Letter of appeal to First Minister

25 July 2019

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

Dear Minister,

On behalf of the 21 Welsh fishing clubs which I represented at the inquiry and all those who presented on behalf of CPWF I wish to appeal your decision to impose the fisheries byelaws on all Welsh rivers. 

The decision structure used by NRW to justify the byelaws was based upon poor fry and parr counts in 2015 following severe flood events which depressed the recruitment of migratory fish in many UK rivers, not just in Wales.  Since 2015 there has been a marked improvement in migratory fish recruitment however the poor results in 2015 skewed the statistical analysis indicating, via a Bayesian regression line, that most rivers would be ‘at risk’ in 2019/20 whereas runs of salmon and sea trout in 2019 have been above average on many rivers in Wales. 

You base your decision upon the inspector’s opinion that the byelaws are necessary, proportionate and reasonable I have the following comments:

  1. Byelaws are necessary

There is no dispute that migratory fish stocks in most UK rivers have declined over the past 40 years but the proposed byelaws will do little or nothing to reverse this decline, this is accepted in the NRW Technical Case and is clearly identified in the inspectors report at 698:

“NRW accept there is a range of factors that contribute to the decline of salmon and sea trout and recognise that anglers are not primarily responsible. However, due to the severity of the depletion of the stocks, the killing of fish is unsustainable and contributes to the problem. It is only reasonable therefore that anglers and netsmen play their part in the solution.”

As stated above the NRW data is based upon the 2015 poor fry and parr counts due to flood events, there is a natural variability of migratory fish recruitment depending on water conditions, 2018 fry and parr counts have been the highest on record for several years demonstrating this natural variability. 

For our part anglers have over the past 20 years or so voluntarily returned an ever increasing proportion of the salmon they catch.  Pan Wales in 2017 this voluntary catch and release resulted in 86% of salmon being returned and is still improving.   The opinion of the inspector is that the need for legislation is essentially to address the 12% of the anglers catching any salmon who killed them during 2017 and emotively the inspector infers that these anglers kill every fish they catch.  The reality is that 75% of the 12% of anglers who killed a salmon only caught one salmon.  The NRW data shows that in Wales during 2017 only eight anglers reported killing more than two salmon – this is hardly excessive and hardly depletes the stock of salmon bearing in mind that anglers, at most, only catch 20% of the salmon which enter a river i.e. there are 80% left to spawn even if every angler caught fish was killed.  As I explained at the inquiry it is the survival from egg to smolts reaching the sea which is the main issue, the inspector makes no reference to this and it is ignored in his report.  The in-river losses are primarily due to pollution events, avian predation and flood/climatic conditions none of which have been adequately addressed or acknowledge in the inspector’s report other than claiming that NRW has proposed a suite of land management measures which may or may not address the issue, if and when they are implemented.

Evidence from byelaws which were introduced on the Wye in 1995 restricting the use of bait, followed in 1998 with a National Byelaw with compulsory Catch & Release for spring salmon up to the 16 June and a total ban on killing salmon from 2012 onwards has seen little or no reversal in the decline of migratory fish, in fact the Wye 2018 catch was less than 50% of the 5 year average and 2019 looks similar.   

The National Spring byelaw was imposed for a period of 10 years, this was extended for a further 10 years until 2018 and has recently been extended for a further period of 10 years until 2028.  The spring byelaws and those on the Wye indicate that method restrictions and catch and release have not worked over the past 20 + years and yet NRW considers method restrictions and catch and release to be appropriate even though it can be shown that this approach is not working. 

The byelaws do not address the root cause of the decline in migratory fish stocks; they are simply a way of diverting attention away for the root cause and the failure over the past 30 + years to address this.  Anglers are just being used as a scapegoat despite the majority of salmon anglers voluntarily returning all of their fish.  The inspector claims that catch and release is just a philosophical issue as the majority are already practicing this and mandatory catch and release is to level the playing field of the minority who kill salmon.  Catch and release is not the major issue it is the imposition of method restrictions which will effectively prevent fishing on small spate rivers in Wales. 

To date there has been little or no action by the various predecessor agencies or NRW to identify and take steps to reverse this decline despite a statutory duty to maintain, improve and develop fisheries.  The lack of positive action has primarily been due to budget cuts to fisheries work over many years.

The claim at the inquiry that a suite of land management measures to improve the environment i.e. proposed agricultural pollution legislation, is in support of the byelaws is not true, it is just a happy coincidence.  The land management reforms came about due to the pressure on the Welsh Government by Afonydd Cymru some three years after the NRW byelaw proposals were published.  The proposed byelaws were, at that time, ‘standalone’ based on the NRW Technical Case using data from poor fry and parr counts following several years of significant flood events which depressed migratory fish recruitment.  Had pressure not been put on the Welsh Government nothing would have been done to address one of the major contributors (agricultural pollution) to the decline in migratory fish stocks.  It is just convenient to claim these agricultural pollution controls are in support of the byelaws it remains to be seen if the proposals will be implemented let alone have any effect. 

