To Lesley Griffiths AM from John Eardley

27th September 2019

Lesley Griffiths AM

Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs Welsh Government

5th Floor Tŷ Hywel Cardiff Bay CF99 1NA

By email to Correspondence.Lesley.Griffiths@gov.wales (for the personal attention of the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs)

Copies to:

Rt Hon Mark Drakeford AM (First Minister of Wales) Clare Pillman (Chief Executive, Natural Resources Wales)

Dear Minister,

We wish to make you aware of the serious concerns that were raised at a meeting of angling representatives from the Dee and Gwynedd Local Fisheries Groups held at the Owain Glyndwr Hotel, Corwen on Saturday 7th September. There were 19 Fishing Clubs/Organisations present at this meeting with a combined membership of several thousand anglers.

The meeting was called as a result of the anger and frustration that has arisen following your decision to confirm Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) proposed Wales Rod and Line (Salmon and Sea Trout) Byelaws 2017.

Those present at the Corwen Meeting are respected figures within both their own organisations and the angling community in North Wales and beyond, having extensive knowledge of their own rivers and an exemplary track record in working in partnership with both NRW and their predecessors, Environment Agency Wales. That such people are talking in terms of militant action and civil disobedience should be a great cause for concern.

At the close of the NRW Board Meeting on 18th January 2018 there was clear recognition by both the NRW executive and NRW board members that “we have failed to engage with stakeholders”. Unfortunately events at the Inquiry into the All Wales Byelaws during January and March of this year when Counsel for NRW saw fit to attempt to discredit ordinary decent people who sought only to protect their own fisheries from NRW’s actions has plunged that already fractured relationship to new depths. The end result is that there are a number of angling clubs who will no longer engage in any future meetings with NRW whilst their concerns are treated in such a dismissive way and that in turn poses a real threat to the development of a “Salmon and Sea Trout Plan of Action” that you have asked NRW to take the lead on.

A number of the angling clubs present at the Corwen meeting reported that they will no longer instruct their bailiffs to check that their members have purchased a rod licence and will only enforce their own clubs’ rules. Further concerns related to the decline in the number of both local and visiting anglers despite the encouraging

numbers of both salmon and sea trout that have been observed in some of our rivers this year despite the statistical predictions made by NRW. This will have repercussions on the ability of smaller community based clubs to afford to rent waters in the future and be a threat to their very existence. The presence of anglers on the riverbank also acts as both a deterrent to poachers and a source of intelligence for NRW’s Enforcement Officers and it is therefore unsurprising that increasing illegal activity has been a major concern for us during the year.

The alienation of those very stakeholders whose knowledge of their own rivers is so necessary for their recovery is a great cause for concern for those of us who are actively involved with both Rivers Trusts in North Wales. NRW may recognise that “we have able partners in the rivers trusts and need to maintain a productive relationship with them” but is making it ever more difficult for those organisations to recruit volunteers.

However our greatest concerns are reserved for these 3 key issues:

1.               Confirmation of the The Cross-Border Rivers Rod and Line (Salmon and Sea Trout) (Wales) Byelaws 2019 would be a clear contravention of NASCO1 policy.

Full supporting evidence is listed in Appendix 1 on P4

2.               The confirmation of the All Wales Byelaws for introduction on 1st January 2020 for all rivers in Wales which have a mean catch of less than 20 salmon is a clear contravention of NASCO policy

Full supporting evidence is listed in Appendix 2 on P5

3.               We make a formal request that the introduction of the All Wales Byelaws is deferred until such time as voluntary C&R has been promoted for 1 year as set out in the NASCO Decision Making Structure.

Full supporting evidence is listed in Appendix 3 on Ps 6&7

The witness presenting key evidence at the Inquiry re NASCO Policy on behalf of CPWF2 was repeatedly interrupted by both Counsel for NRW and the Inspector himself which may go some way towards explaining the failure by the Inspector to recognise that the NRW proposals were breaching their own national and NASCO International Decision Structure Policy in England & Wales

The result is that following the Inspector’s decision and, in spite of having both common NASCO Policy and shared Stock Assessment Methodology, we now have two opposing conservation strategies with England adopting NASCO and shared E & W policy with Voluntary measures being applied to PaR3 rivers while in Wales the Byelaws propose Mandatory measures for all rivers.

