University Challenge. Starter for one. Which organisation is best equipped to run Britain's fisheries?
B-a-a-a-rp. King's College, Cambridge. "British Waterways". "Why's that then," says Jeremy Paxman.
"Simple," says a spotty youth with double-barrelled surname whose stately home has more bedrooms than the average council estate. "Because they can make a profit out of it."

The Environment Agency and its predecessor the National Rivers Authority have never managed to make a profit out of the contents of your keepnet. The major reason is that revenue from rod licence sales has always been ploughed back into enforcement checks to make sure anglers buy licences, and restocking programmes.

Government gives little to the EA, and money which is provided is ring-fenced for conserving salmon stocks. One fishing weekly claims rod licence fees are set to rocket by a fiver, to help the EA balance the books.

At the same time commentators say British Waterways, whose commercial revenues have shot up by a third over the last year, is in "robust financial health". While the EA's coarse fishery spending operates on a hand to mouth basis, funded by falling rod licence sales, BW is riding on the crest of a wave. BW raked in 200 million last year - more than 10 times the EA's rod licence revenue.

Canals are now being restored at a rate approaching the speed at which waterways were built during the boom of the industrial revolution. At least one brand new one is planned, along with proposals to link up the Fenland drain and river systems.

New Labour's private sector partnerships are touting new initiatives to develop derelict land beside canals, and establish a grid of inland waterways which can be used to move water from one part of the country to another, to stave off hosepipe bans and shortages. BW is also investigating plans to move waste along some canals to specially-built recycling centres. At present, most of what we throw away is moved by road to designated landfill sites. But two-thirds are set to close in the next decade and BW believes it has the capacity to move millions of tonnes of black bin bags a year by barge.

So what does this mean to your average bum on seatbox?

The EA inherited angling when it took over the functions of the former National Rivers Authority. The only the money the EA can spend on coarse fisheries is what it raises from rod licence sales and grants from other bodies. As stated previously, rod licences are rumoured to be set for a 5 increase next year, in a bid to claw in more funding. Whether you agree with this or not, you can at least see where every penny goes if you wade through the EA's accounts and the organisation has a degree of accountability.

British Waterways' pitch would probably be along the lines of "we're so cash rich we could invest the missing millions into fisheries". The big question is whether commercial interests would do a better job. Can we trust people who want to use canals to move waste to make sure anglers' interests get a good enough shout?

British Waterways' annual report reveals what the corporation claims is "a remarkable increase in self-generated income of more than 30% in just one year, placing one of the country's oldest built transport networks in the fast lane of success"

Commercial activity alone, in areas including property, telecommunications and leisure has seen a 33% income rise in 2000/01. British Waterways chief executive, Dave Fletcher, says: "The outstanding increase in our trading income is one of the engines driving forward the improvement of the waterways infrastructure.

"We have just embarked on a period of real delivery with our own 'magnificent seven' major restorations, re-openings and new build projects completed or nearing completion. We are on target and on budget. They show we can successfully bring about widespread economic, social and environmental improvements while conserving and enhancing our waterway landscapes and heritage."

'Waterways for Tomorrow', the first Government policy document on canals and inland waterways for over 30 years (published June 2000), confirmed the important and expanding role that waterways are playing in regeneration. It acknowledges that imaginative waterway restoration breathes life and vibrancy into both urban and rural landscapes, attracting investment, generating a sense of community pride and providing the catalyst for widespread improvements.

The remarkable waterway revival endorsed by 'Waterways for Tomorrow' has already begun with the re-opening in May this year of two canals - the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal in Scotland (jointly 57 miles of restored waterways).

British Waterways chairman, George Greener, says: "Innovative partnership at all levels is the cornerstone of our success in delivering these key projects and in achieving the funding that will enable us to continue to do so. British Waterways' unique and flexible approach, managing leading edge engineering and working with the public and private sectors, is making a real difference to the lives of people in Britain in the 21st century."

Over 18 months the organisation is completing seven major waterway restorations; surmounting huge obstacles, including motorways, major roads, buildings and even a town centre; completing the restoration of magnificent, historic waterway structures; creating a new landmark in Scotland; and even building a brand new waterway.

Dave Fletcher says: "Many people said that what was promised was impossible to achieve. With our partners we have proved them wrong - and we intend to carry on doing so. British Waterways has evolved into a unique public corporation using partnerships to drive forward imaginative ventures that make innovative and sustainable use of the 200-year-old network.

"The most recent examples in public private partnerships are to develop a national watergrid for water supply, to innovatively exploit property assets to make a major contribution in urban and rural regeneration, and to provide telecommunications services for next generation systems based on the fibre-optic network. These new income streams, in combination with other partnerships, will help to realise the real potential of the waterways to better the lives of millions. I am determined to unlock that potential.
"A tranche of new schemes has been targeted, including: the Cotswold Canals, Droitwich Canals, Montgomery Canals, Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal, Foxton Inclined Plane and even the construction of a brand new canal linking Bedford and Milton Keynes. Our commitment, with the support of our partners, will be used to ensure that waterways remain a central and properly funded part of the nation's life.

Matt Thompson