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New fishing bylaws for North Wales

Anglers in Wales are up in arms as new fishing bylaws will be introduced in January 2020.
Wales is notable for the quality of its wild brown trout, grayling and salmon fishing and has some of the best sea trout rivers in Europe. Fishing supports tourism and so is extremely important to the economy of the region.

Unfortunately, fish stocks have fallen dramatically and the new bylaws are aimed at addressing this issue. But anglers are less than happy about the forthcoming curbs on fishing. They have challenged the findings of research by , but their complaints have not been upheld. Anglers now face mandatory catch-and-release, bait bans, slot limits and seasonal restrictions.

Salmon and sea trout in decline

Planning inspector Declan Beggan has concluded that the proposed bylaws are appropriate. During his enquiry, anglers had argued that fishing was not to blame for the declines in salmon and sea trout.
The Campaign for the Protection of Welsh Fisheries, which represented 21 angling clubs and riparian owners, argued rigorously that other factors including water abstraction, sewage, fish predation and in-river obstructions were bigger factors in the declines.

Anglers also questioned the methodology used by Natural Resources Wales to assess the fish stocks and the factors impacting them. However, Declan Beggan found the assessments to be persuasive. In addition, he has stated that the new bylaws would only effect 15% of anglers and that they already operate voluntary catch and release.

Intervention by the Angling Trust

joined the argument and furnished evidence that in Wales, anglers currently return 86% of the salmon they catch and generally only catch 10-15% of the salmon in a river. This means they can only be held responsible for less than 2% of the mortality of adult salmon. The organisation has stated that it believes the new bylaws to be heavy handed, given that all parties agree that fishing is not the primary cause of the issues at hand.

There is clearly a serious problem with fish stocks in North Wales, everyone is agreed about that. But the cause of the problem remains hotly disputed. The authorities have accepted that all factors in fish declines must be addressed and soon.

New plan of action

Certainly, agricultural pollution has significantly impacted fish mortality. It is likely that regulations will be introduced to restrict agricultural pollution and that these will be aligned with the introduction of the new fishing bylaws. Ministers are intending to draw up a Salmon and Sea Trout Plan of Action before January 2020. This should encompass fishing, pollution, artificial weirs and the shortage of bailiffs in the area.

Enduring controversy

The controversy over the fishing bylaws is one of those situations where all parties want the same outcome but can’t agree on the best way to achieve it. Anglers are baring the brunt of new measures while farmers who are polluting the rivers appear to be carrying on regardless.

This is an argument which looks set to run and run. It is vital that solutions to declining fish stocks are found. If they are not, fishing byelaws will be irrelevant as there will be no fish left to catch.


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