Saturday, December 16, 2006

Scottish pike fishing in crisis

Pike fishing in Scotland is in crisis this weekend, with a blanket ban on livebaiting now looking certain and the management of a potential record-breaking water threatening a pike cull to deter poachers.

An eleventh-hour amendment to the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill, soon to be debated by MPs, prohibits the use of all live vertebrates.

Throughout its consultation stage, the bill proposed the less extreme measure of creating the power to ban livebaiting in areas where translocation could be argued to pose a risk to rare species or sensitive ecosystems.

But the tougher power has been strongly endorsed by Scotland's deputy environment minister Rhona Brankin.

Responding to the latest draft of the bill on behalf of the ruling Scottish Executive, she said: "I thank the Committee for their recommendation that the Executive brings forward an amendment at Stage 2 to prohibit the use of live vertebrates as bait. I can confirm that we shall do so."

How realistic - or for that matter enforceable - such a ban might be will remain to be seen in a country where many of the waters pike anglers fish are vast and remote.

During the consultation period before the wording of the bill was changed, the Pike Anglers Alliance for Scotland, Scottish Federation for Coarse Angling and Pike Anglers Club for Great Britain all argued that a similar approach to that currently in force in England would suffice.

In its submission, the PAAS said: "We totally oppose such a ban. It would be both superfluous and disproportionate to the risks it purports to address.

"It is claimed by some that discarded or escaped live baits have been responsible for the introduction of certain species to a number of waters in Scotland.

"There is no hard evidence for this, but even if it is true it could only account for a tiny fraction of the spread of locally non-native species and the dilution of genetic identity among established species in Scotland."

The Scottish Federation for Coarse Angling said: "There is no necessary connection or causal link between the use of live fish as bait and the movement of fish between waters. These are two entirely separate issues.

"The appropriate way to prevent inappropriate introductions and transfers is by legislation directly regulating fish movements.

"No additional Regulation is required. If the Executive believes it is essential to strengthen this by regulating the use of live fish as bait, the appropriate step would be to bring in provisions analogous to those in Denmark which directly restrict the use of livebaits to fish caught on the same day from the same water where they are being used.

"Whilst probably still superfluous, this is workable and would reinforce the message the Executive seeks to convey without alienating the angling community it aims to regulate."

The Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain came out strongly in support of the PAAS and SFCA.

In it's submission, the PAC said: "We believe any bans should be the province of individual 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 ourselves."

Addressing the wider livebaiting issue, it added: "We reject 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.

"We believe that 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."

As the PAC and PAAS decide whether it is worth mounting some kind of last ditch lobbying effort, it emerged that the management at Gartmorn Dam are considering culling their potentially record-breaking stock of pike.

Broadcaster Keith Arthur broke the story on his show on Talksport this morning.

It is understood management at the 168-acre Clackmannanshire trout water have told Angling Times they will bring out the gill nets if pike anglers don't stop poaching the water, which is closed to all anglers between October and March 31.

The lake has produced fish to over 40lbs in recent seasons, and a string of 30lbs-plus specimens.

Ironically, pike anglers are allowed to fish the water via privileged access days organised by the Pike Anglers Alliance for Scotland.

But there have been confrontations on the banks in recent months involving pike anglers poaching the water and officials claim fences have been damaged and ropes set out in the water to prevent trout being stolen have been cut.