Last update: 17th June 2019

Reply from Hannah Blythyn AC/AM

Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government

Ein cyf/Our ref DC/HB/05335/19

Mr W G Davies Chairman

Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association w.gary.davies@sky.com

12 June 2019

Dear Gary,

Thank you for your letter received on 3 June, on behalf of Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association, regarding an invitation to meet.

Access to inland water has long been a contentious issue with both user communities passionately believing that they are in the right, both legally and morally. These highly polarised views have hindered efforts to reduce the conflict between users to date. I believe that access to water now needs to be considered as part of a wider approach, not in isolation. We need to broaden the debate and ask what Wales wants from its inland waters, and the role that access rights have in delivering this.

To try to resolve this stalemate, I have asked the National Access Forum to give particular priority to laying the ground work for greater dialogue on inland waters issues that is needed. I am also seeking specialist advice from Natural Resources Wales, who are the Government’s advisers on access matters which will include possible non-legislative approaches. However, I recognise that options may be limited given that we have tried to promote VAAs (Voluntary Access Agreements) before, with little take-up.

I strongly feel that the long term answer needs to come from stakeholders and have encouraged them, through my Written Statement, to find a practical joint solution. I hope that by focussing on what we share, rather than our differences, may help to find solutions and reach some form of consensus.

Should I not be satisfied of reasonable progress within 18 months, I plan to consider future legislation on access to water. However, at this stage I do not have a set view of what any such legislation would look like.

Bae Caerdydd • Cardiff Bay

Caerdydd • Cardiff

CF99 1NA

Canolfan Cyswllt Cyntaf / First Point of Contact Centre:

0300 0604400

Gohebiaeth.Hannah.Blythyn@llyw.cymru Correspondence.Hannah.Blythyn@gov.wales

Rydym yn croesawu derbyn gohebiaeth yn Gymraeg. Byddwn yn ateb gohebiaeth a dderbynnir yn Gymraeg yn Gymraeg ac ni fydd gohebu yn Gymraeg yn arwain at oedi.

We welcome receiving correspondence in Welsh. Any correspondence received in Welsh will be answered in Welsh and corresponding in Welsh will not lead to a delay in responding.

Yours sincerely,

Hannah Blythyn AC/AM

Y Dirprwy Weinidog Tai a Llywodraeth Leol

Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government

From W G Davies (Gary) Chairman MTAA to: Hannah Blythyn.AC, AM. Deputy Minister Local Gov and Housing

Mr. W.G. Davies:        Chairman.           3 Blanche Street,

                                         Dowlais,

                                                                                                            Merthyr Tydfil.

                                                                                                            CF48 3PE.

                                                                                                            01685 371981.

                                                                                                             07974806032

    E mail:W.GARY.DAVIES@sky.com                                                                                                                 3/6/2019

To:  Hannah Blythyn.AC,  AM. Deputy Minister Local Gov and Housing

Cc:  Dawn Bowden AM.  Mr Gerald Jones MP.

Ref:- Access inland water – “Legislation”

Dear Minister,

To say I am dismayed would be a vast understatement considering the work has been done over the past TEN years, trying to make access agreements.

It should be considered that whilst Jane Davidson was the minister responsible, who brought together organisations at the so called ROUNDTABLE, even at the behest of the minister no head way could be made because the paid canoe Wales official maintained  that canoe Wales could not demand the membership to agree to any terms unless full access was available. Yet prior to the petition there were numerous agreements on a number of rivers, the river Tawe and the Tawe angling club is a case to consider (refer to Life President Raymond Lockyear) and the river Usk (refer to David  Jones Powell). This was prior to the Usk “agreement” by Dr Steven Marsh Smith OBE.

I have not had the pleasure of meeting or speaking with you, I would be pleased to rectify this matter at your convenience, as I have had with previous ministers.

 l endured the full attendance of the Welsh Government public inquiry to the access to inland water 2009/10. In fact the committee dealing with the inquiry supplied me with the Embargoed findings of the sustainability committee, 24 hours before the public announcement was made at the White Water Centre Cardiff.

Incidentally the call for the inquiry was by an electronic petition which included canoeists from many countries apart from the few hundred from Wales. The “WELSH” anglers responded within a couple of weeks with some 10,000 individual WELSH signatures.
The findings were in a nutshell, that Voluntary Access agreements were to be agreed between the fishing clubs and riparian owners with the paddling organisation. I personally gave the assurance to the committee that the angling body would do all in its power to bring about the agreements. Agreements were made but the governing body of the paddlers would only agree if the agreement gave them paddling rights at all times irrespective of the wishes of the angling Associations and fishery owners bodies wishes.


As chairman and founder member of the Merthyr Tydfil Angling Association. A body which formed in 1966/7 we did not own any of our fishing. We changed this by gradually purchasing the rights and access, ie we paid for access. WE have progressed over the years to own various parcels of land adjacent to river banks and to have made some of the holdings into a Nature Reserve and to have progressed from a local association to one that now has an open membership and brings in people from all over Wales but more importantly from all walks of life and all areas of the country. We have made agreement with a Welsh Agricultural college and other owners on the river Usk who have been happy to sign an agreement. Even though we have been rebuffed by paddlers, you and other government/assembly members, are, it would seem prepared to legalise the compulsory purchase of of rights obtained by legal means at the expense of people  (Electorate). Of course I / We realise that you take advice from the people known as civil servants but we do not think that you are finding out the whole truth of the Issue you are looking to legislate for

The following Salient Points are:

          1/ Grants awards to angling and canoeing,

          a/ Angling £396K per 5 yrs (2008 – 2013)   Figures derived from

            b/  Canoeing    £1.8M    “   “         “           “   freedom of Information

            c/ No Anglers 41,913  equates to value of £9.43 / angler per 5 yrs               d/ No canoes     3,800         “       “    “      £473.13/ canoeist  “    

2/  Value of Rod Licence sales (average figure)           £1.31M  per annum

         “      “             permit     “  (club licence)            £2.51M    “      “

              Minimum accrued to Economy of Wales       £3.82M

           Paid by Association/clubs per annum              £2.14M  Rentals

              Total to Economy of Wales                            £5.94M

3/         Value of fishings / property owned          £17.31M

Approximately 26 Association / clubs gave information for ownership & rental values. (No private owners cost/valuation included)

We appreciate that canoes are an Olympic sport therefore the Olympic contenders should have financial backing. But does this include finance to canoe clubs for the purchase of vessels and road vehicles at a cost of thousands of pounds, surely this cannot be in support of the OLYMPIC contenders.

Detail of grants to various canoe activities.

Develop a site for canoe polo     –  £11,170.00

Flatwater participation project    –  £11,625.00

Purchase of trailer etc                 –  £  6,752.00

Canoe Wales school programme – £15,000.00

More members more coaches      – £10,207.00

It is widely known that more voluntary access agreements could be in place. The stumbling block is entirely down to canoe Wales who will only accept access on unfettered terms 24/7.

 In 1979 when as an Association we purchased for our members and the general public a Salmon beat of some 1070 yards as measurements were then we realised that to have open house for the membership to fish this small length would result in conflict ie to many people using it at the same time. We organised a booking system for this fishing and even to today even though we now have three miles of Salmon fishing we still run that system. I mention this just to point out that angling as with most sports and particularly where the protection of the Environment is concerned needs a way to control unrestricted use for the benefit of all.  (Honey pot areas such as Pen y Fan)

Serious questions need to be asked regarding as to why you may seem it necessary to look for legislation.

What must be also taken into consideration that club members/individuals may only use that part of the river (perhaps one mile) owned or rented whereas the canoe fraternity would consider their right to insert the boat at the headwaters (or anywhere between) and exit at the estuary, This means ALL rivers and streams irrespective of spawning periods and other users. This would go against the spirit of the Environment Act promoted by the Welsh Government.

There follows some notes from the 2009 enquiry on evidence given by Sports Council for Wales.

Evidence given by Sports Council Wales

To : Sustainabilitv Committee________________ 3/12/2009

Notes of Part of Evidence ONLY

Q = Question from Sust Comm

A = Answer from Sports council Chief Exec

1/  Q – In your opinion is there need for legislation.

A – An emphatic NO!

