Notes from Wales Fisheries Forum 19 November 2020

The meeting was held via a Skype video conference there were 24 attendees (hopefully I have included everyone – not easy on a video conference!):

David Mee (NRW)

Emma Keenan (Secretary for meeting, NRW)

Peter Gough (NRW)

Robert Vaughan (NRW – Update on land reform)

Steve Ormerod (Chair, NRW)

Rachel Evans (Countryside Alliance)

Alan Winstone (Afonydd Cymru)

Chris White (Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries; North Wales LFGs)

Creighton Harvey (SW LFGs)

Dylan Roberts (Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust)

Carl Tonner (Angling Cymru)

Mark Owen (Angling Trust)

Nicola Teague (IFM)

Paul Edwards (Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association)

Richard Garner Williams (Salmon & Trout Conservation Cymru)

Denise Ashton (Wild Trout Trust)

Mervyn Williams (Dee & Clwyd LFG)

Mungo Munro (Severn Trust)

Stuart Smith – Wye

Guy Mawle – Usk

Lee Evans – Taff & Valleys

Gary White (NRW – Pollution incidents)

Dave Maccallum (NRW – Access)

Tiggy Pettifer (AST)

General observation

Whilst there were some positive initiatives presented by NRW there was little time for angling issues to be discussed – or as Alan Winstone put it referring to the meeting:

 “It was a bit long with a lot crammed in. It felt a bit like NRW trying to tell us how good they were and we were telling them the evidence on the ground is different! I think it would be better with a less cluttered agenda and NRW being clear on what advice and input they want from us”.

The forum for discussing issues affecting your local rivers is of course your local LFG but sadly attendance and support from local anglers has diminished over recent years mainly due to the lack of positive action from NRW (other than imposing unwarranted byelaws on anglers).  I have attached the meeting papers and would draw your attention to the second bullet point in the draft WFF Terms of Reference:

  • seek to integrate our work to protect and restore fisheries within the larger business operations of NRW;

To my mind this reflects the lack of concern withing NRW for the protection of fisheries and perhaps demonstrates that NRW is no longer an environmental organisation.  We all understand that fisheries personnel within NRW have been decimated and there is now no longer a dedicated fisheries department within the day to day ‘business operations of NRW’ we therefore need to support our local LFG’s and the few fisheries officers left within NRW who fight on our behalf.

The following are my [brief] notes on the agenda items once the minutes are approved, I will forward these.  I am not a fan of meetings conducted by video conferencing as it makes interaction difficult as any questions must be typed and then wait for the Chairman to invite you to speak.

AGENDA ITEMS

  1. Welcome. Steve Ormerod welcomed the members and asked if there were any items for inclusion in AOB.  Apologies had been received from Ruth Jenkins.
  2. Admin Matters. The draft minutes and actions arising from these were discussed (copy of the previous minutes attached), these were then approved as an accurate record of the last meeting.  The draft terms of reference (TOR) were discussed and approved; it was also mentioned that updated TOR for LFG’s would be put forward at LFG meetings.  Members of WFF were asked to raise this with members of their local LFG.  SO asked if there were any declarations of interest, Chris Mills declared that he was president of the Institute of Fisheries Management and a member of the RSPB Country Advisory Committee for Wales.  Dave Mee advised that the NASCO implementation plan has been delayed due to COVID difficulties and that the link to the NASCO website provided in the meeting notes does not work; this is now the link to the UK Implementation Plan: NASCO “Implementation Plan” for 2013-18 this is for the period 2019 to 2024 I am not sure why the hyperlink says 2013-18.  The link to the NASCO website is: North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization – NASCO.  Alan Winstone asked if there was any update on the Salmon Plan of Action (SAP) and asked that WFF members were kept up to date to ensure that this is not just a desktop exercise to be forgotten.  We were advised that a spreadsheet of actions and deliveries would be available to keep everyone informed.
  3. New Forum members:  SO welcomed the new WFF who were representing LGF’s from the Wye, Severn, Taff and the Valleys and Dee & Clwyd and they were asked to introduce themselves to the members of WFF.
  4. Water quality and incidents in Welsh rivers: This was a somewhat lengthy update on the latest position regarding Agricultural regulations present by Bob Vaughan.  It seems from the presentation that whilst this was positive news in real terms little will change until 2024 as there will be a long transition period.  The Welsh Government will publish a White Paper on or around 16 December but this will lack detail which can only be included once the White paper has been accepted by WG.  It seems that Wales will continue to make use of an EU derogation based upon the 2017/18 Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ’s) but the intention is to expand NVZ’s to cover the whole of Wales.  The problem is WG are only concerned with general NVZ’s and do not seem to have considered the source and NRW are not happy about this and would prefer regulation which prevents an increase in nitrates etc and not just treat the after effects.  Guy Mawle suggested that regulation was weak and that NRW opt for a soft touch to breaches of existing regulations and codes of practice.  In response Bob Vaughan said that NRW do take breaches seriously but due to staff restrictions they simply do not have sufficient staff to carryout enforcement.  Bob Vaughan explained that part of the delay in implementation of new legislation is due to WG Ministers preparing for the elections next year, but draft regulations should be available for consultation in spring 2021 i.e. jam tomorrow.  There was a short presentation on pollution incidents by Gary White of NRW the common theme here was yet a gain a lack of resources, but staff are trained to police standards in gathering information/evidence.  Several questions were raised about the time it takes to prosecute offenders which can be up to 2 years.  It was also suggested that courts require impact assessments to determine the level of fine.  It is far better to prevent rather than punish offenders.  Richard Garner-Williams (S&T.org)suggested that members should read the Axe report, this is the link to this report: Final-Axe-Regulatory-Report.pdf (salmon-trout.org) which outlines the approach taken and its effectiveness I have taken the following from the report:

