I like the idea of myself as a revolutionary figure, with guns blazing, shooting down all the politicians and greedy b****s who have done so much over past decades to reduce the values of our angling pastimes, whether it be sea angling, coarse angling, or game angling. True anglers will know that I am not referring in any sense to monetary values, but the value that an angler gains from being in a place of tranquillity, or beauty, or even the dramatic roughness of a beach or coastal area when there was a run of big cod.
I am reminded of when I first saw the famous Royalty Fishery. It was in ugly surroundings. The railway, the pylons, the ugly skyline of commercialism, and soon the by-pass with its continual traffic drone and associated smells. But the river itself? What wonder, what clarity, what power, and what wonderful fish, held, it appeared to me on those very hot and very still summer days, as if suspended in air, in space, in that beautiful water. When the sun was high in summer, and at the right angle, it would push its rays to the very bed of the river in the piles swim, in its deepest parts, and reveal to the world the secrets of that depth. The giant barbel, and the salmon, would come into view, amazing by present day standards of clarity, as Brian Parkinson, the head bailiff during those early years of my acquaintance with the river, told me that the deeper part of the piles swim was l8 ft deep.
Holding sway in the lower piles would be seatrout, chub, and large shoals of dace, the former not so easily seen in the more turbulent stream of this shallower swim, but the chub, much easier to fix the gaze as they drifted over the bed. Across from the office would be a large shoal of roach with a good sprinkling of two pounders, enough to make any angler spend time to watch, and ponder, and wonder. They were not an easy touch, but occasionally they would fill an angler's heart when they were 'on'.
The river was a place to observe the lives of fishes, their movements, the differing manner in which such movement was controlled by the varied species, and how this dictated the type of water they liked in both depth and current, and also whether they preferred the vicinity of weed beds or a more open environment. With loose feeding or groundbaiting they could be watched feeding, and as much could be learned by the observant angler as could be learned by fishing, at least until one became knowledgeable in the ways of fishes.
I'm getting carried away here as all I wanted to do really was agree with Geoff Maynard, that UK coarse fishing is bad, in rivers anyway, to what it used to be, and I was simply going to start with the example of the Royalty Fishery, which many anglers know, and many more will have heard of or read about, and try to explain how beautiful the actual water was, and how today, even when we think it is clear, the deepest visibility you are likely to have is a mere 6 or 7ft, and the causes of that lack of extreme clarity, are some of the many reasons for the deterioration of quality of our fisheries.
One of the problems for coarse anglers is that you will never get the EA to agree that it is bad. There isn't any real criteria except for the salmon and sea trout fisheries, where it has always been a legal requirement to give a return of catches. And that is a basis for undeniable proof of deterioration, although argument will always be sought to shift the blame on the netsmen, changing climate, and so on. Studies of recruitment, egg survival, and egg fertilisation however, does show that there are very real problems with many of our rivers.
Why is clarity far less than it used to be? There can only be one main reason, and that is that the water contains more suspended matter. As anglers, continually by our beloved streams and rivers, we are all aware that there are many reasons for the increase in suspended solids over the last few decades, but all of them are due to mankind. I must be honest though, and admit that some rivers have been cleaned up considerably to the state to which they had deteriorated. Rivers that had been allowed as drainage systems for industrial waste, badly treated sewage, raw sewage, we all know what it was like, but it has always seemed illogical to me that a system was allowed in many waterways, where pollutants and effluents were deliberately introduced as a means of disposal, only to be removed at great cost downstream of their point of entry, so that the foul water could be returned to good drinking water.
Despite the improvements to the worst areas of river desecration, as anglers, we also know that where fishing was good, as the rivers were still capable of sustaining a large fish population, that there has been a steady decline in that population, with some species becoming very difficult to find in areas where they were once common. Insidious pollutions, effluents that are considered to be 'non-damaging' to the environment, have been given consents in their THOUSANDS by Authorities, and must take the blame for much of it, but so must many of the farming practices since the last war.
It was interesting to hear Tony Blair admit recently when referring to the foot and mouth epidemic, yes, epidemic, that perhaps intensive farming was a reason for many of the present ills that farmers have suffered over the last decade. Anglers like me have been saying this for more than a decade, more than two decades, and I know that I said it in last month's article, but I make no apologies for repeating it yet again. The policies of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in their wish for over production, intensive farming and such, is the greater part of the causes of recent farming problems, and many of the causes of the deterioration of river fisheries. And not to forget my absolute belief that fish farming has been a major cause of damage to fisheries, sanctioned with much enthusiasm by the MAAF, I shall not miss here another chance to say so.
I don't think that I have mentioned before in the few pieces I have contributed to this website, that a study into damaging pheromones emitting from fish farms, was undertaken last year by CEFAS. One of the results was that the pheromones from female rainbow trout, caused male salmon to become ripe long before the females were in similar condition. In other words, the males were incapable of fertilising the eggs when the females were ready. That is intolerable when salmon, as a species, is in danger of extinction on those very rivers where the fish farming of thousands of rainbow trout is practised. I have always been of the opinion that pheromones from fish farms reduced the bio-mass of fishes downstream, of every species, but this latest study has surely put the acceptance of commercial fish farming in rivers containing salmon into question, with a capital 'Q', but I doubt it, as nobody in authority will have the guts to do anything about it.
We are always told that modern farming methods have given us cheap food but is that truly the case? Farmers were subsidised, who pays for that? There were butter mountains, thousands of tons of grain, all unsold to keep a high price. Milk poured down drains because farmers were not allowed to sell it cheap in this country, and so we were forced by Common Market policies to import milk. Who pays for it? And the tax payer, not the Government (they don't have any money) will pick up the bill for BSE and the foot and mouth disease.
The tax payer subsidises hundreds of things of which he is generally unaware, but even in well known areas such as grants, there is very little fairness. Millions of pounds of the public's hard earned cash goes to the arts for example, but compared to the great numbers of anglers, those who are interested in the arts are in a minority. From what one reads and perceives of present day art, the 'artists' should pay the public to look at it!
Grant-in-aid to a couple of opera companies was almost £20 million and yet, as both Geoff Maynard and I mentioned last month, grant-in-aid to the Fisheries section of the EA has been slashed this year by 1.5 million to less than £6 million, but hurrah, hurrah, the Government are now saying that they are accepting the Review of the Moran Committee and are increasing it by £3 million next year. With the spin that they like to put on these sorts of things, I don't doubt that they will say it is 'new' money and that they really do have the angler's interests at heart. Of course, in truth, the grant-in-aid will still have been drastically cut by around £6million since they came into power.
If they really do support angling and the commitment to fisheries in law, why also are they reluctant to accept the fact that birds such as cormorants, saw-billed ducks and the like, damage fisheries. I suppose there is nothing surprising in that when they won't accept that sea lice infestations in wild salmon and sea trout, caused by salmon farming, is a significant factor in the decline of many of the wild stocks of those two species.
In the first paragraph of this piece I used a word that adequately describes a state of being that angling gives to its followers. Tranquillity! With the Government intent on giving away many of those quiet places that we wish to find our sport within, we almost lost that opportunity to lose ourselves in such places alone, or with fellows of similar passions. We were lucky in that the Government did not go that far, but were equally lucky that an amendment to the Rights of Way Bill, which was tabled to give access to riversides, was not accepted. There is little doubt that there will be further proposals to increase public access to the banks of all rivers, and possibly lakes, ponds, any stretch of water, in the future. If that ever happens, we can all forget 'tranquillity'.