To Chairman of NRW Board

Mr Reuben Woodford
Ffrancon House
Tyn-y-Maes
Nant Ffrancon
Bangor
Gwynedd. LL57 3LX
reubenwoodford@gmail.com

17th September 2019

Sir David Henshaw (NRW Board – Interim Chair)
NRW Board Members

Via email: nrwboardsecretariat@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk

Re: Implementation of ‘All Wales Byelaws’ – Discordant with NASCO Guidelines

Dear Sir David and Board Members,
We are aware that at the forthcoming NRW Board meeting on September 19th, the Board will be asked to approve or note implementation of the ‘All Wales Byelaws’ (Fisheries). The exact undertaking placed upon the Board seems unclear.
There is no evidence the byelaw measures would have any effect on reversing the decline in migratory fish stocks. There is clear evidence, the measures are discordant with the NASCO (North Atlantic Salmon Organisation) guidance stipulations on a catchment by catchment basis across Wales. There are rivers across Wales where under this guidance mandatory measures, categorically, should not be applied and yet this is NRW’s intention – it is critical the Board consider this position.
The use of a broad brush-stroke and expedient application of a ‘precautionary approach’ as opposed to a defined ‘precautionary principle’, one which is underlined by robust protocols has, resulted in senior NRW Fisheries officers effecting their preference upon all rivers in Wales in a blanket application of prohibition. This move poses a direct risk to the future of angling clubs and the stock assessment and river classification system i.e. the evidence based system underpinning policy.
At the Public Inquiry (2018/19), the Inspector sought NRW’s re-assurance that ‘The Byelaws’ were enforceable. No such re-assurance has been given. Since the Public Inquiry, NRW has announced it is cutting the number of specialised fisheries enforcement officers across the country. During ‘The Byelaw’ development process we spoke to enforcement officers and neither had they been consulted upon, nor did they view the ‘the byelaws’ as enforceable. NRW have cited the ‘deterrent effect’ as the primary function of the measures and yet 83% of respondents to ‘The Byelaws’ consultation opposed the measures and since then objectors have identified in detail the risk the ‘The Byelaws’ pose; to angling, angling clubs, the stock assessment process and the viability of preventing poaching activity.
It is clear, that rather than underpinning the way forwards, the byelaws would undermine our collective ability to manage fisheries. Furthermore, the Environment Agency in England have stipulated that method restrictions cannot be set out legally. It is also evident that were method restrictions to be imposed upon anglers, compensation could be sought – cited within the Water Resources Act 1991.
Improving the validity of evidence and strengthening the way NRW work with the angling community as partners should be a priority and yet it has become a forced add-on in the wake of the cabinet secretary’s decision. The stark contrast with which our views and co-operation now seem eagerly sought in comparison with the blanket rejection of our evidence at the Public Inquiry shows total disregard for the angling community’s long standing role and our sincere commitment to establish a workable way forward. Implementation of ‘The Byelaws’ is now being seen as a block to future partnership working for representatives of angling clubs who now call time on NRW’s dictatorial approach.
At the NRW Board Meeting on the 18th January 2018 in Bangor, non-executive members of the Board highlighted the rift between NRW’s stance and that of the angling community. Those concerns were effectively rejected by the chairperson Diane McCrae, with little consideration of consequence. That decision was made conditionally with Board Members, who sought reassurance from the Chair that the relationship between NRW and partners would be healed – that condition was and has not been honoured and instead of working with the angling community, NRW’s chief Fisheries Officers have since further alienated us in an act of obtuse provocation marked by the Public Inquiry.
Board members in 2018 also sought re-assurance from the Chair that a wider strategy should be initiated without delay – as the angling community have highlighted, banning of angling activities has been NRW’s primary focus all along and to the detriment of actions to tackle the actual causative factors placing risk upon salmon fish stocks in particular. At the Public Inquiry Dr Maule provided a cautionary note to remind NRW that supplementary measures such as the byelaws could only be effective if the causative factors of stock decline were treated in a timely manner at catchment scale. Little re-assurance was given by the head of NRW Fisheries at the Public Inquiry in relation to achieving wide scale catchment actions to manage the risks to Salmon due to limited resource.
There are numerous reasons why the ‘All Wales Byelaws’ can be shown as being a disproportionate response, however their temporal impropriety is the most destructive and disproportionate element of them.
There is very little recognition by senior Fisheries staff, that what angling clubs have already achieved is significant and progressive. Anglers across Wales currently return 86% of their catch. What anglers catch represents 5-10% of the salmon in Wales rivers. The angling community are not the problem, however, with ‘The All Wales Byelaws’ implemented, we would be disabled from being a meaningful part of the solution when all along we have illustrated our willingness and ability to do so.
At the public Inquiry, NRWs legal counsel spent an exhaustive period, dumbing down pivotal evidence until there was no hope of objectors putting it and the disproportionality of the byelaws in full context. The cost of the Inquiry, £350,827.48 plus VAT, bought the taxpayer – an affront on volunteers; volunteers that have worked in partnership with environmental regulators for decades.
The All Wales Byelaws have been sold to the Cabinet Secretary and the NRW Board on the basis of incomplete evidence and an inference of acceptability that is untrue. The inequalities of the overall process has denied the angling community a voice; the angling community’s evidence appropriate exposure and denied the Cabinet Secretary the ability to gauge the consequence of implementing the byelaws within a regulatory environment already fraught with uncertainty.
As they stand, the ‘All Wales Byelaws’ will not deliver progress. Prioritising a mechanism with no proven benefit nor assessment of risk (NRW have done neither) over actions to tackle the causative factors influencing fish stock decline, is a failure of NRW’s statutory duties and simply relying on blind faith.
Implementation of the ‘All Wales Byelaws’ now, is an action discordant with NASCO guidelines.
We are now seeking deferment of the all Wales Byelaws until such a time as voluntary Catch & Release has been formally promoted for 1 year in accordance with NASCO Guidelines.
The Board should be made aware that a review is already underway to re-examine the current methodology for assessing salmon stocks, along with the associated compliance scheme and decision structure used in England and Wales. As a consequence of this review improvements are likely to be recommended. The angling community in Wales are seeking phasing and interim arrangements are considered and incorporated in the Welsh Byelaws until such reviews are completed and the accuracy of current and historic salmon stock assessments are assured.
A phased approach could provide the critical transitionary state to turn this situation around – without it, it is the fear of many that key representatives from the angling community will, disillusioned by NRW’s dictatorial and myopic stance leave the arena for good. We must not allow this to happen as the future of fisheries, fish stocks and community fishing clubs in Wales are at stake.
Yours Sincerely,

Reuben Woodford
On Behalf of: Afon Ogwen Anglers in association with CPWF
Petitioners – petition presented to the Welsh Assembly ‘Give Welsh Fishing Clubs & Salmon & Sea-trout a chance’, on behalf of 1719 signatories

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