Coarse fishing close season – the debate
15 March – 15 June is the close season for coarse fishing. Coarse fishing on rivers is banned during this period but angling on still waters continues. A recent survey revealed that 71% of the 7,000 anglers who voted were in favour of abolishing the close season. But would that be a good idea?
Where’s the evidence?
Those in favour of ending the close season argue that there is no conclusive evidence that it is necessary to protect fish stocks in rivers. However, river monitoring stations are showing fish levels to be at an all-time low. To what extent is angling contributing to the problem?
The lifting of the close season on still waters does not appear to have had a negative impact. Some argue that angling activities in the spring keep certain species better fed and more able to spawn. It has also been suggested that the fishing industry would benefit financially if the rivers were kept open between March and June. But the big money is in carp fishing and match fishing and these activities continue throughout the spring.
No close season in Europe
In Europe, most countries do not have a close season and this does not appear to be negatively effecting fish stocks. But in the UK stocks are low and there is evidence that insufficient young fish are surviving to maturity. Lifting the close season could make this situation worse and spawning might be seriously disrupted. The fish are highly visible and so become easy targets when they are on gravels.
Many anglers recognise the numerous issues facing our rivers and basically represent a pressure group which fights for solutions. Some fear that if the close season was abolished, the anglers would lose the moral high ground regarding the environment. The issues facing rivers are as follows:
- Water abstraction for agriculture
- Pollution – agricultural pesticides and fertilisers are washed into the water courses. In addition, storm water carries pollution from urban areas into our rivers which can also become polluted due to poor industrial practices.
- Habitat loss - woodland, grasslands, wetlands and floodplains help to keep erosion and other pollution out of our rivers. They also moderate the effects of rainwater, helping to stabilize water flow into rivers. Many of these natural features have been lost or altered.
- Flow modification – dams transform a free-flowing river ecosystem into an artificial slack-water reservoir habitat. The alteration to a river's flow and the sediment transported downstream deliver a serious environmental impact.
- Non-native species – the introduction of non-native species of flora and fauna has also impacted our rivers and therefore the fish stocks.
- Climate change – higher temperatures are causing the rapid evaporation of water supplies.
To make matters worse, there has been an increase in extreme weather events which can also seriously impact the environment.
As our rivers are facing so many challenges, would it really be a good idea to extend the coarse fishing season? Perhaps more research into the possible effects of lifting the close season should be conducted. If angling was permitted on a small number of rivers, it would be possible to monitor the impacts on fish stocks and the environment. In the absence of such evidence, it seems unlikely that there will be an end to the debate.