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

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