Saturday, August 11, 2007

NI Region response over Erne pike match

The PAC's Northern Ireland Region has responded to claims made by the organisers of the Erne Classic pike competition.

It comes as two letters are circulated to the media which purport to be from anglers who claim to have fished the event and been happy with standards of fish casre.

Brendan Downey,

Department of Culture,

Arts and Leisure,


20-24, York St.,


Co. Antrim,

BT15 1AQ.

Dear Brendan,


Thank you for your reply of 03/08/07. I have digested the contents of your letter, and I have to say that I'm disappointed with some the responses to the individual issues raised, especially as they mirror similar/ identical letters sent to my colleagues, despite the comprehensive range of issues I articulated.

I would like to clarify, firstly, that I was present for the boat event days at last

year's event, as a concerned observer and stakeholder, and witnessed many instances of poor handling, retention, stewarding methods, and release.

Some of this has been attached as photographic evidence of the points raised here for further clarification, other anecdotal instances can be given in written statement form, on request.

Please contact me at the above address or, if you want me to forward the photos via e-mail.

I wish to raise a number of issues in response, and would be interested in your considered opinion on the same:

1. With regard to dismissing the comparisons between transporting and retaining pike in a competition, I fail to understand how the two events are not comparable? Both involve handling and retaining pike in a stressful situation, resulting in an oxygen debt, build-up of lactic acid in the pike's muscles, changes to body chemistry, etc.

Indeed, retention of fish after being hooked, played, landed, unhooked etc would be evidentially More stressful than fish retained in aerated tanks, with low light, adequate oxygen, clean water, controlled retention conditions, and minimum handling by experienced aqua-culturists or fisheries scientists.

In comparison, competition fish are retained in un-aerated barrels, undergo variable hooking, landing and handling abilities, variable, uncontrolled media for retention (dirty water, no/ depleted oxygen levels, excessive organic debris, uncontrolled ph, faeces, blood, etc.) for indeterminate lengths of time prior to weighing and release, with an accrued, unresolved oxygen debt.

As you know, pike are a "sprint" predator, not designed for protracted chases or fights. As such, after catching, they will have incurred a disproportionate oxygen debt and stress levels, in comparison to those incurred during transportation.

I would welcome your further comments on the veracity of the scenario and comparisons I have drawn above, and would also like to ascertain how you came to your initial conclusions that the two situations are not similar.

With further reference to the above scenario, as custodians of the Public Angling Estate, DCAL fisheries managers and scientists must have surely conducted, or have in their possession, rigorously tested scientific studies to back this hypothesis up (ie use of barrels as suitable for pike retention?) I'm sure you are aware, as a scientist, that this sort of scientific rigour, based on the Null Hypothesis principle, would ascertain whether the barrels were a suitable environment for retaining Pike; certainly in comparison to the controlled conditions created by your staff when transporting fish.

Again, I would welcome your further comment on this issue; perhaps you could furnish me with a copy of such data, should it exist.

2. With regard to you comment "while the Department assisted the organisers in running the competition, We have NO DIRECT RESPONSIBLITY for the measures employed," I would request further clarification on this statement, in view of the Department's role as guardian and custodian of the Public Angling Estate.

As the Fishery owner, on behalf of the Public in N.I., I would have thought it incumbent upon DCAL to ensure all methods of pike welfare and handling employed were rigorously vetted and sanctioned prior to the commencement of this event, especially due to its size and nature, and the potential widespread impact on pike stocks. Or am I to assume that the organisers were allowed to apply their own rules, without consultation with DCAL on appropriate retention methods.

In addition, can you clarify if DCAL employees also vetted both the stewards and competitors, to ensure competence of marshals, rigorous adherence to the competition rules, and monitoring to establish if appropriate tackle and retention facilities were provided by the organisers, who have in principle hired this venue from the Public Estate for this competition.

Were "Duty of Care" principles enforced on the organisers to ensure reasonable protection of stocks, by enforcement of their own rules.

I would draw your attention to some of the photos attached regarding the use of barrels by the competitors; these clearly show an inappropriate volume and cleanliness of retention water, as well as evidence of de-scaling, when fish were being removed. Barrels of this size are also too small to retain pike of double figures or above, common weight/length ratio data shows that mid-double figure fish can easily exceed 38-40 inches in length- these barrels are no more than 36-37 inches in length (industry standard 200l polyprop. barrels.)

This, as you know, will deplete or reduce oxygen levels below the threshold for pike to recover without undue stress or further complications, which can occur up to 2-3 days after release. Again, are you aware of inappropriate storage conditions being challenged by DCAL staff

monitoring this event? I observed similar low barrel water levels and deteriorated water condition over both days of the event; no competitors were challenged by stewards, who seemed unaware of the implications of these factors.

From the photos supplied, you can see that the barrels were often only a third to a quarter full, which equates to approx. max. 50-70 litres of water in each barrel (as you know, 1kg water= 1litre water.) The use of barrels, in my opinion, is dangerous in itself, especially during rough

conditions. 50-70kg of water sloshing about in a barrel on a boat of maybe 14ft. long can become dangerous in rough weather- two outcomes are possible:

a) The boat becomes dangerous to competitors; fish inside the barrels are also stressed by additional movement.

b) Tendency for competitors to under fill barrels to counter this issue, leading to inappropriate water levels for retention.