21   Q – How many people partake in outdoor ACTIVITIES (Wales)

A – A large percentage of Welsh people 49%. If you take out walkers you are left with a figure of 9%. Of this figure 1.1% are anglers a very small % are canoes 0.02%.

These figures break down to persons affiliated to governing bodies. Angling  40,000. Canoes 5,500. Note: There are 70,000 rod licences sold in Wales.

3/   Q – We are told there is latent demand for access to water related activities.

A –  How do you substantiate latent demand and from what base would you start.

4/    Q – Seeing that flowing water is not owned, would any person be commiting an offence by floating on it.

A – I am not a legal person but I do know that the RIPARIAN owner has the control of what goes on over his land irrespective in air or on water.

5/    Q – How do you see thing happening and should all pay.

A – Through local agreements. The problem with canoes is that they do not wish to pay. Other activities such as golf, gym, football and other have to pay, some such as golf pay a substantial amount £300pa to £1000 pa. A gym would more that likely charge £30 per month, so yes payment must figure for all except walkers.

6Q – Do you give financial support to the canoe governing body and angling

A –   Yes.

Q –  How much.

A –  Chair, I will send you a note (see previous ref Grants) detailing all financial support to all governing bodies. This year we have not funded an Access officer to Canoe Wales, (post occupied by Pam Bell)

My note :   Information indicates £1.8m to canoes and approx £396k to angling.

No mention was made in reference to companies using rivers to hire canoes and rafts at considerable cost to participants and at NIL cost to the organiser and nil to the owners of the property, could this be called squatters rights?

An individual canoe or small party could be acceptable with agreement, but  a flotilla of craft would not be acceptable.

Yours Faithfully

W G Davies   (Gary)

Chairman MTAA

Letter from Minister to Chris White

Page 1

Update from Chris White

The minister has sent a written statement to all AM’s saying she has received the inspectors report see the attachment.  Note she intends to make her decision before the summer recess so not much will happen until after July and probably not until September when the Assembly returns.  I cant see any changes to the byelaws as after her decision has been made we will receive a coy of the inspectors report and can challenge its contents if needed.  NRW could of course issue and emergency byelaw to bring in the restrictions before the 16 June.

I have also had a response to my letter, I seem to have upset the Minister see attached letter!  I think the response to my letter from LG is more of a defence which probably would not stand up to scrutiny under a judicial review.  Until we see the inspectors report there is not much we can do, we just have to be patient. 

Feel free to circulate this email to your members.

Chris

Welsh Dee Smolt tagging reports

Joel Rees Jones, of NRW, has been good enough to share the various reports relating to the smolt tagging experiment currently in its final year on the head of the River Dee click here for link.

Chris White's letter to The Minister

Dear Minister,

Following an email from the Planning Inspectorate re the delay in the release of the Inspectors report on the above Inquiry please see the attached letter outlining our very real concerns on the lack of transparency with regard to the inquiry and the withholding of the inspectors report until a decision has been made by the Ministers.

Regards

Chris White

Conservation officer: Campaign for the protection of Welsh fisheries

Commentary from CPWF Conservation Officer

As I am away next week following discussions with the key CPWF objectors I have sent the attached letter to the Minister this evening (and received acknowledgement of its receipt). 

I am not sure if this will make any difference and expect to receive the standard ‘I can’t comment until I receive the Inspectors report’ reply from the Minister.  However by sending this now it raises concerns about the way in which this sham of an inquiry has been handled.  We cannot of course know what the Inspector will recommend and the fact that he has requested extra time tends to signify he is struggling due to his lack of understanding of fisheries issues.  The risk here is that he will use the precautionary principle to justify his recommendations whilst recognising our valid arguments but we will have to wait until his report is sent to the Minister, hopefully we will get a copy before any decision is made, it is up to the Minister to agree to release the report to us as soon as she receives it.

In terms of the decision process as this is new legislation, the proposals cannot be considered as a byelaw as this is not a local issue i.e. it is an All Wales Fisheries Regulation and therefore has to follow the same route as any other legislation.  In addition it will be necessary to repeal the existing local fisheries byelaws – all 10 of them.  Having looked at the WG process for introducing new legislation my understanding is the Minister has to present her recommendations for new legislation to the Assembly and these are scrutinised by one of two legislative committees before being passed back to the Assembly for approval, the Assembly website says this can take up to 40 days.  Once approved by the Assembly the legislation has to be sent for Royal Assent.  As the inspectors report is now not due until 3 June it is unlikely that the byelaws if approved would be in place before August bearing in mind there is also a summer recess of the Assembly.  My previous request for the Minister to delay any fisheries legislation until 2020 has so far been rejected. 

I have attached an email from the Rev Paul Cawthorn which you should read as it covers most of our concerns.  It seems that in his meeting with NRW (Gough and Mee) in Dolgellau Paul was told that if the decision goes against NRW they will apply for emergency measures but they did not quantify where these would apply, there are still issues we will have to fight whatever happens.

Feel free to circulate this to your members and AM’s

Chris

Update from Chris White

All,

Some of you will already have received this email from the Planning Inspectorate (PI) to say the inspectors report will now not be completed until 3 June.  We should not be surprised that the inspector is having difficulty ‘due to the complexity’ of the inquiry.  This is direct result of the Minister using her Planning Inspectorate and calling this a ‘Public Local inquiry’ whilst recognising in her correspondence to several of us that she recognised this as ‘The All Wales Byelaws’ i.e. this was not a local issue.  Had the inquiry been run as a Public Inquiry an independent chairman would have been appointed who could have been supported by technical advisors.  Instead a planning inspector was selected with no knowledge of fisheries or their management.  Cynically I believe he was selected as he had sided with NRW on a planning inquiry based upon the precautionary principle, the whole of the NRW case was based on the precautionary principle. 

I have drafted a letter to send to the Minister.  The plan was to send this tomorrow evening but I will now hold this until 3 June.  It is interesting to note that Luke Davies who is standing in as head of Fisheries for WG since Jeremy Frost left, and it is Luke who will be sending out copies of the inspectors report but only once the Minister has made a decision and therein lays the problem. Having attended all 16 days of the inquiry I believed that we would receive a copy of the report at the same time as the Minister, there is nothing to stop this from happening and I cover this in my letter in the sprit of ‘openness’ which the Minister declared in her letter to me when explaining why she was using the planning Inspectorate.  I will not send you copies of the draft letter until this has been sent to the Minister however I think you should see this key paragraph:

The perception is that by choosing to call the Inquiry a ‘Public Local Inquiry’ it enabled you to use the Planning Inspectorate, a department you have responsibility for.  We also noted the appointment of an inspector who had apparently sat as adjudicator in an action brought by NRW who had instructed the same Solicitors in a case which we believe to a large extent turned as in the instant upon the doctrine known as The Precautionary Principle

I doubt that the Minister is aware of the way the PI manipulated how the inquiry was to be run however she is condemned by the statement in her letter to me which says: “The Inspectorate decided to apply these regulations in the case of the byelaws in view of their appointment and having regard to the reason for that appointment” it is the reasons why the PI was selected that gives cause for concern.

I think she may have to defend this statement at some point particularly following the judicial review brought by the widow of Carl Sargeant as the First Minister was criticised for using his own department to carryout an investigation into the facts around the Sargeant dismissal.  I am just firing a shot across the bows of the Minister and will leave it to the AM’s to bring her to task in the SENEDD.

Feel free to forward this, your AM’s may be interested as a considerable amount of public money has been spent on this inquiry, money which would have been better spent on actually addressing the core issues affecting fisheries – and that is not anglers!

Chris

Chris White: Notes on the Welsh Fisheries Forum

Attendees

Stephen Marsh-Smith Afonydd Cymru
Richard Garner Williams Welsh Salmon & Trout Conservation Cymru
Mark Lloyd Angling Trust
Alan Winstone Clwyd, Conwy & Gwynedd Rivers Trust
Paul Edwards Welsh Salmon & Trout Angling Association
Denise Ashton Wild Trout Trust
Chris White Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries
Johnathan Luke Davies Welsh Government (Inland Fisheries)
Peter Gough NRW
John Clark NRW
Nicola Teague Institute of Fisheries Management
Rachel Evans Countryside Alliance
Ruth Jenkins (CHAIR) NRW
David Mee NRW

Agenda Items

  1. Welcome and Introductions (Ruth Jenkins)

Ruth welcomed everyone to the second meeting of the forum and reviewed the action items from the previous (inaugural) meeting.  The draft minutes will be available on the NRW website once approved.