  • Byelaws are proportionate

In terms of proportionality there are probably only four rivers that are at significant risk due to decline in migratory fish numbers i.e. Tywi, Teifi, Taff and Ely.  In the case of the Tywi and Teifi a significant cause of the decline is agricultural pollution.  The Taff and Ely are in decline due to the effect of the Cardiff Bay barrage. 

It cannot be judged proportionate to apply the same restrictions to at least three rivers which achieved more than 200% of their Conservation Limit (CL) in 2017 to two rivers which achieved less than 10% of their CL during the same year.  We argued at the inquiry that each river should be addressed on an annual basis as happens in Scotland.

The NASCO policy is that all monitored salmon rivers and their conservation action measures are defined by each rivers ‘Risk Classification’ status. This requires rivers declared as ”At Risk” and “Probably at Risk” to request that rod fisheries meet a target for catch and release of 90% by voluntary means  in their first year. Only where these targets are not met should mandatory measures be considered and deployed.   There is clear evidence of many rivers in Wales reaching or exceeding this 90% voluntary catch and release target and many are in the high 80% i.e. heading in the right direction by voluntary means.  There are also indications that the fry and parr counts in several rivers since 2015 have been improving as there have been few flood events to depress recruitment.

The inspector has completely dismissed all the objectors concerns despite the overwhelming evidence that the byelaws will not reverse the decline.  This is what the inspector reported at 695 in his report which demonstrate his dismissive attitude of our genuine concerns:

“The proposed byelaws solution to the decline in fish stocks included mandatory C&R, method restrictions, bait bans/restrictions, slot limit, and seasonal restrictions. There was no convincing arguments that the raft of measures contained within the proposed byelaws were not appropriate, reasonable and proportionate.”

It is disproportionate to apply regulations on anglers and yet positively encourage adventure activity over spawning grounds between November to the end of December.  The continual disturbance of spawning fish by paddlesport causes more damage to recruitment than an angler taking an occasional salmon.  If the fish are driven from their spawning site they cannot spawn and there will be no fish in the river.  The RSPB would not tolerate the continual disturbance of nesting birds even when they are not in decline and yet NRW positively encourages such disturbance through the information they provide on their website.  Whilst the advice may be applicable on some sections on large rivers such as the Wye/Severn/Dee this is not the case on most small spate rivers or over known spawning sites.  There is a closed season for fishing for a good reason i.e. to enable fish to spawn in peace.  If the precautionary principle is to be applied to anglers then the same must also be applied to paddlesport.  This is something I have been trying to get under control on our North Wales rivers for more than 10 years.  Whilst disturbance of spawning fish is an offence under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act it has to be proved that the disturbance is done ‘knowingly’ i.e. with mental intent.  The advice given to paddlesport enthusiasts on the NRW website ensures that disturbance is not done ‘knowingly’ and therefore it is difficult to prosecute.  There have however been successful prosecutions of paddlesport enthusiast in the past. 

At 698 in the report the inspector makes the following statement: “…It is only reasonable therefore that anglers and netsmen play their part in the solution.” The UK Government (this includes Wales and Scotland) agreed with NASCO to remove all netting of migratory fish by 2020 and whilst netsmen fish on a commercial basis killing their catch this does not apply to recreational fishermen.  It seems that in order to remove the nets NRW is prepared to penalise anglers simply to demonstrate proportionality.  The removal of the nets on the Clwyd some 20 years ago and the Dee some 10 years ago has seen no improvement in migratory fish stocks and a continuing decline in the conservation limits on both rivers. 

  • Byelaws are reasonable

It is not reasonable to impose method restrictions on Mid, South West and North Wales rivers which are traditionally fished with bait as alternative methods are unsuitable due to the nature of the rivers.  Implementation of these byelaws will effectively close many of the fishing clubs in Mid, South West and North Wales as they have for generations been primarily fished with bait and are not generally suitable for other fishing methods. 

There is much talk in the Welsh Government of the rich heritage in Wales and yet you are prepared to preside over closure of local community fishing clubs.  These local fishing clubs provide a way of engaging young and old alike which meets The Well Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 however due to your decision the opportunity to fish in their local rivers will now be removed from many of these communities. 

It is clear in the inspector’s report that he has simply taken note of NRW’s claims that these communities can take up ‘coarse fishing’ (at Para 245 and 626).  Except for the three major cross border rivers there are no coarse fishing opportunities in the small spate rivers of Mid, South West and North Wales.   It was interesting to note that the inspector refers to the byelaws reducing the mortality of Twaite and [Allis] Shad (at Para 19 iv). These fish are rarely found in any Welsh rivers other than in the Wye. 

During the inquiry I had requested that the inspector visit North and Mid Wales rivers during the recess in order to see the differences in rivers and the way they are fished in order to fully understand our objections, this was refused without explanation.  It would be normal under a planning appeal for the inspector to make a site visit to understand objectors’ concerns.

