Formal Complaint raised by NWATFCC & LWFA with presentation and reporting of River Lune stock assessment and use of Lune Index counter data

North West Angling Trust Fisheries Consultative Council

part of the Angling Trust and AT North West Freshwater Forum

6th December 2020

Sharon Kennedy, EA Environment Manager Cumbria, Keith Ashcroft, EA Director Cumbria & Lancashire,

Brian Shields, Simon Toms, Lawrence Talks, Heidi Stone EA Dr Alan Walker, Cefas Senior Scientific Officer

Mark Owen, Angling Trust

Andy Hurst & John Whitham, NWATFCC

Vic Price, Alan Edny & Brian James, L&WFA & LDAA

Formal Complaint raised by NWATFCC & LWFA with presentation and reporting of River Lune stock assessment and use of Lune Index counter data

Dear Sharon,

Further to registering our initial Formal Complaint letter of the 28th August and our later conversations over your wish that this might be dealt with as part of the EA – Response to Representations in the Lune consultation process we confirm these serious concerns have not been managed or explained in EA responses and ask that the Formal Complaint is now progressed.

NWATFCC & LWFA has consistently warned the EA of serious errors and incorrect interpretation in use of Lune Index data in stock estimates and assessments in the NLO & Byelaw Consultation.

There is no recourse for NWATFCC & LWFA to respond to incorrect statements or interpretation made by EA advisors in the final Response to Representation, without a Public Inquiry or Judicial Review. That is a wholly unsatisfactory and costly process and has resulted in our decision to raise this Complaint.

We request your national Salmonid Fisheries team answer the key and significant issues outstanding and take appropriate steps to consider whether you can recommend the proposed NLO & Byelaw measures to the Minister. We have formally written to the EA on a number of occasions this year and latterly the Defra Minister asking for the Consultation to be suspended so that a proper review and recalculation of the Lune historic estimates takes place and revised assessment and stock status published. Again we recommend that interim voluntary measures are agreed with LWFA & NWATFCC Officers in the event that the national RER and stock reviews remain inconclusive.

NWATFCC provide a short summary of the key issues arising for this complaint

  • Invalid EA assumption and premise that the historic Lune counter data and comparative rod catch based egg deposition spawning stock assessments are independent and that their pre 2015 close correlation makes use of post 2014 rod based catch assessments reliable.

The EA Fisheries specialist in the Lune Consultation Response to Representations and presumably the same person in the Byelaw Review makes the claim that the pre 2015 Lune counter data egg deposition estimates and rod catch based egg deposition estimates are independent of each other and so closely correlated over the years 1996 – 2014 (page 28 Fig 2.15 of the Review document) that this makes the rod catch data in the 2015 – 18 “reliable to use for estimating stock”, even after applying an average rod exploitation rate in those years. Page 28 states:

Importantly, the two methods consistently produce near identical assessments. The reliance solely on the rod-catch assessment method since 2015 can therefore be considered a sufficiently robust description of the stock, in the absence of the counter data.

In fact anyone observing the correlation in Fig 2.15 in each of the years 1996 – 2014 would find them so closely correlated to be wholly improbable they are independent of each other.

The fact is that the rod and counter egg deposition estimates ARE NOT independent of each other. Rod based egg deposition spawning estimates are actually derived using the annual rod exploitation factor estimate in each year, which IS DEPENDENT on the direct calculation between annual rod catch and counter numbers. They are by definition DEPENDENT estimates.

It is therefore NOT reliable to use the reported 2015 -18 rod catch using a constant average RER. That is the reason a national review of RER is underway with the purpose of introducing annually revising RER`s for individual Rivers. It is also the reason for the NWATFCC Formal Complaint and Parliamentary Ombudsman case concerning the EA`s policy in the NW to apply fixed RER`s and in the case of the River Eden the same RER for 20 years.

•             Unexplained divergence in historic Age-Weight table applications

The EA explained in their February 2020 Consultation Review document that their original incorrect Age – Weight table calculations were corrected in Lune estimates prior to release of this Consultation Review document as referred to on page 28. Even up to the last month before release we were notifying the EA of corrections that had to be made and that the unusual and wide annual divergence between individual NW Rivers and the national average (affecting 1SW/MSW proportions and their vastly different female proportions).

NWATFCC highlighted this as a major cause of concern in Lune estimates historically and the reason why the Consultation process should be delayed.