The reorganisation within NRW will be completed by July.  The new structure will move from 10 areas down to 6.  There will be more people working on the freshwater environment although there will be no increase in fisheries staff.  There is difficulty in recruiting fisheries staff and there is a lack of experienced fisheries officers in NRW it was suggested that fisheries officers could train other members of their team in fisheries issues. 

Mark Lloyd updated how the Virtual Bailiff scheme is working in England, there are 500 volunteers carrying out patrols (7/8 are ex police officers) but Mark emphasised that this was a ‘hands off’ operation feeding intelligence to the EA and Police.  Mark considers this has worked well and it is feasible to extend this to Wales.

The head of Inland Fisheries (Jeremy Frost) for WG either resigned or retired at the end of April, this seems to have been unexpected and Luke Davies is now covering this role for WG until a successor is found. 

Membership of the Forum was discussed and to keep the numbers to a manageable size it was suggested that existing members liaise with their local LFG’s and represent them at future meetings.  This is already happening in North and South Wales but it was recognised that West Wales did not have any contacts on the forum.  It was suggested that a member from the Carmarthenshire Fisheries Federation be invited to join the group.  It was also suggested that Welsh Water become a member.

  • Area Statements

John Clark presented an overview of the area statements which are an EU requirement and has now replaced the River Basin management plans.  The plan is to have the area statements completed by March 2020.  The area statements are The State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR 2) which is the Assessment of the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources within Wales this includes requirements under the Water Framework Directive.  Mark Lloyd questioned if this was just ‘re-packaging’ of the existing system to make it look as if there is progress being made.  John Clark said there would be local workshops held as happened with the river basin management plans and that SoNaRR 2 would be web based along the lines used in an Australian portal on the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR).

  • Fisheries Local Inquiry – feedback and commitments made

Peter Gough went through the costs of the inquiry (£350K plus!) and explained that the inspector had set a deadline of issuing his report on or before the 17 May.  The report will be issued to the Minister and it is unclear if those objecting will receive a copy prior to the Minister making a decision.

The Fish Eating Birds (FEB’s) Advisory group has prepared a paper and the NRW Executive Team has approved this with some amendments (we did not have copies of this paper).  It seems that there is a concern that there is no evidence base on the damage done by FEB’s so it seems unlikely that there will be any immediate action on controlling FEB’s while a formal study is carried out, as FEB’s only eat fish how much more evidence do they need!  The paper will be present to WG once it has been approved by the NRW Board at the May Board meeting.

There have been 16 rivers surveyed and plans produced as part of the River Restoration project which is being carried out by Rivers trusts in Wales via Afonydd Cymru.  The survey reports and work program will be made public via the NRW website.  Reports are mainly pictorial i.e. photographs showing the areas needing attention.  I had been asked by the Dee LFG to raise the issue of the lack of visibility about the River Restoration project and that more needs to be done to engage stakeholders.  As rivers Trusts are undertaking this work on behalf of NRW it is for the Trusts to communicate with stakeholders.

Items for discussion

  • Fisheries Strategy

Members were asked for their feedback on the strategy paper.  The most significant comments were there is now no longer a dedicated fisheries department within NRW.  It was also noted that this was a ‘fisheries strategy’ document which did not make reference to fishing and it was more of a vital nature diversity strategy.  It was also noted that the strategy only dealt with ‘wild fish’ and there was nothing about stocked fisheries or sea fishing.  I asked if WG were committed to promoting fishing in Wales and pointed out that the perception is that WG are only interested in promoting adventure activity on our rivers and consider anglers as blocking the WG wish for open access.  A sub group will be formed to progress the strategy.

  • Stock assessment 2018

The two papers on sea trout and salmon stocks were discussed.  The picture remains much the same primarily due to the way NRW applies statistical analysis it should be noted that in the majority of cases the status is declared as ‘uncertain’ i.e. it is just a best guess.  PG explained that NRW had engaged with CEFAS to review the present statistical model due to the uncertainty of the results they produce, this review may be due to the challenge we made at the inquiry about the methodology. 

  • Wales land management Forum

The strategy on future land management will be presented to the NRW Board at the May Board meeting.  It remains to be seen if the promised reforms will be implemented and even if they are this will be some time in the future – too little too late!

  • Angling promotion update

Mark Lloyd updated the group and explained that AT had received a grant of £100K from Visit Wales and £30K from NRW to promote fishing in Wales.  This will be via a web based system which will list all of the available fishing within Wales this will include Coarse/Sea/Game fishing with contact details for clubs etc.  There will also be a Social media link so that anglers can post their experience of fishing in Wales (good or bad) but Mark said that the posts would be subject moderation.  In 2020 it is apparently the ‘Year of the Outdoors’ and this will be a good platform to promote fishing in Wales with a link to the WUF Fishing passport scheme, clubs in Wales should be encouraged to sign up to the passport scheme or at least ensure that their information is included in the AT database.

  • Items for information

There was a short discussion on invasive species and angling Pathway Action Plans (PAP’s) this is directed at recreational anglers to prevent the transfer of disease and invasive species and it is hoped that anglers will sign up to check/clean/dry their equipment.  I pointed out that this must also apply to paddlesport.

There was a quick update on the proposed Tidal Lagoons with NRW remodelling the environmental impact using new parameters.  The general impression was that at this time Tidal lagoons are too costly to proceed.

A hydro power briefing note was handed out I have attached a copy of this.

It seems that Thames Water wants to take surplus water from Lake Vyrnwy using the Vyrnwy and Severn as conduits for most of the distance before diverting the water into the head waters of the Thames.  Apparently this idea has been ongoing for several years but seems to be gaining momentum.

  • Any Other Business

Mark Lloyd and Rachel Evans raised the access issue following the statement by Hannah Bythyn AM that if there are no improvements in voluntary access agreements in the next 18 months WG will legislate for open access.  This is a direct threat to fishing activity in Wales and I pointed out that it will have significant environmental consequences as adventure activity is only interested in profit and will contribute nothing to the management of the environment.

Rachel is prepared to deal with this issue on behalf of anglers and riparian owners but needs as much information on VAA’s offered and rejected as possible to counter the belief that anglers and riparian owners are blocking VAA’s.

The next meeting will be in November and will probably be held in Carmarthen.

Chris White: Report on Welsh Fisheries Forum

The second meeting of the fisheries forum was held in Newtown on Thursday 2 May, I have attached a summary of the notes I took at the meeting, the formal minutes will be available via the NRW website once approved, I will forward a copy to you as soon as I receive the draft copy.

The meeting was much better than the first meeting and seems to be heading in the right direction.  There appears to be a marked change how NRW want to work with anglers, this may be due to how and what we presented at the inquiry or cynically as there is now no fisheries department in NRW without anglers carrying out the work nothing will get done.  It seems that Jeremy Frost who was head of Inland Fisheries for WG resigned or retired at the end of April this seems to have been unexpected, Luke Davies is now looking after inland fisheries on behalf of the Welsh Government at least in the short term.  I seem to remember Peter Gough saying at the NRW Board meeting in Bangor in 2017 that he was two years from retirement and from comments at the meeting I think he may be retiring later this year as he said I will leave this to Dave Mee to sort out so it seems that Dave Mee will be taking on his role.  Not surprisingly NRW is having difficulty recruiting fisheries staff this is not surprising as there is no fisheries department in NRW and therefore no career path.  I have attached all of the papers we received if you have any comments please let me know.  Feel free to circulate this to your members.

Angling Trust and their help.

The Angling Trusts CEO Mark Lloyd, who was subject to considerable pressure during his presentation at the hearing was asked why the Angling Trust had not represented all speaking on on behalf of anglers, particularly, why he had not provided a barrister as had NRW, his response was as follows.

