Pike fishing in Scotland has taken a body blow, after last ditch attempts to stave off a ban on livebaiting failed.
A ban on the use of live vertebrates for bait was included in the final draft of the Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill which was debated by Scottish MPs on Thursday, March 1.
Amendments calling for the ban to be replaced with a restriction on the use of livebaits to fish caught from the same water on the same day were defeated during the final debate.
It came after a long and well-argued campaign by the Scottish Federation for Coarse Angling and the Pike Anglers Alliance for Scotland, which was supported by the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain.
During the debate, Tory MSP Jamie McGrigor told the Edinburgh Parliament: "I totally understand that the minister's primary concern is to prevent the contamination of waters with alien species that are used as live bait, but I am far from convinced that such practices are responsible for any more than a small percentage of the alien species that appear in our lochs and rivers.
"I would support the minister if she were to introduce a Danish-style ban on live bait by banning the use of live bait that had not been caught on the same day and in the same waterway that is being fished.
"However, I worry that, in outlawing completely the use of live bait, we may be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
"The fact remains that the use of live bait is a thoroughly well-established practice among pike fishermen, who travel from far and wide to Scotland's lochs to enjoy some of the best pike fishing anywhere in the British isles or the world.
"In my view, the Parliament should do all that it can to further the growth of coarse angling generally and pike fishing specifically.
"Therefore, I worry that including the provision on the face of the bill will send out all the wrong signals to the coarse fishermen who currently come to Scotland and to those who are considering coming here in the future."
But Green MSP Ealeanor Scott said: "For me, two issues are involved. The first, which motivated the Executive, is biodiversity and the risk of fish used as bait becoming established in an area where they did not belong and posing a threat to the native species. The second issue is fish welfare. It is acknowledged that fish are sentient beings and I do not think that it is right that live vertebrates be used as bait.
"I not believe that using live fish as bait is acceptable nowadays. I accept that that puts me at odds with the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain, with which I have corresponded.
"The first thing that one sees on its website is instructions for fishing for pike with dead bait, so it is not inevitable that one must fish for pike with live bait—although I accept that the club says that using live bait provides better sport at a certain time of year. In this day and age, we should not be using live fish as bait."
Deputy Environment Minister Sarah Boyack, who steered the bill through the Scottish Parliament, said: "I acknowledge that the strongly held views for and against the use of live vertebrates as bait tend to split along the lines that are associated with different branches of the sport.
"Those who wish to fish for predatory fish such as pike want no ban, whereas those who fish for other fish want a ban.
"It has been argued that introducing the ban simply supports the views of the latter group, but those on both sides of the argument share the same environment, and the fact remains that the use of live vertebrates by one group could compromise the environment and the fishing of another group.
"The use of live vertebrates as bait has resulted in the translocation of live fish from one body of water to another. We need only look at Loch Lomond to see what has happened.
"The loch now supports a number of fish species that are new to the loch. One of those species, the ruffe, is now the most numerous fish in the loch and it is thought to pose a major threat to the loch's indigenous powan, which is an internationally important species of freshwater fish found in Loch Lomond and Lock Eck and which is listed in the habitats directive.
"The use of lures and dead fish—often marine species such as sprat or mackerel—gives anglers an ample range of methods and there is no need to put biodiversity at risk.
"We do not want to suggest that pike anglers should not come to Scotland, they will still be very welcome."
In the end, just 11 Tory MPs backed the amendment. Eighty, from all other parties, voted against.