The Angling Trust and Fish Legal have reacted with dismay to news that the Government has decided that “implementation of the Free Passage of Fish Order should be postponed until at least May 2011”. This Order would have enabled the UK to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC, establishing a framework for the Community action in the field of water policy) and Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007, of 18 September 2007, establishing measures for the recovery of the stock of European eel.
The decision has apparently been taken in light of the current economic climate; the Better Regulation Executive felt that the Order would have a significant impact on businesses. Angling’s representative body believes that the Executive has failed to take into account the long term economic benefits that such an order would have by protecting and improving fish stocks which are essential for the multi-billion pound angling industry.
It’s not just salmon, sea trout and eels which migrate up and down rivers; most coarse fish travel many miles from spawning to feeding habitats. By kicking this order into the long grass, the Government has prevented action being taken to protect all fish stocks, and has shown that it is not committed to delivering the ambitious and visionary aims of the Water Framework Directive.
Salmon and sea trout are the only fish that are currently protected by legislation. Yet even these are prevented from re-colonising rivers and river reaches in which they were formerly present because of the inadequacy of the current legislation.
Important threatened conservation species, such as lampreys and shad, which move from the sea to our rivers have no protection, and neither have the many indigenous fish, including many important to angling such as trout, grayling, barbel, dace and chub. These all may need to access different stretches of river for spawning, feeding or over-wintering but are prevented from doing so by impassable obstructions. Many millions of young fish are lost from our rivers every year by being drawn into inadequately screened abstractions.
The delay will also allow hydropower schemes which damage fisheries greater chance of being implemented. Thousands of these schemes, most of which have a questionable cost benefit ratio, are proposed across the UK.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said: “these regulations were proposed by the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review which was submitted to the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in June 2000, nearly a decade ago. The delay in implementation is a shocking example of the Government’s failure to commit to real action to protect fish stocks. We need urgent action now, not a further delay.”
The Environment Agency’s Statement of Intent, published in January 2009, stated: “We must improve the natural passage of fish in order to meet the needs of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), implement the European Eel Regulations and protect our fisheries. The measures proposed in the Passage of Fish Regulations are crucial to our ability to improve fish passage.”
This begs the question: “given that these regulations were ‘crucial’ and that we ‘must’ improve the passage of fish to meet the WFD, how does the Government plan to do this without them?”