As mentioned in 2 above there is an urgent need to protect spawning fish from disturbance by paddlesport and other invasive activities.  To impose restrictions on anglers and ignore the damage done by other river users is unreasonable.

General Comments

In your written statement on 16 July you say:

“I will, therefore, be asking NRW to take the lead on working with stakeholders to bring together all the current work being taken forward by all relevant parties in a Salmon and Sea Trout Plan of Action.  The Welsh Government will be contributing to this, as I hope will anglers and supporters of angling”.  

The expectation that stakeholders and anglers will co-operate with NRW in developing a Salmon and Sea Trout Plan of Action is unlikely to gain much support.  This is just adding more insult to injury as for more than 20 years we have been trying to get EA(W) and NRW to take some positive action to reverse the decline.  Anglers on the rivers are well aware of what needs to be done but Government Budget cuts to fisheries over several years have allowed the situation to deteriorate to its present state, your proposals whilst well meaning are too little too late. 

Recent changes to the NRW management structure now mean there is no dedicated fisheries department and much of the work will now be passed to Rivers Trusts (via Afonydd Cymru) to carryout relying in many cases on volunteers who will be disaffected by these byelaw proposals. 

It is disappointing that despite our frequent requests you have refused to meet with us, had you done so we may well have avoided a costly inquiry by working with WG/NRW and stakeholders to provide a solution which will continue to enable local community angling clubs to operate whilst a solution is found to reverse the decline.  As accepted in the inspectors report the byelaw proposals will not achieve this.  

The Inquiry procedure

You will be aware that I had challenged, prior to the commencement of the inquiry, the way the inquiry was to be run i.e. the use of the Planning Inspectorate and the Planning Appeals Procedure and why this was classed as a ‘Local Inquiry’ when it was to be applied to every river in Wales. 

On the appointment of the inspector for the above inquiry I undertook a Google search on Mr Beggan and found a reference in the public domain from Landmark Chambers a London law firm who were publishing their success in defending a planning appeal, representing NRW claiming the inspector, Mr Beggan, had found in favour of NRW based upon the ‘precautionary principle’.  Whilst the link still exists on Google access to the Landmark Chambers servers has since been removed (we have a copy on file).

With this in mind we were most concerned to discover that the planning Inspector appointed by Welsh Ministers had apparently sat as adjudicator in a planning appeal action brought by NRW in a case which we believe to a large extent turned as in the instant upon the doctrine known as The Precautionary Principle. In that case the Inspector apparently sided with NRW.  Our concern is not that there has been bias but that this inquiry has manifestly demonstrated the appearance of bias in favour of NRW as we shall address below.

You will be aware that the byelaw proposals by NRW which will restrict catch methods have been robustly opposed by the angling community in Wales.  Indeed, the level of opposition required you to hold an inquiry to determine whether they should be accepted by your Government.

As you are aware, we have previously expressed our concern that you chose to utilise an appeal procedure conducted by a planning inspector under planning legislation rather than an independent Public Inquiry conducted by an independent and impartial adjudicator.  The procedure under the planning legislation is designed to address a local issue not a pan Wales issue affecting your electorate across Wales.

Notwithstanding our concerns you proceeded to pursue your inquiry using the Planning Inspectorate, a department which you have responsibility for.  Utilising a planning appeal procedure and appointing an inspector who had previously supported an NRW appeal based upon environmental concerns.

Our concern is that Welsh Ministers have proceeded to utilise the planning appeals procedure as a device to try and procure a favourable outcome for its Agency NRW rather than a truly independent inquiry.  Instead an Inspector who has apparently previously found in favour of NRW advancing the Precautionary Principle and with no known expertise in fisheries or their management was appointed.

The subsequent process has adopted an adversarial instead of an inquisitorial approach the manner of which has attracted previous complaint and of which you have dismissed out of hand.

Given the highly contentious nature of this inquiry we are surprised that this association i.e. the inspector previously supporting NRW would have been concealed from CPWF and the general public by both NRW and yourself had we not made diligent enquiries.  We would perhaps have expected in the interests of fairness and transparency to have been consulted as to whether we objected or consented to the appointment of the inspector.  We were not and instead our concerns to you about how the inquiry was to be conducted have been dismissed.

Be that as it may we submit that, given the fact that the Inspector has supported NRW in the past on such a narrow point, that there was a real risk of bias or at least the appearance of bias in these proceedings should these facts be known to a member of the public observing proceedings.  The dismissive nature of the inspector’s report with respect to our objections tends to reinforce our concerns of bias.  Given the inequality of arms of the State and its agents facing unrepresented members of the public this omission is we submit indefensible.

Finally, it is painfully apparent that those representing NRW had been accommodated by the inspector throughout this inquiry to ensure the most favourable conditions in which to present its case.

We remind you that we are not the Appellants bringing an appeal, this was an inquiry into proposals the recommendations upon which you have relyed upon to make your final decision. This process has throughout been unfair and demonstrated the appearance of bias in favour of NRW.

Regards

Chris White

Conservation Officer: Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>