Whilst we appreciate that Brexit may be a far more pressing issue for you at the moment, the issues surrounding the Byelaws have been a major concern for us since July 2015 and are posing a significant threat to our fisheries, the survival of community based angling clubs and angling tourism in rural areas. To that end a “no deal” outcome for angling must be avoided at all costs, particularly when there is no evidence that the Byelaws will do anything to increase the numbers of salmon and sea trout returning to our rivers.

Our track record of partnership and co-operation makes us fully deserving of the chance of a voluntary solution. Irrespective of that, the promotion of Voluntary C&R is a key part of compliance with NASCO Policy and cannot be dismissed.

1 North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation

2 Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries

3 Probably at Risk

This has not happened up to now and therefore should be widely publicised to all anglers and clubs for the 2020 season, with the target 90% release rate made absolutely clear and the warning that “If this fails to significantly improve C&R rates, mandatory C&R or closure of the fishery will be considered”.

This should be the starting point for the “Salmon and Sea Trout Plan of Action” in 2020 and would play a key role in encouraging key stakeholders to participate in its development.

We cannot stress strongly enough that we have always endeavoured to work with NRW and really do want that to continue. However for that to happen bridges must be built and most significantly the 3 key issues identified on Page 2 must be addressed.

We would of course welcome the opportunity to discuss the contents of our letter with you in a face to face meeting but in the meantime await your response with interest.

Yours sincerely

John Eardley – Strategy Officer, Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries

Dr Robin Parry – Chair, Gwynedd Local Fisheries Advisory Group

Mervyn Williams – Chair, Dee Local Fisheries Advisory Group

On behalf of:

Bangor on Dee Salmon Angling Association

Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries

Capenhurst Angling Club

Chirk Syndicate

Clwyd Federation of Angling Clubs

Corwen and District Angling Club

Dee Fisheries Association

Dolgellau Angling Association

Dolwyddelan Angling Association

Llanbrynmair Angling Association

Llangollen Maelor Angling

Llyn Guides

New Dovey Fishery Association (1929) Ltd

Ogwen Valley Angling Association

Penrhyn Fishing Club

Prince Albert Angling Society Rhagatt Estate

Rhyl & St. Asaph Angling Association

Rossett and Gresford Fly Fishers

Seiont Gwyrfai & Llyfni Fishing Society

Vale of Clwyd Angling Club

Wirral Game Fishing Club

Appendix 1

Confirmation of the The Cross-Border Rivers Rod and Line (Salmon and Sea Trout) (Wales) Byelaws 2019 would be a clear contravention of NASCO policy

  1. NRW have indicated at their Board meeting held on 19th September that they will shortly be making an application to you for confirmation of new rod fishing byelaws for the rivers Dee and Wye. Confirmation of those byelaws would breach NASCO Conservation Policy.
  1. Wales, along with other countries as signatures to NASCO Conservation Policy, adopted this in Regulatory undertakings as common and shared Wales & England Atlantic salmon management policy. This is defined in the 2018 Assessment of Salmon Stocks & Fisheries in England & Wales (Background Report) Annexe 7 – Salmon Management Procedures in England & Wales, Page 77 & 78 – Decision Structure in E & W.
  2. The decision making structure set out in the report is very clear:

3. Third stage – option evaluation (purple boxes)

The purpose of this stage is to set out and evaluate options to realise the required changes in exploitation.