“It is preposterous of NRW’s legal counsel to suggest that the Angling Trust and/or Fish Legal could have met the costs of paying a barrister and supporting legal costs for the duration of the inquiry and all the preparatory work that would have been required.  This would have cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds against a budget of £70,000 for legal counsel for the whole year and we would have had no opportunity to reclaim costs from the other side as Fish Legal does in our civil litigation cases on behalf of member clubs and fisheries.  Fish Legal’s small team of lawyers is very busy in its principal role fighting pollution and other environmental threats to fish stocks and angling, often because NRW has failed to do its job properly regulating and prosecuting polluters.”

Well put Mark and our grateful thanks for all your efforts in this regard

Comment

The closing statements published below may be lengthy but they are worth the read. They give a clear picture of the stance taken by anglers representatives and also shows the great effort that has been put in by these individuals on our behalf: thank you to all those who spoke and made these statements.

Campaign's Conservation Officer Chris White's closing statement to the Planning Hearing

President Allan Cuthbert 7 Norton Avenue Prestatyn Denbighshire LL19 7NL   Email: 1highplains@gmail.com   Strategy Officer John Eardley c/o Vanner Farm & Caravan Site  Llanelltyd  Dolgellau  Gwynedd  LL40 2HE Email: johneardley@btinternet.com   Conservation Officer Chris White  57 Normanby Drive Connahs Quay Flintshire CH5 4JX   Email:chriswhite.cohite@gmail.com

6 March 2019

THE WALES ROD AND LINE (SALMON AND SEA TROUT) BYELAWS 2017

THE WALES NET FISHING (SALMON AND SEA TROUT) BYELAWS 2017

Closing Statement

Chris White on behalf of the Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries

  1. The Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries (CPWF) is a voluntary organisation supporting grass roots anglers across Wales who would have found it difficult to present at the inquiry but wanted their voices to be heard.  In recognition of this CPWF has represented 21 angling clubs, riparian owners and organisations from across Wales at the inquiry.  These organisations have given their permission for CPWF to represent them and have been involved in the preparation of the CPWF evidence.  
  2. To a lay person the technical case for the byelaw presented by NRW is compelling as noted in the evidence paper[1] submitted by Mr Tony Harrington representing Dwr Cymru (Welsh Water) and declared as a supporter for the NRW proposals in which he says “The evidence presented by Natural Resources Wales in relation to the decline of salmon stocks is both comprehensive and compelling”. To those with little knowledge of migratory fish, and the issues which have resulted in their decline, the proposals appear to be proportionate; however, there is no evidence that the byelaws in themselves will reverse this decline.  
  3. The evidence presented by objectors has demonstrated their willingness to support voluntary measures and in presenting their evidence objectors have explained how clubs impose rules upon their members in order to conserve fish stocks which are far more effective than byelaws.   These rules apply to individual sections of a river and reflect the present byelaws for that river system, that is byelaws which have been agreed over years with the agency at that time.
  4. The basis of the NRW evidence, such that it is, in the Technical Case relies upon the methodology and statistical techniques used to estimate the Conservation Limit (CL) for each river system.   This methodology was originally developed on the River Bush in Northern Ireland, a river which has 100% entrapment of returning adults and migrating smolts and has known water quality and carrying capacity i.e. input parameters are known quantities.  The developer of the statistical model (now deceased) states in the original published paper that the model may not be transportable as it had been developed against known, quantifiable, parameters based on a single river system.  
  5. In the CPWF evidence[2] I refer to extracts from technical papers (W64 and W65) commissioned by the Environment Agency in 1997 which clearly identifies the flaws in a methodology developed for a single river system with known parameters, the river Bush in this case.  Most significant is the assumption of water quality which is pristine and marine survival as a known quantity both of which have a significant effect on the error generated by this methodology.  The subsequent plotting of a regression curve of egg deposition based upon input data which has been shown in our evidence to be flawed puts severe doubt on NRW claiming this as the basis for the proposed byelaws as it shows most rivers as being ‘At Risk’ or ‘Probably at Risk’ of failing to meet their CL in five years’ time.  Forward projection of this regression line is the basis of the NRW Technical case and historically this has been found to be unreliable. 
  6. CPWF analysis[3] of the accuracy of NRW 5 year forward stock status

“predictions” (predictions for the plotted regression line) of Welsh rivers based upon angler catch returns in the four years from 2013 to 2016 shows inaccuracy in catch returns, with only: 41% correct in 2013, 41% correct in 2014, 27% correct in 2015, and 18% correct 2016.  

  • The flaws and subsequent inaccuracy of the present CL model is recognised by NRW and in their rebuttal evidence documents[4] NRW provides a link to a research paper: the ICES Journal of Marine Science, Volume 73, Issue 6, 1 June 2016, Pages 1513–1524 which describes a more accurate methodology for predicting conservation limits (CL).  This paper was first published in March 2016 and was therefore available to NRW prior to the presentation to the NRW Board in January 2018.  Had this revised methodology been presented to the NRW Board in January 2018 it may have persuaded the Board to defer their decision until the revised methodology had been tested.   NRW has recognised a need to review the CL methodology and state that they will be working with the EA and CEFAS on a revised methodology and will review the situation in 5 years once a new methodology is adopted.
  • Counsel for NRW went out of their way to disrupt Mr Ashwin’s evidence claiming that in trying to describe a very complicated statistical model Mr Ashwin was introducing new evidence.  In the same vein the NRW Counsel complained that the Drs O’Hagan and Fop the Dublin consultants independent assessment of the methodology was inadmissible as Mr Ashwin could not provide an engagement letter which clearly advised Drs O’Hagan and Fop that the present CL regression line was based upon Bayesian methodology.  
  • In his oral evidence Mr Barry, a statistician employed by CEFAS, explained that differences in the statistical methodology was just an argument between academics on the most appropriate method and that he personally supported

the present model.  In the O’Hagan and Fop paper[5] they recommend the use of a time-based methodology and in the link to the revised methodology[6] much of what O’Hagan and Fop advocated has been applied. This revised methodology also includes the use of the Monte Carlo simulation used to model the probability of different outcomes in a process that cannot easily be predicted due to the intervention of random variables.  Due to the random variables used in the present methodology NRW plot a graph as a ‘best fit’ based upon a theoretical curve known as a Ricker curve.  This best fit is simply an educated guess which is no basis to introduce legislation let alone use this as an excuse to hide behind a ‘precautionary approach’.

