The following sad letter speaks for so many anglers in Wales

It has taken me some time to publish this touching letter from John Eardley, an angler who has worked so hard with NRW and the EA before that, as well as with fellow angles.

To say that John’s resignation from the North Wales River Trust, as well as from his “second home” in Wales, is a tragedy: he will be much missed. Thanks for all your hard work John. I have no words to adequately describe my feeling at loosing John from the Welsh campaigners, but have no doubt that we have more to hear from him. Don’t let the *.* grind you down John!

Dear Alan and fellow Operations Group Colleagues

It is with great sadness and regret that I write to inform you that I can no longer continue in my role as secretary of the North Wales Rivers Trust. I feel that everyone needs to know the full reasons behind my decision and hopefully my letter will bring some understanding of what has led to that decision. I will continue in my post until you are able to find a replacement and would like to attend the next meeting to say my goodbyes formally although Covid 19 may intervene on that front.

It is nigh on 60 years when, armed with a hand me down tank aerial rod, I first cast a worm (unsuccessfully!) into the Mawddach and so began a love affair that I thought would last for ever; sadly that has proved not to be the case. This is my 40th year of having a permanent base at Y Vanner on the banks of the Mawddach but sadly it will also be my last having made the decision to sell our caravan and replace it with a tourer which will enable me to explore areas of North West and North East England where I have access to a number of rivers and a free choice as to which angling methods I choose to use. Sadly the method restrictions within the All Wales Bylaws mean that the majority of the Upper Mawddach and Wnion are now extremely difficult to fish by legal means and, given the difficulty of returning fish ethically and safely, those magical places, never even seen by those responsible for the current debacle, will now be consigned to my memories. The final nail in the coffin is the fact that I have lost every single fish that I have hooked this year on single hooked spinners, an all too common experience for the majority of anglers. For NRW to suggest that the bylaws will make little difference to anglers is an endorsement of just how out of touch with the angling community the organisation has become. It is more than a little ironic that a place that was once such an exciting escape from the pressures of a busy working life has, in retirement, become a place of hopelessness and despair.

When I first represented Prince Albert Angling Society at the Gwynedd LFG it was yourself and Julian Bray who were responsible for fisheries in North Wales. There was a feeling that our voices were heard and in the case of the Mawddach we felt that we were making progress. A genuine spirit of partnership and cooperation, for example with broodstock collection and the stocking out of juveniles, strengthened the working relationship between Environment Agency Wales and PAAS to the benefit of all concerned. Sadly that is the very antithesis of what has happened since the creation of the single body that is NRW. I was also inspired by the work that Chris White and Roger Thomas were undertaking within both the Conwy Valley Fisheries and Conservation Association and the Clwyd and Conwy Rivers Trust and that gave me ideas of just what might be achieved on the Mawddach. I would also like to thank Robin Parry for not only being the calm “voice of reason” as chair of the Gwynedd LFG but in particular for his work in primary schools with the “Finding Torgoch” project. Education is key to our future and in order to do that we have to listen and learn from what others have to say. Kat Marshall has also been a constant source of support.

I would particularly like to thank Rich White for his inspiration, enthusiasm and guidance in initial habitat improvement works within the Mawddach catchment. During an impromptu conversation at a Dee Fisheries Association meeting I expressed envy at the work that had been carried out by the Dee Trust on the Rhug Estate and also works that I was aware of that had been undertaken by the then Clwyd and Conwy Rivers Trust. Rich told me that Afonydd Cymru could carry out works on rivers that were not part of a trust. Following a full day visit to the Mawddach & Wnion we hatched a plan to use volunteer labour from anglers to survey some of the feeder streams using WFD criteria and that these would then inform future sites for habitat improvement works. Volunteers were given basic training and the data gathered was presented in the form of annotated maps, photographs and tables accompanied by a brief written description. I strongly believed that this educational process of visiting parts of the catchment that so many anglers were unfamiliar with would change the way in which anglers view both the river and also the fish that they catch lower down the system. Our efforts received a very positive reception in the Bangor Office and a number of gravel traps were constructed in the Afon Wen. To say that we were delighted when 6 redds were observed on the traps later that year is an understatement. I am afraid that when our knowledge of our own catchment was described by NRW’s Principal Fisheries Advisor at the Bylaws Inquiry as no more than “knowing where the stiles and footpaths are, how to get to the river…” it caused irreparable damage and highlighted the lengths that NRW will stoop to in order to get their own way. That the Inspector believed it speaks volumes about the whole sorry saga.

If it could be demonstrated that the Bylaws were likely to result in any significant improvement in fish stocks and were accompanied by annual reviews they might have been slightly easier to accept. However NRW’s figures show that they will make a negligible difference to the Mawddach system when a recent 5 year average catch of more than 50 salmon and an exploitation rate of 10% would indicate a run size of around 500 salmon p.a. of which 50 are caught on rod and line. However given a return rate in excess of 80% the entire loss due to angling is no more than 10 salmon. The recent NRW email footer “Even relatively small numbers of fish are crucial to recover stocks in as short a time as possible. Every spawning fish matters” is at odds with discussions we have had at the Trust about how, given good habitat and careful management of predation even a relatively small number of salmon can quickly repopulate a spawning stream. In addition NRW’s stock assessments do not reflect what we actually observe in the Mawddach & Wnion and that is also a constant source of frustration. I can only wonder what magic algorithm will be conjured up to account for the large number of fish hooked but no longer landed.

I find it difficult to see how our fisheries can recover from the impacts of what has been foisted upon us. Willing volunteers have left the Mawddach and Wnion whilst those who remain have been well and truly alienated. My own enthusiasm and optimism are now at rock bottom and I suspect that I am not alone when I see just how sparse the current circulation list is for the Gwynedd and Dee LFG’s. Time is not on my side and I am unwilling to wait for the outcome of an interim review of the Bylaws in 5 years’ time and in any case it is difficult to envisage any significant change when the extraordinary lengths that NRW went to in order to secure a legislative solution are taken into account.

I have the greatest respect for everyone at the Trust and wish all of you the very best for the future. I cannot spend my time reflecting on what might have been and so with a heavy heart it is time for me to move on.

Yours sincerely

John Eardley

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