The Way Forward for Angling?
by John Gray
years, many of our rivers have seen a decline in stocks of
migratory species such as Atlantic salmon and sea trout. Our sea
trout appear to have suffered generally throughout the country,
while the fate of the salmon is more variable from river to
river. Of course there are many factors, at sea and in the
river, which influence the welfare of our migratory fish stocks.
These include climatic change, pollution, commercial netting,
over-exploitation of essential prey species such as the sandeel,
predation by seals and fish eating birds, the threats posed by
the fish farming industry, destruction of spawning habitat and
many more. Many of the above threats to migratory fish stocks,
of course, result directly from human activity of one sort or
another. Nature, if left to get on with it, would undoubtedly
reach a far more satisfactory equilibrium. Anglers themselves
have, in the past, been guilty of over-exploitation by killing
fish which might otherwise have gone on to spawn. Increasingly,
however, it has to be said that anglers and those responsible
for the management of our river fisheries take a more
enlightened view on matters of conservation and sustainability
of fish stocks. Yet there is much that needs to be done to
secure the survival of our salmon and sea trout and anglers must
play their part in it. Catch and release is often proposed as
the way forward for the sport and is being increasingly accepted
by anglers .. but how far should we take it?
of fish, migratory and non migratory, are fragile, there is
certainly a need for some restraint on the part of anglers.
Where there is the slightest suspicion that the runs of wild
fish are insufficient to fully populate, or at least to generate
a sustainable stock in, a particular river, then, for as long as
this situation exists, the most logical solution would be a
complete moratorium on angling activity, combined with efforts
to protect salmon from all other threats, be they natural or man
made. Such a moratorium is, quite understandably, unlikely to be
supported by anglers, fishery owners and those who are employed
in angling-related occupations.
where salmon stocks are fragile, we must therefore consider
alternative measures. Given, then, that angling activity is
likely to continue, regardless of the sustainability of salmon
stocks, the next best option, on rivers where salmon stocks are
uncertain, would be to impose a policy of 100% catch and release
(excepting damaged fish etc.), possibly reinforced, in cases of
severely depleted stocks, by a programme of artificial stocking
of hatchery reared salmon, drawn from indigenous fish.
If and when
stocks have recovered to a level sufficient to again fully
populate the river with wild fish, with a surplus stock which
might be harvested by anglers (I would hope that netting would
be recognised as a less than economical use of a scarce and very
valuable resource), anglers might then be allowed to kill a very
limited number of salmon, with the majority of fish being
returned. In recent years there has been, in my experience,
increasing recognition of the need for restraint on the part of
anglers and a growing acceptance of catch and release, to the
extent, indeed, that many anglers are made to feel, most
unfairly, like murderous fishmongers for daring to even consider
the very natural, and, on rivers with a healthy stock of salmon,
entirely justifiable act of knocking a fish on the head.
Consequently, it would, I think, be perfectly feasible to
achieve a satisfactory return rate without the need for
compulsion or legal restrictions.
compulsion is considered necessary, I am not sure whether a
tagging system would be helpful. I think it would lead to all
tags being used, and the maximum permitted fish kill. The using
of all tags would likely become accepted as the norm, leading,
quite possibly, to fewer fish returned than might be achieved by
purely voluntary means. I think I would prefer a simple fish
limit, set according to the circumstances on each individual
river, combined perhaps with efforts to educate and incentives
to anglers to return fish.
with healthy stocks of fish, catch and release, as a morally
rational policy, is hard to justify. Many fishermen, myself
included, see the killing of a trout, sea trout or salmon as the
natural and entirely justifiable conclusion to the whole
business of fishing. It is what fishing is all about. Deny a man
that option of an occasional fish for the table and fishing
ceases to make sense.
interests of conservation, I, like many other fishermen, find
myself returning an increasing proportion of my catch, more
aware of my impact on our environment and, perhaps more
selfishly, on future sport. Most of my fishing is done on
association waters, where, in recent years, there has been a
definite move towards catch and release. There is a growing
awareness among salmon and sea trout anglers of the potential
benefits of catch and release, if only to improve their own
fishing in the coming seasons, to the extent that an increasing
proportion of anglers wouldn't now think of killing a fish. The
ban, in Scotland, on the sale of all rod caught salmon has
provided a further disincentive to the killing of fish.
But catch and
release should not, in all places at all times, become
compulsory. Sustainability is the key. Catch and release has a
part to play, as a tool of conservation but not as an eleventh
commandment in the new testament of the Church of Latter Day
Tree Huggers. It is worth remembering that a river can sustain a
limited number of juvenile fish. In many rivers, the harvesting,
by anglers, of a proportion of the annual run, will have no
adverse effect on fish stocks. Where there is the slightest
suspicion that the run of migratory fish is insufficient to
fully populate the nursery streams, then, of course, all fish
caught should be returned. Where stocks are healthy, though, I
would have no hesitation in taking a fish for the table.
Sometimes now, when I go fishing, I return all fish caught,
brow-beaten into subconscious submission by the C&R protagonists
... but there is a feeling, then, that something in the
experience is missing, that I am some kind of frivolous fraud,
there for the wrong reasons.