For rivers where 50%≤p<95% (where p= probability of failing the management objective) and the trend is down and with an annual catch of >20 salmon and C&R4 rate < 90%, then voluntary C&R will promoted for 1 year. If this fails to significantly improve C&R rates, mandatory C&R or closure of the fishery will be considered. Protected rivers such as SACs (Special Areas of Conservation) are given particular emphasis”

  1. This is recognised in NRW Board Paper B B 40.15 Annex 2, TECHNICAL REPORT: MANAGEMENT OPTIONS TO ADDRESS THE DECLINE IN STOCKS OF SALMON AND SOME SEA TROUT IN WALES which states quite correctly that:

The decision structure is currently not applied to:-

  • rivers where the voluntary C&R rate is greater than 90%, as it has been felt that the extra benefit on any individual river does not warrant the costs of pursuing statutory control.
  • The 5 year forward predicted Compliance for the Dee has improved in 2018. Whereas in 2017 it was predicted to be AR5 in 2022 it is now predicted to be PaR in 2013. The stock assessment has changed and therefore Voluntary 90% C & R is the correct application of the NASCO decision structure
  • NRW’s 2017 “Know your river document” for the Dee makes the following statement:

“The release rate in 2017 was 91%. This is an excellent result and needs to be maintained”

Put simply the River Dee is fully compliant with NASCO policy and according to NRW’s own documentation “does not warrant the costs of pursuing statutory control”.

On that basis the introduction of statutory legislation for the Dee would be a clear breach of NASCO policy and something that we would contest most strongly. We would also have the support of our English colleagues who will mount a similar challenge to the EA given that NRW states that “It has previously been agreed with the EA that they will make a simultaneous matching application to DEFRA for confirmation of complementary byelaws in the English parts of these two cross-border rivers”.

We therefore make a formal request that you do not confirm any application by NRW for new byelaws for the Dee.

4 Catch & Release

5 At Risk

Appendix 2

The confirmation of the All Wales Byelaws for introduction on 1st January 2020 for all rivers in Wales which have a mean catch of less than 20 salmon is a clear contravention of NASCO policy

In addition to that aspect of the decision structure described Appendix 1 iii on Page 4, the 3rd stage of the decision structure also states:

“For rivers where the above criteria apply, except that the annual mean salmon catch is <20 salmon, voluntary measures will be promoted.”

In North Wales that would include not only smaller rivers such as the Afon Aber, Gwyrfai, Llyfni, Artro etc but also at least one of the principal salmon rivers, the Afon Dysynni.

NRW’s 2017 “Know your river document” for the Dysynni makes the following statement:

“….the river is predominantly a sea trout river. The release rate in 2017 was 100% which is an excellent result and needs to continue”.

It is quite clear that to apply the All Wales Byelaws to any river in Wales which has a mean catch of less than 20 salmon would be an obvious breach of NASCO policy.

We therefore make a formal request that all rivers in Wales with a mean catch of less than 20 salmon are excluded from the All Wales Byelaws.

Appendix 3

We make a formal request that the introduction of the All Wales Byelaws is deferred until such time as voluntary C&R has been promoted for 1 year as set out in the NASCO Decision Making Structure.

We make our request on the following grounds:

  1. The NASCO Decision making structure, previously referred to in Appendix 1 iii on Page 4, states quite clearly that for both PaR and AR rivers (all principal salmon river in Wales with the exception of the River Usk) that “voluntary C&R will be promoted for 1 year”.

However on page 93 of the Technical Case Structure, the document which underpins the byelaws, NRW conjures up its own version and states that “The combined kill of salmon by both the net and rod fisheries should therefore cease in order to help to improve the status of the stock in the short term”.

The full transcript of both statements is contained in Annex 1 on Page 7.

  1. We note in your Written Statement on the Outcome of the Local Inquiry that you say that “there is common ground between NRW and objectors that salmon and sea trout stocks in Wales are suffering an ongoing decline”

We must make you aware that the picture across Wales is not one of universal decline. 8 of the Principal Salmon Rivers in Wales, show a year on year improvement in the 3 years 2015 – 2017. 4 of those rivers, have exceeded their Conservation Limit in each of the last 3 years with 3 rivers achieving more than 200% of their CL in 2017. Furthermore the most recent juvenile surveys in North Wales were most encouraging with one rivers results being described by NRW as “the best on record!”