“This evaluation clearly demonstrates the power of advice, backed up by regulation and supported by financial incentives to create positive benefits for water quality. Neither advice, incentives nor regulation delivered in isolation of the others will generate the desired environmental improvements in water quality”.

It is worth reading this report as a guide to the way forward, with commitment and funding much can be achieved.

  • Access to Water Sub-Group: You will find the presentation in the attached notes but please note the date as this was from 2019 and does not align with the latest set of minutes (attached) from this group.  The most memorable thing from this presentation was the acknowledgement from Dave Maccallum who Chairs this group for NRW that there is no right of access on rivers or still waters.  It was claimed by DM that all members of the sub-group supported their proposal to WG, Rachel Evans (Countryside Alliance) commented that this was not necessarily true of all sub-group members! It seems that they are now looking for a pilot water to trial the proposals but this may be restricted to a Stillwater.  As you may expect I raised the issue of Canoe Pal as a simple pragmatic way of allowing riparian owners to offer controlled access, as ever this fell upon deaf ears.  I also pointed out that recreational paddlers are less of an issue than commercial operators but the drive for open access is coming from these commercial operators who just want to make money from others property and care nothing for the environment or rightful users. 
  • Updates from other fora papers taken as read: You will see there is a paper on FEB’s which outlines how surveys will be conducted by the BTO who have been contracted by NRW to count FEB’s on rivers.  I asked what methodology the BTO would use but did not get an answer only that they were independent experts used to carrying out bird counts.  If you look at the BTO website, you can see how they carryout bird counts by making a 1Km grid of the area to be surveyed and then co-ordinating counting to start at a specific time.  According to the latest BTO newsletter (Attached) it will be BTO local volunteers who will carry out the survey by walking the riverbanks.  I asked why drones were not being used and was told by SO that the noise from drones would disturb the birds and that getting permission to overfly riparian areas may be a problem, my experience of FEB counts demonstrates that walking on the riverbank disturbs the birds and you need to get landowner permissions!  As far as I can make out the survey will be on main river stems and major tributaries and this will not include upland spawning streams.  In North Wales it is predation on these upland spawning streams which is of real concern I have been asked to send map references to of spawning streams on the Conwy which should be included but I am not holding my breath that this will happen.  In support of the use of drones Tiggy Pettifer of the AST said that they had been used successfully in Scotland.  Can you raise this issue at your LFG meetings, it may be too late as these surveys will be commencing shortly.
  • Fisheries Updates paper: This is attached in the notes.
  • AOB:  I had submitted requests for items to be included in the agenda (as had others) but these were pushed into AOB and as we were running out of time (after 3.5 hours) most were not dealt with.  But I did manage to raised the issue of unauthorised dredging of rivers and streams.  This was due to over 0.5Km of the Afon Elwy (a North wales spate river) being dredged to bedrock during the first lockdown, no permits were issued for this work. The photographs show one third of the stretch of river which was dredged supposedly to stop bank erosion – it won’t and may actually accelerate the damage during the winter floods:

NRW are now trying to get the farmer to restore this section of river at his cost rather than prosecute – the NRW soft touch on enforcement yet again.  As treasurer for the North Wales Rivers Trust I have been paying bills for river restoration projects to repair dredging of this type and I would estimate the cost of restoring this stretch of river to a good environmental standard to be in excess of £20K.  The club who own the fishing rights to this stretch have lost three good sea trout pools, I doubt that any restoration works will re-create these pools.

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