There is no explanation or attention given to 1SW /MSW proportions and their female proportions in either the Consultation Review document or Response to Representations when this has been the biggest factor in altered runs and stock estimates. Neither has there been any explanation provided as to how these table values vary from River to River or where they are derived from. In the Box 1 E & W Index River Policy document (attached) the Age – Weight values applied to individual rivers are derived from Index River outputs. Is this the Lune, the Welsh Dee, Tamar or Tyne. Whichever it is this does not explain the low River Lune & NW Age – Weight values applied which do make a significant difference to the final year estimates.

•             Multiple and significant error in use of rod exploitation rate RER estimates in post 2014 Lune annual egg deposition estimates

The EA explain that in the 5 years since 2014 when the Lune counter was malfunctioning or out of action, using a 5 year historic Lune “average” of 13% was appropriate and provided reliable rod catch based egg deposition estimates.

We refute this completely. This is the substance of the NWATFCC Formal Complaint to the EA re the Solway Byelaw – River Eden RER (unchanged at average 20% RER since 2000) and other NW river RER`s remaining unchanged and also the reason for the national RER review which we were advised by the EA would influence and inform 2018 & 2019 estimates. This review has not concluded, is a year and a half overdue and has not addressed 2018 & 2019 estimates.

Further, the EA applied the 13% RER in 2018, a year when rod catches were acknowledged to be severely impacted by drought and low fishing effort and the two remaining operational Index River counters (Dee & Tamar) reported a fall of 50% RER on 2017. NWATFCC & LWFA warned of this and referred to EA data showing the significant decline in rod effort on the Lune & other NW rivers.

The EA compared this to the Fowey & Teifi counter rivers where RER was claimed to have not been changed in 2018.This is not the case and the national exploitation reports for these years on these smaller salmon rivers show that both had significant and changed RER in 2017, 2018 & 2019.

Further the EA advisors in the Response to Representation state that the NWATFCC & LWFA claim that the actual “average 13% RER” for the Lune in those 2015 – 2018 rod catch years, when applied in year estimates using the actual different proportions of 1SW/MSW stocks demonstrated a higher than 13% average was applied, did not make “mathematical sense”.

We recommend the advisors or specialists undertake the simple calculation and confirm for themselves that the mathematics do agree with the estimates we provided and actually do make sense.

•             Unexplained error in 6th August published 2019 Assessments (2016 as 48% CL attainment)

This is self explanatory and a correction and explanation is requested as to how errors of this kind and magnitude suddenly appear in historic tables? More importantly does this make the 2019 Lune Formal Compliance 5 year forward in 2024 incorrect ?

•             Use of Index Lune Forge weir & Hydro data – its Validation, efficiency and hydro operation

The Lune Forge Weir is a nationally important Index facility. It has not reported validated data for five years due to outage, storm damage and construction of the adjacent Hydro with secondary fish pass. We understand the Hydro counter still requires validation. That is an unacceptable and ongoing state of affairs in a region where other validated and important counter facilities have been withdrawn.

The only outputs provided to Lune fisheries and anglers historically are individual month counts in months when the counters are operational. A wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs when you compare this to counter & trap data and detailed annual reports provided by the Index Welsh Dee and other SW counter rivers.

The Box 1 Index Policy statement (attached) Point 7 for the four E & W Rivers – Lune, Tyne, Tamar & Welsh Dee states that outputs and interpretation and application of Index data will be used for estimating egg deposition as part of Conservation Limit Compliance procedures.

Text Box: 7. To supply information to support Environment Agency R&D/Science and the application of fisheries modelling and assessment methods; including:

•	Initiatives to develop ‘Biological Reference Points’ (BRPs) for sea trout
•	Provision and analysis of stock and recruitment data to improve current SAP methods
•	Production of annual age-weight and rod exploitation data for input into generic models for estimating egg deposition as part of Conservation Limit compliance procedures.

The River Lune is a compromised Index facility that is not producing input to other NW Rivers to revise and influence updated Age -Weight and rod exploitation rate data, yet we are informed this is reliable data on which River Lune 10 year mandatory measures must be applied.

Thank you for your attention in these matters and we look forward to confirmation of the EA Complaint procedures.

With regards,

Mike Ashwin, Chair NWATFCC

Andy Hurst, Chair LWFA and V. Chair NWATFCC

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