These facts can be corroborated by other observers and competitors who entered the competition, and also raised concerns at the time.

Again, I am aware of a number of competitors willing to make statements to this effect, which can be supplied on request.

3. I'm also concerned by your statement "we understand that all fish were returned alive, and the methods employed seem to have worked." What factual evidence is this statement based upon? Did DCAL staff comprehensively monitor the event, and the welfare methods employed? If so, I presume review minutes/ data are extant, and are they available?

If no review took place, in whose opinion were the methods a success, and what factual evidence was submitted as verification? Was verification based solely on DCAL staff watching a DVD of the event, as you allude to in your letter? Who produced this DVD- the organisers/ Sky TV? How long was this DVD, bearing in mind the course for the boat event was 8 miles long, held over 2 days, and approximately 16 angling hours? Was there independent verification of these issues?

As you know, the effects of stress and oxygen deprivation may occur up to a couple of days post event, so I'm confused about your assertion that all fish survived the experience. Without labouring the point, on what evidence is this official DCAL position based?

At the time of the inaugural event, (which I stress, I attended over the 2 days of the boat event,) a number of observers and competitors, including myself, witnessed substandard handling and release by stewards. There was a strong flow on the Erne at that time, and I personally witnessed fish dropped straight from a weigh sling, from a height of 6 feet or more at Carrybridge slipway/jetty, back into the main flow, without recovery, on more than one occasion. These issues were pointed out to the organisers publicly and privately at the time, and indeed after the event.

Again, there are witnesses available willing to testify to these and similar examples in writing, on request. Furthermore, you ask for evidence of fish mortalities - I would like to challenge that it is incumbent on those organising and managing the event to prove that their methods have not caused mortalities.

Visible signs of fish in distress, or lack of it, are not a substitute for proper scientific method, and reeks rather of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. Again, I refer you to the heavy flow on the Erne that day, and the fact that all fish, morbid or otherwise, were carried away quickly. I witnessed this for myself at Carrybridge.

Were there any follow-up checks conducted on the water by DCAL staff to check for mortalities, after the event?

Finally, I categorically welcome the fact that DCAL will review the methods employed, and will research alternatives to those employed.

I would re-iterate that both the PAC and myself are not against the running of this event. (The bank event was well organised, as were aspects of the boat event.) We do believe that some of the critical welfare/ retention methods employed can be markedly improved to reduce fish stress, excessive handling, and potential for mortality during or after the event.

As the PAC is one of the largest single species clubs in the UK, with extensive experience of pike handling and conservation methods, (noted Fisheries Biologists such as Bruno Broughton, Neville Fickling, Barry Rickards, etc. are senior members,) our suggestions to help improve this competition have been submitted to the organisers before, during and after the inaugural event, to no avail.

However, I'm happy to offer a brief precis for reference:

a) Replace barrels with adequate numbers of floating marshals- mobile marshals every 250-500m along the event course, with either walkie-talkie, or visible flag indication of a fish being landed.

Mobile marshals then TRAVEL TO THE COMPETITOR'S BOAT, to preclude retention of fish in a barrel. Fish can then be quickly weighed, recorded, recovered, and returned, reducing undue stress, and recovering oxygen debt.

The added bonus is that experienced stewards are on hand to help inexperienced anglers, should they encounter any handling difficulties.

No fish need to be moved in barrels to weigh stations.

b) Employ pike tubes to allow fish to recover after handling, by suspending off STATIC, anchored boats, during and after the weighing by mobile stewards. This ensures the fish recovers in its own environment, with clean, fully oxygenated water, under the supervision of the stewards present.

This will also enable morbid/ deep hooked fish to be disqualified as per Event rules. Another benefit is that the increased levels of marshalling also enable stringent observation of the event rules, to ensure that pike welfare is paramount. This again protects Public Angling Estate pike stocks.

Additional supplementary methods have also been proposed, and I know the PAC would certainly be willing to discuss them further with DCAL should an inclusive public review occur. I trust that any public review will enable any interested stakeholder such as the PAC to formally submit proposals for improvement?

If so, please indicate when this review will take place. Also, please bear in mind that the PAC has established its Code of Conduct for pike competitions successfully on the largest pike competition in Europe, the ACA/Angling Times yearly event, to the benefit of all stakeholders, including the Pike, so the PAC is experienced in helping conduct large scale predator events.

In conclusion, removal of the use of barrels, and replacement with more practical fish retention methods can only mean a Win-Win scenario - sustainable pike stocks for ALL to enjoy, and a successful event based upon enlightened, modern methods of fish welfare.

As a result, tourism in both Fermanagh and N.I. generally can only benefit.

As ever, I look forward to your prompt reply addressing the issues raised above. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require clarification or any further information.

Yours Sincerely,

Neil Todd,

Region 43, Northern Ireland,

Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain.