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'No taxation without representation,' demanded American colonists in the 1750s and 1760s. It was the British government’s refusal to acknowledge that principle which in part contributed to the start of the American War of Independence back in 1775.
Two hundred years later the same mistake was avoided when with the passing of the 1975 Salmon & Freshwater Fisheries Act. Amongst many other things, the Act re-confirmed the principle that regional fisheries advisory committees should operate to advise the water authorities in their duty of maintaining, improving and developing fisheries. Originally known as Fisheries Advisory Committees, they went through a couple of name changes and tweaks, adding recreation and ultimately the wider environmental matter, eventually becoming Regional Fisheries Environment & Recreational Advisory Committees (RFERAC’s).
I was first appointed in the mid 1990’s to the Thames regional RFERAC. I found myself in somewhat exalted company and felt somewhat out of my depth. The fisheries delegates present at that first meeting included Michael Gregory, the eminent lawyer, Dick Hodges chairman of the London Anglers Association, Brian Knights the eel expert, Peter Spillett from Thames Water, Mark Hatcher from NAFAC, Terry Mansbridge (link) wearing several hats, Richard Knowles from the Upper Thames Fisheries Consultative and David Wales from the Thame Consultative. Fellow British Waterways Fisheries & Environment Managers, Steve Griffiths and Keith Fisher also sat on other RFERAC’s in different areas of the country.
It’s probably not as controversial as its sounds to propose that the general consensus was that by the early part of the millennium the EA had become less good at listening to the views of the representatives of stakeholders who funded the biggest proportion of the fisheries service. RFERAC’s finally bit the dust following the 2010 election. A national group called the England & Wales Fisheries Group (EWFG) was then set up. British Waterways had no representation at that stage, which disappointed a good number of our angling customer club officials. EWFG became the England Fisheries Group in 2013
It was just over a year ago that Richard Parry, the Trust's Chief Executive received an invitation inviting the Trust to become part of the group. When Richard asked me to be the Trusts representative, I was naturally delighted to accept. Privately, I had always agreed with those club officials who believed that the nation’s largest owners of fisheries should be an integral part of the group. After all, the total membership of all 250 or so of Canal & River Trust customer clubs is around 80,000 who in total contribute over £2 million in rod licence income to the Agency.
The Angling Trust are represented by Mark Lloyd, Mark Owen along with National Regions Manager John Cheyne. The other bodies represented are the Salmon & Trout Conservation, Institute of Fisheries Management, Rivers Trust, Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Wild Trout Trust. DEFRA and the Welsh Government also send observers to the quarterly meetings.
I have to say that I have been impressed with the way the group works. The big change since my RFERAC days has been the concept of co-operative working involving some or all of the organisations represented. There is a genuine desire on the part of Sarah Chare, the Deputy Director of Fisheries, Biodiversity and Geomorphology and her Agency colleagues to not only listen but to really take on board the diverse views of the various partners.
At the latest meeting, two agenda items of interest to all readers were on the agenda, namely rod licences and future arrangements for the Fisheries Management Advisors.
We first began discussing these around a year ago and so I had to be careful not to let the cat out of the bag. George Eustice, Minister of State at DEFRA recently announced the 2017 proposals. I must confess that I am a firm supporter of the proposed abolition of the junior rod licence believing that it acts as a barrier to getting youngsters fishing regularly. But as Churchill once said, it’s safest to avoid making predictions, especially those about the future.
I guess time will tell if I am right or not. Given the income lost to fisheries will not be much more than £300,000, then it’s a gamble worth taking, especially as the proposed rise to £30 for the adult licence should more than offset the lost revenue.
At the last meeting, we also discussed what the future arrangements might be for the Angling Trust Fisheries Management Advisors. These are the guys who help clubs up and down the land with guidance to reduce the impact of predation on fisheries, in particular cormorants and goosanders.
I have worked closely with both Richard Bamforth and Jake Devoile. In the space of just a couple of years they have achieved a great deal and brought a consistent national approach and joined up thinking at catchment level. I do very much hope that despite the current austerity, the investment funds can be found to continue to build on the good work they have already undertaken.
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.