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.

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