim that Owen’s socialist credentials are damaged by such dreadful associations with the other side of politics, obviously unaware that angling is a sport enjoyed by millions of working people or that Corbyn himself is an enthusiastic member of numerous APPGs on which he too associates with the dreaded Tories!

I know of these things because I took the offending photo which the Corbynistas pinched from this blog and I felt obliged to respond to a Facebook post along these somewhat intemperate lines:

Of course what is not said that also on this angling trip were Salter and Cruddas whose socialist credentials are a tad stronger than all the public schoolboys and dodgy Trotskyists who run Corbyns office !

Owen Smith MP with a nice fly caught carp.

Owen Smith MP with a nice fly caught carp.

To their credit our MPs have just laughed this nonsense off but it has given me the excuse to remind anglers that we should be pleased that we have some good friends in Parliament and that if anyone happens to have a vote in the forthcoming Labour Leadership election there is one candidate, Owen Smith who is actually a real live angler – as Margaret Thatcher famously said: “One of us”!

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.