  1. In simple terms the present statistical model is flawed i.e. rubbish-in = rubbishout. This is primarily due to input variables based upon uncertain data with reliance on the assumption that water quality is pristine and that angler rod catch returns are accurate.  The present methodology takes no account of variables such as flood events, pollution, and predation and assumes a split between 1 Sea Winter (1SW) and Multi Sea Winter (MSW) salmon which due to changes in the marine environment is no longer valid.  In his proof of evidence Mr Davidson[7] identifies the shift in run composition from 1SW to MSW salmon and yet this is not, at this time, factored into the calculation of the CL i.e. more eggs are being deposited due to greater numbers of MSW fish returning to our rivers.
  2. The river Dee is a highly modified water course due to the river being used as a conduit to transport water from the Celyn reservoir to pumping stations. The Dee is used as an index river[8] and as such assessments of CL and smolt output are used as benchmarks for other rivers in Wales.  Any errors in the Dee assessment are therefore replicated in all Welsh rivers, Mr Ashwin for CPWF covers this issue in his closing statement.
  3. In the proof of evidence from Mr Gough[9] it is recognised that many migratory fish stocks have been in decline for the past decade (this is not disputed by CPWF) this is despite the response from anglers who have increasingly voluntarily returned the salmon they catch[10].  It should be noted that whilst anglers have responded over the past decade there has been little or no response from NRW or its predecessor agencies in identifying and taking positive action to reverse this decline i.e. NRW and its predecessor agencies have failed in their statutory duty to ‘maintain fisheries’, there has only been reliance on anglers taking action.  NRW now leans heavily on a precautionary approach due to their lack of objective evidence in an attempt to cover up their failings in maintaining fisheries whilst accepting that angler exploitation is not the issue.
  4. In his proof of evidence Mr Gough states that logic indicates that if more fish are saved it will lead to increased spawning resource, leading to the production of greater numbers of juvenile fish.  Whilst this appears to be a logical argument it is not supported by evidence.  
  5. In the NRW evidence[11] there is a table showing the exploitation rate and catch return rate on the Dee between 1992 and 2017.  This table as with several others in the NRW evidence is misleading as the exploitation rate is based upon declared catch returns (fish caught by anglers) and not the exploitation based upon the estimated number of salmon which enter the river.  Recreational angling is not an efficient method of catching migratory fish.  It is estimated that anglers catch between 10% and 15% of salmon which enter our rivers, Mr Davidson (NRW) estimated that this can be as high as 20% in some years.  In my evidence I produced slides[12] to illustrate the core issues, in slide 5 I used data from an NRW spreadsheet showing salmon catch rates during 2016.  From this slide it can be shown that in 2016 the exploitation by anglers assuming anglers catching 15% (the average is more likely 12%) of the total number of salmon which enter Welsh rivers equates to an exploitation of 3% (only 50% of these would be hen fish). In his oral presentation Dr Mawle suggested that exploitation is between 3% and 4% on the river Usk.    On an individual river basis, using the 2016 data, the exploitation rate for each river varies between 1% and 8% i.e. there are more than enough fish surviving to spawn and it is the in-river losses which must be addressed. Whilst anglers can and do assist by voluntary measures in this process, they are not the prime cause of the decline, this is acknowledged by both NRW[13] and CEFAS[14].  I refer you to Fig 1 ‘From Egg to Sea and Back’ in the CPWF evidence (page 7) which demonstrates where the major losses occur. 
  6. Tackling in-river losses which NRW has clearly identified as a major problem would have a far greater effect in reversing the decline in fish stocks.  In her evidence[15] Ms Jenkins claims the ‘All Wales Byelaws’ are intended to preserve vital breeding resources whilst other matters suppressing environmental quality are addressed.  Exploitation of 3% of the spawning stock by anglers is hardly excessive and unlikely to deplete the ‘vital breeding resources’ as at best anglers catch only 15% of returning adults i.e. there are 85% of the ‘vital resource’ untouched.
  7. In her evidence Ms Jenkins held up one of NRW’s evidence documents and I commented that over the past 20 years we have seen many glossy brochures but little or no action.  In her response Ms Jenkins confirmed that actions could only be undertaken given funding and resource from the Welsh Government.  In my cross examination in response to Ms Jenkins introducing recreation and access I asked if under the precautionary approach restrictions would be applied to adventure activity on rivers due to the continual disturbance of spawning fish which has a significant impact on recruitment of juveniles.  I included this in the CPWF evidence[16] as I have been trying to get NRW and its predecessor agency (EA(W)) to protect spawning fish for more than 10 years.  The damage done by disturbance of fish on their spawning grounds has a far greater impact on recruitment than angler exploitation, an issue I addressed at a meeting with the head of inland fisheries for the WG in 2014.  Instead of protecting spawning

sites NRW positively encourages such disturbance due to the inaccurate advice provided on the NRW website.  This advice is based upon the river Wye and is not acceptable on the much smaller spawning streams in North Wales.  There is a perception that the byelaws are more about driving anglers from the whitewater rivers in North Wales to enable greater use by adventure activity companies irrespective of the impact on recruitment of migratory fish.  Should the byelaws be applied against anglers I will insist that under the precautionary approach these are extended to all invasive activity on rivers where migratory fish spawn between November and the end of January the following year.

  1. In the evidence from Mr Vaughan[17] he identifies quite clearly the land management areas which need to be addressed and that the Welsh Government (WG) intends to introduce legislation to address this.  Any legislation via WG will not be until 2020 at the earliest and, even then, there will be a phased implementation.  If as is continually expressed the byelaws respect the ‘precautionary approach’ why is it that agricultural pollution which causes so much damage to the aquatic environment has not been address over the past 20 years? This is despite angling organisations identifying this as a root cause of the decline in fish stocks during this time period.  It seems that it is convenient to use the precautionary approach as an excuse to impose legislation to cover up for the inaction of NRW and its predecessor agencies in addressing the decline in migratory fish stocks for the past 20 years.  
  2. Several times in questioning objectors Sir you referred to a suite of proposed legislation by the Welsh Government which you claimed was to support the byelaw proposals, there is no evidence to support your belief that these proposals are designed to support the byelaws it is just a happy coincidence that they may do.  In your questioning of Dr Marsh-Smith you asked if he was aware of the proposals in Mr Vaughan’s evidence, to which Dr Marsh-Smith replied that the proposed suite of measures was simply ‘aspirational’ and it remains to be seen if these promises are fulfilled.  There is no doubt that reducing agricultural pollution through selective land management legislation will potentially improve recruitment of migratory fish but there is still a long way to go before this is applied and even longer for it to become effective.  This is not a justification to apply a precautionary approach exclusively against anglers who have the least impact on fish stocks.  Put simply anglers are just an ‘easy target’.
  3. Whilst my preference is to voluntarily return all of my salmon, in my oral evidence I explained this is not always possible due to damage or stress when landing a fish resulting in mortality.   Those who voluntarily practice C&R do so with great care to avoid unnecessary harm, the same level of care may not be applied by those forced by legislation to return their fish. Returning a dead fish to the river does nothing to improve the spawning stock.  If it can be irrefutably demonstrated that salmon stocks in a river are on the point of extinction, then rivers should be closed to all salmon fishing although considerable resources would be needed to protect such rivers from poachers.  In cross examination of both Mr Gough and Mr Russell they were both asked if salmon stocks in any river in Wales were on the point of extinction, the answer by both individuals was they were not aware of any river in which salmon were on the point of extinction. They simply point to the CL regression line which predicts that this may happen.  
  4. Mr Barry for CEFAS in his oral evidence used a flip chart to demonstrate the logic behind the precautionary approach whilst accepting that the statistical predictions may not be correct, but it is better to err on the cautious side.  The problem with this approach is the resulting unnecessary economic impact of taking such a course of action.  Each river system is unique and should be assessed at a local level taking all variables into account i.e. droughts/floods/avian predation etc, all of which have a significant impact on migratory fish stocks.
  5. In his proof of evidence[18] Mr Gough identifies that improvements to habitat quality would be more effective if there are improving numbers of spawning fish to take advantage of this.  Full statutory C&R fishing for salmon and sea trout at all times has been in place on the rivers Taff and Wye for the past 7 years with little or no recovery in migratory fish stocks.  There is no evidence that the proposed byelaws will result in the reversal of the decline.   Improvements on the Wye are primarily due to habitat improvements and barrier removal.  
  6. In cross examination of Dr Marsh-Smith[19] by Mr John (an objector) about barrier removal on one of the lower tributaries of the Wye and its effectiveness Dr Marsh-Smith replied that in the first year 5 redds were observed above the barrier which had been removed and year on year more redds had been seen.  A maximum of 33 redds had been recorded on the newly available spawning areas and yet the Wye is still classed as ‘Probably at Risk’ but is predicted to be

‘Not at Risk’ within the next 5 years based upon forward projection of the regression curve.  As well as C&R restrictions the Wye imposed bait restrictions yet neither has resulted in a marked improvement in reversing the decline in migratory fish stocks over the past 20 years and any marginal improvement is more likely to be due to habitat improvement and barrier removal.  The Wye as with other rivers in Wales suffers from agricultural pollution and siltation.  

  • In his evidence Mr Gough states that despite these C&R controls, certain components of salmon stocks and some sea trout have continued to decline i.e. there is no evidence of their effectiveness.  Challenges on the effectiveness of C&R and method restrictions typically elicits the following response from NRW “we don’t know how much worse it would have been if the restrictions had not been applied”, this is merely opinion and not evidence. 
  • It is the decline[20] in the 1SW salmon (grilse) which has skewed the CL on most rivers as many electro fishing sites are predominately those used by 1SW salmon.  The effect of barrier removal above some of the electro fishing reference sites has not been factored in i.e. migratory fish will travel further up the spawning streams once the barriers have been removed making their original spawning sites underused.  Tackling in-river losses, which NRW has clearly identified as a major problem, would have a far greater effect in reversing the decline in fish stocks. 
  • In his proof of evidence Mr Gough concludes that based upon increase in numbers of MSW fish that this provides evidence of the efficacy of C&R and method restrictions.  After 20 years of compulsory C&R under the National

Salmon Regulations, if this was the case, our rivers would not be declared as

‘At Risk’, there is therefore no quantifiable evidence to support this opinion. Mr Gough frequently responded in his oral evidence with the statement ‘We believe’, belief is not evidence it is simply opinion.

