Wednesday, September 13, 2006

PAC enters fray over Scottish Fisheries Bill

Plans to poison river systems are set to go before Scottish MPs, in a bill officials claim will safeguard the country's fisheries against a deadly salmon parasite.
Proposed legislation also seeks to ban the use of livebaits, claiming this will prevent the spread of so-called alien species, and give ministers powers to ban any other baits or lures.
The Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain (PAC) tonight came out strongly in support of the Scottish Federation for Coarse Angling and the Pike Anglers Alliance for Scotland.
Both have expressed severe reservations about provisions in the Draft Aqualculture and Fisheries Bill which could have profound implications for both coarse and pike anglers.
"We endorse representations already made by our colleagues in the SFCA and PAAS," a spokesman said.
"We share their view that while it would be so simple to get things right and produce legislation which safeguards fisheries for the future, along with the important tourist industry which has grown up around them, this bill appears to get some things profoundly wrong."
Scientists claim a deadly salmon parasite called Gyrodactylus Salaris, which has infected salmon in Scandinanvia, could spread to the country's rivers.

The new Draft Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill contains powers both to erect barriers to prevent fish movements and then use "chemical agents" on affected stretches.

The PAC claims this is a "shoot first, ask questions later approach", which could wipe out stocks of coarse fish which can neither carry or become infected by GS.

In its submission to Scotland's Environment and Rural Development Committee, it warns eradication could have "unknown environmental consequences and cause unknown damage to the genetics of fish strains which have evolved in a catchment".

"Fish eating birds obviously depend on fish, as do otters. Wiping out stocks in a catchment obviously deprives both of their main food source, again with unforseen consequences," it adds.

"It should also be noted that so far, GS has not occurred anywhere in the British Isles and has so far been confined to Scandinavian salmon populations.

"We fully support and endorse the responses already tabled by the Pike Anglers Alliance or Scotland and Scottish Federation for Coarse Angling.

"We are extremely concerned at provisions which allow the eradication of all species in rivers or catchments where an infestation of GS is detected.

"While selectively culling an infected species may be necessary in the event of an infection, there can be no justification for eradicating fish which are not susceptible to or capable of carrying GS.

"We endorse the Scottish Federation for Coarse Angling's view that eradication should not be the "default approach".

Fish eating birds obviously depend on fish, as do otters. Wiping out stocks in a catchment obviously deprives both of their main food source, again with unforseen consequences.

The PAC believes bans on baits and lures should be left to fishery owners and controlling clubs, in consultation with interested and informed bodies such as the Scottish Federation for Coarse Angling, the Pike Anglers Alliance for Scotland and itself.

"While we welcome the provision of added protection for freshwater fish species against removal or activities that adversely affect their environment," its submission goes on.

"We are aware that indiscriminate culling of coarse fish, generally by the use of nets, takes place on many waters in Scotland, yet at present the law exercises little control over the removal of freshwater fish by means other than rod and line.

The PAC rejects the claim that anglers translocating livebaits have been responsible for the wholesale introduction of species such as roach to waters where they were not previously indiginous.
More likely sources are deliberate stockings made by clubs, proprietors or individual anglers, and escapes or discards from fish farms and even garden ponds.

"Pike anglers were blamed for this to justify blanket bans on coarse fish in Cumbria," a spokesman said.
"Yet three years down the line, the Environment Agency said that an increasing roach population in lakes such as Windermere was down to climate change and an increase in mean winter temperatures."
The PAC believes the appropriate way to prevent inappropriate introductions and transfers is by legislation directly regulating fish movements, such as exists in England under Section 30 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act.

There are some crumbs of comfort in the bill, such as rod rests becoming legal for the first time.

"Using rod rests to support multiple rods is legal just about everywhere else in the world and an integral part of prompt bite indication, which is essential if damage to pike stocks is to be minimised," the PAC's submission says.

The club also welcomes restrictions on the use of gaffs and pike gags.

"Pike gags are unnecessary and both ourselves and the Pike Anglers Alliance for Scotland devote considerable energies to promoting safe fish-handling techniques and the use of unhooking mats and the correct tools," it says.

The bill and responses received during a public consultation exercise, which ends on Friday (September 15) will now be considered by the Scottish Environment Committee.

It will then make recommendations about the draft, before Scotish MPs vore on the bill later this year or in early 2007.

For full details of the proposed bill, see here