News article created on 24 March 2016

Fishing on the canals in the traditional coarse fish close season

A few days ago my colleagues launched a website survey giving the public an opportunity to provide us with feedback on the new site compared to the previous one and also to make any suggested improvements.

Fishing on the Shropshire Union

It’s still not too late to take part in the website survey.

Early Feedback on the Fishing Pages

One of the early pieces of feedback we have received from several responders is that the fishing pages didn’t have any information regarding the status of the canal close season. Its useful feedback like this that is always gratefully received, particularly if it’s easy for me to do something about! So we have rectified this oversight and there is now a complete list of canals which have a close season.

River Interactions and the Close Season

As you will see if you click on the link, the vast majority of the Trust's canal network is open for fishing all the year round.

This first came into place in 2000 although a local byelaw had lifted the canal close season in the old NRA north-west region back in the early 1990s. There are two categories of canal that have kept the close season: the first being those which are intimately interconnected with adjacent rivers. The eastern section of the Kennet & Avon is a good example of this. It has at least eight confluences with the River Kennet. I think the Environment Agency made a sensible decision to classify the whole of the eastern end of the canal from Kintbury downstream to Reading as retaining a close season, whilst opening up the whole of the western section of canal from Kintbury westwards to Bath. In Bath, the canal joins the Bristol Avon which, being a river, does have a close season. In my opinion, the fish stocks and fishing on the western end of the Kennet & Avon is as good as any on the whole canal network.

Canal Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Other sections of canal retained a close season if they were classified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest although not all canal SSSIs have a close season, the Rochdale Canal at Todmorden being an example. Personally, I believe the argument for retaining the close season on parts of the Ashby and Grand Union Canals, to name two examples, is not especially strong. These canals are open to every other customer group and a small number of anglers fishing is not likely to have much of an impact on the conservation status of these sections of waterway. I understand the frustrations of our paying angling customers and who knows, perhaps one day the situation can be reviewed.

What is the coarse fishing close season really for?

It was back in the 1870s that the Mundella Act established the principles of close seasons for fish. In those days freshwater course and game fish were an important component of the diet and there were fears of over-exploitation. Fish stocks were already under huge pressure from pollution and many great rivers have seen fish stocks wiped out. It was a sensible move to prevent the taking of stocks at and around the time of spawning. Interestingly, there was a spirited debate at the time regarding the best dates for the coarse fish close season. All things being equal, one would expect fish to spawn slightly earlier in the south than in the north. But mere logic does not always prevail and it came to pass that in Yorkshire the so called ‘stolen fortnight’ came into being, with the new season opening on 1st June rather than the 16th June date which operated elsewhere.

What the close season is not for?

Conspiracy theorists claim that the real purpose of the Mundella Act was a plot by the ruling aristocracy to keep the ‘common man’ away from the rivers during the best part of the year for trout fishing. The close season for coarse fish was never implemented to prevent general environmental impacts of angler activity which might include the trampling of vegetation and the ‘scaring’ of wildlife by human presence. If there was a need to achieve these broad objectives, it would need to be covered by general environmental legislation. This would inevitably need to apply equally to all people who ventured near to water. I really could not imagine any government, unless for some reason it really wanted to lose a general election, bringing in such legislation which would antagonise walkers, dog owners, cyclists, joggers and boaters to name but some of the people whose leisure activity would be impacted by such a move.

Has the removal of the close season on canal and stillwaters benefitted the sport?

It was argued by some at the time of the lifting of the close season on stillwaters and canals that the tackle trade would benefit, the number of anglers would increase and that fisheries would earn more income from extra trading days. It is hard to find the evidence to support these optimistic predictions. The number of tackle shop outlets has certainly decreased in the past 15 years or so but online sales have played a significant role in the decline of the traditional fishing tackle shop.

Rod licence sales data gives a pretty accurate assessment of the number of people who regularly go fishing and, as we all know, the figures in the past few years have headed in the wrong direction. Whilst I am sure that some commercial fisheries did see an increase in turnover, this certainly never happened to any great extent, if at all, on the canal network.

A personal perspective

I do look back with a certain amount of nostalgia to the anticipation we felt for the opening of the new season on 16th June. It’s no exaggeration to say we had to queue to get served in the tackle shop and get to the fishery before first light on opening day to secure our favourite swim. It’s something that new entrants into the sport will almost certainly never have a chance to experience.

About this blog

The fisheries & angling team

The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.

See more blogs from this author