  • Whilst there has been an increase in MSW salmon, the reasons behind this are unclear and complex.  I included in my evidence (Slide 18 & Page 27 of my proof of evidence) a graph taken from a presentation by Dr Nigel Milner which shows the variability of salmon catches across 7 North Wales rivers and I postulate that this graph shows the effect of the Irish Drift nets on the decline in salmon numbers in Welsh rivers.  In cross examination of Mr Russell, I asked if removal of in-river nets would have any effect on the numbers of fish available to spawn, he agreed that removal of in-river nets would have an effect.  I then asked why with the nets removed on both the Clwyd and the Dee there had been no improvement in rod catch or for that matter an improvement in the CL.  There was no answer to this.  The Dee historically supported at least 21 netsmen who killed all of the salmon they caught.  At that time anglers would also kill everything they caught and yet the river could support this level of exploitation.  The reasons for the continuing decline in migratory fish stocks have been recognised in the evidence present by NRW and yet, at this time, these issues are not being addressed just more glossy brochures with empty promises.  
  • The byelaws will have no effect in reversing the decline even if the root causes of the decline are addressed.  There is however clear evidence that anglers have responded through voluntary measures which can be further improved upon with co-operation.  NRW are aware of where anglers are not meeting the required 90% release rate.  Rather than invest a fraction of the cost of this inquiry in education and co-operation NRW has chosen a confrontational path and, following the consultation, has ignored the objections and pursued the NRW preferred option in the full and certain knowledge that it will not achieve the desired objective.   
  • In his evidence Mr Randles[21] a netsman who used to operate on the Dee and now operates a licence on the Conwy explains that he had negotiated in the year 2000 with the Dee Fisheries Association for the removal of 21 nets from the river Dee, these nets have not operated since 2008 following a 10 year net limitation order which was extended for a further 10 years in 2018.  Despite the removal of these commercial nets on the Dee there has been no noticeable improvement in the numbers of returning salmon.  There has similarly been no recovery on the Clwyd following the buy-out of nets by the Federation of Clwyd Anglers some 10 years earlier than the Dee. Whilst the Dee as a cross border river is outside the scope of these byelaw proposals (at this time) the evidence from Mr Randles demonstrates that removal of nets has minimal effect on the recovery of fish stocks.  
  • In my cross examination of Mr Russell I asked if the improvements in MSW fish returning to Welsh rivers was linked to the cessation of the Irish drift net fishery,

in response Mr Russell replied that the Irish drift nets mainly caught grilse (1SW fish), whilst this may be true for Irish estuarial drift nets, this may not be the case for Irish high seas drift nets.  The return of reward tags by Irish netsmen taken from salmon which had been tagged at the Maerdy hatchery in North Wales clearly identifies that salmon bound for Welsh rivers were being caught off the coast of Ireland for a period of approximately 20 years.  The exploitation of these salmon coincides with the start of the steep decline in salmon numbers in Welsh rivers.  

  • There is no evidence that every river in Wales is in serious or similar decline.  The use of the regression line (based on estimated egg deposition) to predict a 5 year forward stock assessment has been demonstrated to be flawed.  The survival strategy of salmon accounts for poor spawning conditions and adverse weather events in that parr stay in their spawning streams for 1, 2 or 3 years, similarly adults stay for 1, 2 and 3 winters at sea i.e. there are always adults at sea to maintain the species.  This strategy results in the variability of angler catches as shown in the graph from Dr Nigel Milner used in my evidence.  Given pristine rivers and lower predation salmon stocks could recover quickly.
  • Rivers must be assessed individually as no two rivers are the same.  At the moment there are 10 regional sets of byelaws with rivers having different start and finish dates for fishing[22].  In addition, there are further restrictions which recognise that each river is unique.  Angling clubs and riparian owners recognise these local byelaws and differences in the rules they impose on anglers fishing their waters.  It was claimed by Mr Gough that by introducing an ‘all Wales’ byelaw it would simplify the understanding by anglers as there would be a single set of rules across Wales but this is unconnected to salmon conservation.  Local anglers fully understand the byelaws they have to comply with and the membership of their clubs re-enforce these byelaws in the club rules.  
  • There was some confusion by counsel representing NRW as under cross examination of Mr Woodford, who explained that the fry and parr counts on the Afon Ogwen in 2018 were the highest on record, only to be told that fry and parr counts are not part of the CL assessment.  Whilst this is true in terms of egg deposition, fry and parr counts are used to assess the success of spawning and this is a core part of the NRW Technical case based on the flood damage in 2015 and the poor fry and parr counts in 2016 which could lead to a lack of fish in 2020.  In cross examination of Mr Renwick, Mr Wald for NRW, asked if he was aware that the CL is based upon data from traps, counters and fry and parr counts which contradicts his previous comments.  The high fry and parr counts in 2017 and 2018 indicates that whilst there may be a reduction of adults returning in 2020 this is just a transient as reflected in the graph by Dr Nigel Milner.
  • The objective of the byelaw proposals is to reverse the decline in migratory fish stocks or, as Ms Jenkins says in her evidence,[23] to “preserve vital breeding resources whilst other matters suppressing environmental quality are addressed”.  Even if anglers killed all of the salmon they catch there would still be 85% of the total run of fish available to spawn based upon anglers only catching as much as 15% of the salmon which enter a river, the likelihood is that it is less.  NRW accept that anglers are not the problem.  Therefore, it appears the only justification for imposing these draconian measures against anglers is so that NRW can be seen to be doing something using the precautionary approach as an excuse, and to distract from the fact that NRW and its predecessor agencies have failed in their statutory duties to maintain migratory fish stocks for more than 20 years.  As Ms Jenkins eludes, this is just a stop gap measure “whilst other matters suppressing environmental quality are addressed”.  These “other matters” have been known to NRW and its predecessor agencies for more than 20 years and yet it is only now that they propose to take any action to address the root cause following a complaint to the EU by Afonydd Cymru i.e. the WG proposals are not in support of the proposed byelaws as they postdate the NRW 2015 Technical Case, it is simply convenient to claim they are in support of the proposals.
  • It is possible to restock rivers which have been affected by pollution events or flood damage.  The argument against stocking is due to the theory that this dilutes the gene pool.  There are very few, if any, rivers in Wales which have not been stocked with fish from other rivers.  In addition, salmon and sea trout frequently wander between river systems, radio tracking and tagging demonstrates this with one fish from a Canadian hatchery reportedly caught in the River Tyne and it is this characteristic that has repopulated rivers like the Taff and Mersey.  Whilst it is true to say that fish adapt to their environment there are many research papers which show that within three spawning cycles the off-spring have adapted to their river conditions.  Those that don’t will then fail to spawn.
  • In their evidence[24] NRW refers to regulations in other UK jurisdictions, what this Annex fails to describe is that in Scotland rivers are reviewed and assessed on an annual basis, working with riparian owners and Local Fishery Boards to ensure that accurate catch returns are recorded.  This enables rapid response to changes in stock status.  NRW has rejected working closely with local angling clubs in favour of heavy-handed legislation using the precautionary approach as an excuse.  Working with local anglers would arguably achieve an equal or better outcome than legislation that is unenforceable due to lack of resource.
  • In Mr Gough’s rebuttal evidence[25] with reference to enforcement he includes a histogram which indicates the decline in reported incidents of poaching; this graph was part of a presentation by the head of enforcement at the fisheries forum in October 2018.  In my evidence I included a second slide from the presentation by the head of enforcement for NRW (slide 37 in my presentation) and drew attention to the black triangles which show reports which are considered, according to the legend, to be ‘Not Significant’.  Each of those black triangles on the Conwy system is a report of poaching activity, poachers on the Conwy and other North Wales rivers kill far more salmon than all the anglers who fish the Conwy and yet according to NRW these incidents are not considered as significant.  Therefore few anglers report poaching incidents as there is rarely any response and, even if there is, it is an after-event response i.e. after the poachers have removed the salmon or sea trout.  NRW has said in its NASCO assessment that if the byelaws are implemented they will make enforcement of byelaws a priority, damage from poachers on the other hand are apparently treated as insignificant.
  • Potentially the quickest way to reverse the decline in migratory fish stocks would be to control avian predation and, whilst this is touched upon in the NRW

Technical Case,[26] there is no estimate given on the losses to fish eating birds (FEB’s).  On the Conwy system, based upon a count of FEB’s (Goosanders) over one year i.e. January to December, we estimate that we lose approximately 50,000 parr/smolt per year based on each of the FEBs eating 440gm of fish per day.  In his proof of evidence Mr Renwick[27] on Page 5 asks ‘where is the test bed river’? This is something I had explored some 10 years ago with the previous agency (EA(W)) local fisheries management team as in research from a Canadian East Coast river there was clear evidence that controlling FEBs made a significant improvement to the numbers of returning adults by enabling more smolts to reach the sea.  Fish stocks cannot recover where there is excessive exploitation by FEBs i.e. increasing recruitment of juvenile fish without effective FEB controls in place will just see more FEBs on the river as there will be a greater food source.

  • In my evidence I refer to the test for proportionality under UK Administrative Law[28] before byelaws are approved.  It is clear from the evidence presented to the inquiry that the imposition of the byelaws will not achieve the objective of reversing the decline in migratory fish stocks, even if the proposed WG legislation on land management is enacted and, even if enacted, this proposed land management legislation will not be for several years. If a precautionary approach is to be implemented against anglers then the same should be applied to agricultural pollution.
  • By pursuing legislation NRW has dismissed working with its stakeholders who have repeatedly demonstrated that they are willing to adopt effective voluntary measures.  It is interesting to read the sanitised minutes for Local Fishery Groups (LFG) meetings.  The sanitising of these minutes means that they are not a true reflection of what has been said at the meeting i.e. much of the, at times vociferous, criticism of the NRW has been filtered out.  In my presentation slides (slide 15) I included a copy of the minutes for the Dee LFG and you will see that by voluntary measures Corwen & District Anglers went from 48% C&R in 2011 to 94% in 2017, my own club varies between 98% and 100% C&R the variation being due to fish mortality and not the deliberate taking of fish.  The days when the majority salmon anglers kill everything they catch is very much a thing of the past.
  • Both Mr Eardley and I are members of the Clwyd, Conwy & Gwynedd Rivers Trust (Mr Eardley is Secretary.  I am vice Chairman and Treasurer).  The project work we undertake and the funding we receive for these projects are subject to match funding and to achieve this we rely heavily on voluntary labour which is mainly from angling clubs and riparian owners.  It remains to be seen what happens if these draconian measures are implemented but the general feeling of stakeholders is, they will not in the future carry out work which they consider NRW should be doing.
  • In cross examination of Mr Nicholson, he was asked by Mr Wald where the reference to Mr Russell (CEFAS) stated that he had taken the evidence on ‘face value’.  This can be found in NRW/4b Appendix 1 Page 1 last paragraph which says “However, these documents largely contained tables and figures (N.B. I have taken the raw data provided in these documents at face value), so the few comments I have on these documents have also been listed below”.  It was therefore clear that Mr Russell had not challenged the accuracy of the data he was provided.
  • In the oral presentation from the netsmen they supported the fact that the decline in fish stocks has been due to poaching, pollution and predation with in their opinion the greatest effect being due to pollution.  There was also reference to effect of the Irish high seas netting as identified in the graph from Dr Nigel Milner and that they were now seeing more MSW fish.
  • There is an opportunity to work co-operatively with NRW as we have extremely good relations with our local NRW fisheries officers.  Mr Eardley has covered how this would work in his closing statement which I fully support.
  • It only remains for me to thank the inspector for the patience shown due our lack of understanding in how an inquiry of this type is run.

Chris White

Conservation Officer: Campaign for the protection of Welsh fisheries

6 March 2018


[1] Ref WW/1

CPWF has the support of freshwater and sea anglers in Wales.

Visit our website at www.cpwf.co.uk

[2] Ref CPWF/2 (pages 29 & 30)

[3] Ref CPWF/2 (page 18)

[4] Ref NRW/2R/C

[5] CPWF/2 Pages 50 to 56

[6] Ref NRW/2R/C

[7] NRW/2 page 13 Para 3.21 & 3.22

[8] CPWF/2 Page 13

[9] Ref NRW/1 9.13, 9.14, 9.24, 9.25, 9.26

[10] CPWF/2 page 25

[11] NRW/8C

[12] CPWF/INQ/5

[13] NRW/4 Page 11 P 5.8

[14] NRW/4b Appendix1 Par 7

[15] NRW/5 Par 2.3

[16] CPWF/2 Enforcement Page 38

[17] NRW/6

[18] Ref NRW/1 9.13, 9.14, 9.24, 9.25, 9.26

[19] AAC/2

[20] App/4 Technical case P18 Para 4

[21] TR/INQ/1

[22] APP/4.7

[23] NRW/5 

[24] APP/4.8 Annex 8 Par 1.2

[25] NRW/1R Fig 5 Page 13

[26] APP/4 Page 77 Para 5.6

[27] AR/1

[28] CPWF/2 Page 6

CAMPAIGN FINAL SUBMISSION BY John Eardley our Strategy Officer

THE WALES ROD AND LINE (SALMON AND SEA TROUT) BYELAWS 2017

THE WALES NET FISHING (SALMON AND SEA TROUT) BYELAWS 2017

CLOSING SUBMISSION

of

JOHN EARDLEY

Strategy Officer – Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries

I am regarded by those who know me as a mild mannered, modest man, someone who will always give a carefully considered response and who during his working life was proud to be regarded by senior colleagues as “the voice of reason”. Today however I make my closing submission as an angry, frustrated and disillusioned man.

For someone who has always endeavoured to work alongside both NRW and its predecessors, it is that refusal to work with stakeholders in order to arrive at a voluntary solution that is central to my feelings.

NRW may profess that it “aims to deliver widespread and positive partnership working” but at the moment those are very hollow words indeed for most of us in the angling community.

Whilst I referred in the main to the Afon Mawddach and Afon Wnion in Gwynedd in presenting my evidence, my concerns are common to many other rivers in Wales and can be summarised as follows:

  1. The data used by NRW, EA and CEFAS to produce their Salmon Stock Assessments is not reliable and does not reflect the observations of those who spend time on the river
  1. There has been a huge decline in angling effort. Official figures, (EA Wales) indicate a fall of 72.6% on the Afon Mawddach between 1995 and 2009. 75% of anglers participating in a recent survey felt that there had been a further fall of 50% – 75% during the last 5 years. The suggestion that 10% to 15% of the salmon in the river are caught by anglers, when so few are actually fishing, is an estimate that is so wide of the mark that it completely skews the resulting classification.
  • To use a heavily regulated river such as the Dee, to inform the migration pattern of any spate river does not reflect reality (P5 CPWF/INQ/6). Run patterns are complex and increasingly either out of season, or at a time when method restrictions and/or local conservation rules mean that salmon are unlikely to be caught on rod and line. The reported rod catch cannot lead to an accurate assessment of a river’s stock status and it should be noted that NRW had been made aware of this back in November 2014 (P6 CPWF/INQ/6).
  • Underreporting by anglers (49.5% on the Afon Dyfi in 2017) further skews the model and recent adjustments have not reflected changes in the real world.
  • No matter how sophisticated the statistical model it can only produce an “estimate” of the number of eggs deposited in a river. It is the actual number of juveniles that are present in our streams and rivers that shows reality (see C3 Below).
  • Is it necessary for every salmon caught by anglers in Welsh rivers to be returned if the species is to survive?
  1. In many rivers the answer is a very clear no. The picture across Wales is not one of universal decline. 8 of the Principal Salmon Rivers in Wales show a year on year improvement in the 3 years 2015 – 2017. 4 of those rivers have exceeded their Conservation Limit in each of the last 3 years with 3 rivers achieving more than 200% of their CL in 2017. NRW claimed that due to poor fry and parr counts in 2015/6 the effects will be seen in 2020 i.e. years later.  This is based upon the regression line projected forward by 5 years. 
  • The comparison of catch returns from the 1950’s to current times for the River Tyne (P11 CPWF/INQ/6) supports the view that rivers can recover from dire circumstances without introducing Mandatory Catch Controls.
  • In his Proof of Evidence (Appendix F Ps 69& 70 CPWF/2),  Laurence Hutchinson, an expert in the field of Aquatic Ecology states that removing fish from a river will take pressure off that river and give juveniles a greater chance of survival. In short each stream has a “carrying capacity” and, no matter how many salmon spawn, the number of juveniles in a stream cannot exceed its carrying capacity.  It’s not the number of spawning fish which is the issue it is the number which survive from egg to smolts reaching the sea (CPWF/2 Fig 1 Page 7).
  • Given good habitat, and proper management of avian predation, a small number of adult salmon can easily produce enough juveniles to populate a stream. It simply is not necessary, particularly on those Welsh rivers that are regularly meeting or exceeding their Conservation Limits, for every salmon to be returned to the river in order for the species to survive.
  • What is absolutely crucial to the restoration of our stocks of migratory fish is ensuring that losses arising from avian predation and agricultural pollution are addressed as a matter of urgency. The Atlantic Salmon Trust’s “Missing Salmon Project” emphasises the need to “prioritise the causes for mortality”. Angling is not a priority, in fact it doesn’t even feature on their list!!!
  • Both Dr Mawle (P8 GM1) “The byelaws are therefore unlikely to achieve very much on their own to protect and improve the stock”, and Ian Russell (P11 NRW4) “the proposed measures will thus result in relatively modest increases in spawner numbers”, hardly make a compelling case for a mandatory solution, particularly on those rivers which are routinely exceeding their Conservation Limits
  • Are rivers in Wales faring worse than those English counterparts who have been offered a voluntary solution?
  1. In short, no. Whilst there may be a greater %age of rivers in Wales that are classified as “Probably at Risk” or “At Risk” than in England, the picture in Wales is not one of universal decline based upon a questionable methodology and the use of a forward projection of a regression line (as previously stated in B1 above).
  • The comparison of %age of Conservation Limit attained for 4 Welsh and 4 English rivers (P35 CPWF/INQ/6) clearly demonstrates that the 4 Welsh rivers are performing slightly better than their English counterparts. However those English in question are being offered the chance of a voluntary solution whilst in Wales the “Precautionary Principle” is cited as a reason to deny Welsh anglers a similar opportunity.
  • The Information from the January 2019 NRW Fisheries Bulletin (P22 CPWF/INQ/6) clearly demonstrates that a number of rivers in North Wales are currently faring very well from a juvenile perspective. Indeed the results from the Mawddach and Wnion are described as “the best on record” with NRW adding that “Spawning would also have had to be successful to get such high densities”.
  • Are the proposed byelaws enforceable?
  1. One of the risks highlighted by NRW in their initial discussion with their board back in July 2015 was the “Potential need to re-direct or increase fisheries enforcement resources to enforce any new regulation”.
  • At the Gwynedd LFAG on 5.12.18 we were told that the current 16.25 FTE Enforcement Officers will be re-organised into 10 teams (P46 CPWF/INQ/6)
  • Fewer anglers on the riverbank will result in less of a deterrent to illegal activity and reduced intelligence to inform the already understaffed enforcement team. This is being exacerbated by the alienation of anglers as a result of the current stance of NRW regarding the byelaw proposals
  • The statement “we hope that anglers will continue to phone in with intelligence” highlights concerns within NRW that a lack of intelligence may well prove to be more and more of an issue in the future.
  • In short without a meaningful partnership between NRW and angling stakeholders, the proposed byelaws cannot be effectively policed. The losses from poaching are potentially far greater than any marginal gains that may be achieved through imposing legislation on law abiding legitimate anglers and we are therefore likely to see greater loss of spawning stock.
  • Will “any decline in uptake of fishing be small and transient”?
  1. The reaction of anglers to Mandatory Catch & Release is complex. There are many anglers who struggle to justify the actions of hooking, playing and landing a fish which they know that they will have to return to the river and their reaction becomes one of “I’d rather leave them alone”. For others this is less of a problem.
  • However we all know that unless we stop fishing altogether, eventually our actions will result in the death of a fish.  To return it to the river dead in those circumstances makes no sense whatsoever as it will not contribute to the spawning stock.
  • Having the “option” of being able to retain a fish, even though the reality is that many anglers will not exercise that option, is what enables us to minimise both the reduction in membership of angling clubs and the threat posed by greater losses from illegal activity when fewer anglers are actually on our rivers.
  • The evidence from both angling clubs in North Wales and our colleagues on the Border Esk, a rural community with many similarities to parts of Wales suggests a much greater impact than that predicted by NRW (P37 & 38 CPWF/INQ/6)
  • Whilst we have highlighted the obvious risks to fragile rural economies posed by a decline in angling tourism, the impact on angler participation in working parties gives great cause for concern when it comes to habitat improvement work and river restoration plans
  • Do the proposed byelaws offer a proportional solution?
  1. No. As previously highlighted there is a considerable variation in the status of salmon stocks across Wales and on that basis a one size fits all response is not appropriate.
  • The precautionary principle appears to be used as justification for not offering a Voluntary Solution as a first course of action for “Probably at Risk” in Wales. Whilst the Proposed Byelaws are ultimately a matter for Welsh Government, we cannot see why Wales would wish to take a harder line than that being taken in England, particularly when the EA and NRW work collaboratively with CEFAS on their salmon stock assessments.
  • Angling Clubs and Organisations across Wales have worked hard to achieve a voluntary return rate of 86% in 2017. On the Mawddach & Wnion the voluntary figure achieved in 2017 was 86.5% with a negligible contribution from the pre 16th June mandatory period. At this point, the introduction of Mandatory Catch & Release cannot realise any worthwhile benefits, particularly as an increase in illegal activity will result in greater losses.
  • To introduce mandatory measures for a 10 year period, particularly when stock levels are so variable and are currently showing a 3 year improvement in many rivers, is to introduce a life sentence which extinguishes all hope for many of anglers, particularly those who are past retirement age
  • By its failure to engage with angling stakeholders in developing the proposed byelaws, as acknowledged by both the NRW Board and Executive at the January 2018 Board Meeting, it is hard to see where any support will come from within the angling community to help NRW achieve its objectives. Events during the last 12 months have further exacerbated the situation.
  • Without a workable partnership between NRW and angling stakeholders the current proposals are unworkable. That lack of cooperation is a simple human reaction to repeated rejection and not the “threat” suggested during discussions within this Inquiry.
  • Is there a better way forward?
  1. Yes. There is a voluntary solution available, building on the format of the now defunct “fisheries surgeries” and working on an individual river basis, which offers a far more “resilient” and “sustainable” option to address the current situation. (P52 CPWF/INQ/6). This was put to NRW as an alternative approach as long ago as June 2016 but, despite being acknowledged as having “real merit” and receiving “very positive comments”, was rejected in the seemingly relentless pursuit of a legislative solution. Such a pragmatic and imaginative approach to what is undoubtedly a complex problem can help us avoid an unintended legacy that will last long after current employees have retired and my generation have hung up their rods for the last time.
  • Let us not forget that it is education, co-operation, empowerment and partnership which has seen Voluntary Return Rates rise year on year to an all-time high of 86% across Wales (P54 CPWF/INQ/6).  Does a 21st century democracy really wish to turn its back on those values which have brought us so far, in the pursuit of  an autocratic solution which alienates those very stakeholders whose knowledge of their own rivers is so necessary for their recovery?
  • There is an exciting opportunity here to build a better future for rivers and migratory fish stocks in Wales. We as anglers want to work in partnership with NRW, not in the constant opposition that we have been forced into.
  • As anglers with a vested interest in the future of our rivers we can but hope that the outcome of this Inquiry is to take us down the first steps towards a collaborative solution which secures the best possible future for our rivers, our stocks of migratory fish and the angling clubs and rural tourism which healthy rivers support

John Eardley

Strategy Officer – Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries

Gwynedd Local Fisheries Advisory Group Representative – Prince Albert Angling Society

Secretary – Clwyd, Conwy & Gwynedd Rivers Trust