  1. NRW’s own “Know Your River” documents clearly show that there has never been any active promotion of Voluntary C&R as set out in the NASCO Decision Making Structure. Rather than “a release rate of 90% is necessary in order to avoid the introduction of Mandatory C&R” we find instead comments such as “This is excellent and is the best on record”, “This is an excellent improvement” and “This is an excellent result and needs to be maintained”.

All of the comments concerning voluntary release rates can be viewed and verified via the following link: NRW Know your rivers – salmon and sea trout catchment summaries.

  1. 2.1 Decision Structure on Page 10 of the 2018 Assessment of Salmon Stocks & Fisheries in England & Wales contains the following information:

“A review is underway to re-examine the current methodology for assessing salmon stocks, along with the associated compliance scheme and decision structure; this will consider the need for possible improvements. The aim is to complete this within the next three years with the likelihood that improvements will be introduced in stages as developments allow.”

It makes no sense to introduce Byelaws when there is so much uncertainty surrounding the current methodology.

  • 90 – 95% of the salmon that enter Welsh rivers are not caught by anglers. Given that anglers currently return 86% of that relatively small %age of salmon that they do catch, it makes no sense whatsoever to drive them away. The lay person is unlikely to comprehend just how much time anglers spend on our rivers, day and night, throughout the year, not only fishing but carrying out essential bank maintenance work, checking on spawning activity or often simply enjoying a walk. Their very presence over the years has protected fish stocks with virtually all reports to NRW of poaching, sewage discharge, agricultural pollution and their resulting fish kills coming from anglers. The limited enforcement activity of NRW can never replace the protective effect of local anglers on their own rivers and to alienate those people, and threaten the very existence of the community

angling clubs to which they belong, poses a direct threat to our fish stocks and is short sighted in the extreme.

  • Deferment would help stem the decline in membership that smaller community based angling clubs are currently experiencing. Without their survival the heritage of angling being passed from father to son will be lost for ever.
  • It is education, co-operation, empowerment and partnership which has seen Voluntary Return Rates rise year on year to an all-time high of 86% across Wales. Failure to recognise that alienates those very stakeholders whose knowledge of their own rivers is so necessary for their recovery.
  • It would send a very clear message to our members that we are being listened to and our concerns are being addressed. In so doing there would be far greater willingness on the part of our members to participate in the development of a “Salmon and Sea Trout Plan of Action”.
  1. If any river fails to achieve a 90% Voluntary C&R rate then, in accordance with the NASCO decision making structure, legislation remains as a backstop. However this must be on a river by river basis and not include any river which has a mean catch of less than 20 salmon

We therefore make a formal request that the introduction of the All Wales Byelaws is deferred until such time as voluntary C&R has been promoted for 1 year as set out in the NASCO Decision Making Structure.

……………………………………….

Annex 1

CNL(14)71

NASCO Implementation Plan for the period 2013-18 EU – UK (England and Wales)

P 26 3. Third stage – option evaluation (purple boxes)

The purpose of this stage is to set out and evaluate options to realise the required changes in exploitation.

For rivers where 50%≤p<95% (where p= probability of failing the management objective) and the trend is down and with an annual catch of >20 salmon and C&R rate < 90%, then voluntary C&R will promoted for 1 year. If this fails to significantly improve C&R rates, mandatory C&R or closure of the fishery will be considered. Protected rivers such as SACs (Special Areas of Conservation) are given particular emphasis

For rivers where the above criteria apply, except that the annual mean salmon catch is <20 salmon, voluntary measures will be promoted

NRW Technical Case Structure Final P93 6.7 Options for salmon

As identified in Section 5, the salmon stocks across Wales (with the exception of the R. Usk) are classified as either “At risk” or “Probably at Risk” of failing to meet the management objective, based on the 2016 stock assessment, and are also predicted to remain in that category in five years-time.

As such, our Decision Structure guides us to “Identify a range of options to ensure sufficient spawning escapement to move to <50% probability of failure (of meeting the management objective) within five years (Probably not at risk category) while looking to maintain socio-economic benefits where possible.”

The combined kill of salmon by both the net and rod fisheries should therefore cease in order to help to improve the status of the stock in the short term.

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