Sunday, 18 September 2016

30-year "war" over the king of fish


A war of words between the "landed gentry" who own the world renowned salmon fishing beats on the River Tweed and a dwindling band of fishermen in North-east England accused of intercepting tens of thousands of fish heading for Scottish rivers looks set to continue for at least another six years.

The Atlantic salmon in question may be 'wild' but the riparian owners of those lucrative angling waters continue to pile pressure on the UK Government to speed up the complete removal of drift net licences and beach netting on the Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire coasts.

For their part the working fishermen of the north-east claim the angling proprietors are motivated by pure greed, and that there is no scientific argument for the demise of their 'traditional' methods of catching salmon and sea trout which have been a way of life for countless decades.

Publication of the number of salmon caught by the English drift nets and the T & J or fixed engine beach nets has prompted renewed calls for an end to both methods of fishing ahead of the planned 'death' of drift netting in 2022 and the phasing out of the beach nets.

A blog written by one Tweed proprietor describes as "staggering" the 15,989 salmon taken by the north east coast fisheries in 2015. And yet the total is only a fraction of the 50,849 caught in 1988 or the average figure of 56,000 between 1970 and 1976. At that time there were close to 200 drift net licences compared to the dozen or so which survive into 2016.

According to a 1982 Fisheries Research report compiled by researchers 94% of the salmon intercepted off north-east England may have been returning to Scottish waters. The angling proprietors have been involved in a relentless campaign ever since to rid the seas of drift nets and, according to the netsmen, to have total access to every wild salmon in the North Sea.

The Tweed Beats blogger writes: "These 15,989 salmon (almost all killed) are caught by just 12 drift nets and 49 T & J nets at a time when the east coast Scottish rivers, which produce most of these fish, had another very poor year in 2015, if not quite as bad as 2014. By contrast, Tweed rods caught 8,091 salmon in 2015 and killed just 1,651 of those caught.

"One imagines there is not a salmon angler in the land who does not want to see the end of the last remaining major interceptory net fishery around the coast of Great Britain and Ireland. The drift nets are being phased out already, but it needs to be quicker, and the T & J nets, also to predate on mixed stocks need to go to."

The netters may have taken 15,989 salmon last year, but their hauls in some previous seasons were much less impressive with totals lower than the numbers caught on Tweed. In 2012 the catch was 7,318 with only 5,395 taken in 2009, 5,241 in 2008 and 7,091 in 2007.

The National Federation of Fishermen's Associations [NFFA] continue to fight drift netting's corner. In a letter to Fishing News, Ned Clark, chairman of the Association's North-east Committee wrote: "There is something uniquely mean-spirited and vindictive about the campaign by one of the richest power blocks in the country to extinguish the small-scale net fishery for salmon and trout in the north east of England.

"This issue, although cloaked in spurious conservation arguments, has always been about the resentment of recreational anglers and riparian owners towards the small share pf the catch taken by the traditional nets. No expense has been spared to hire ex-DEFRA and Marine Scotland civil servants to advise and front the lobbying campaign.

In December 2012 Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon announced the closure of the drift net fishery in 2022 with the T & J nets to be gradually phased out. The NFFa claimed the move was to placate the "landed/riparian lobby" following 30 years of continuous pressure.

The drift net fishery has been in the process of being phased out since 1992 when John Selwyn Gummer, another Government minister, decided drift net licences should be surrendered when the holder retired rather than passing them on to the next generation. Many licencees accepted offers to buy them out after the angling proprietors and the Government set up a £1.5 million fund for the purpose.

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