Two words which are frequently used in an environmental context are ‘responsible’ and ‘sustainable’. Doing away with a statutory lay-off period for coarse fishing on rivers would be neither responsible nor sustainable.
It would adversely affect the fish themselves as the quarry we depend on for our sport and enjoyment; it would certainly tarnish the image of angling, and hand over ammunition to the antis, who would dearly love to ban angling altogether. All-year-round river coarse fishing would, make no mistake, hand them a considerable weapon to be used against us. I can just imagine PETA and the like lining up their arguments when the legislation went through (if they have not begun to line them up already, that is): ‘UK coarse anglers target spawning fish; rivers turn into killing fields, etc, etc’
And you know what? I think they might gain a lot of sympathy for their cause. Probably even more than we as anglers would lose for ours.
And it would not only be extremists who went in for the attack. Our image among members of the general (and normally fair and unbiased) public would suffer as well. It simply would not look good at all for us to be seen to maximise our time at the waterside in this selfish way.
I must say I was really shocked and disappointed to learn that the pro/con debate on the closed season had been opened yet again. Enforcing a lay-off period is one way we anglers can demonstrate our environmental credentials. Many anglers do not realise that even outsiders to our sport rate angling as a factor beneficial to the general environment. But lifting the current restrictions on rivers would lose us many friends.
Creation of fisheries in turn creates a niche for birds and other wildlife, for example. And a lay-off period, even on still-waters, gives an added impetus to those environmental benefits. Many angling clubs close lakes and other enclosed waters for a month or two in the spring to allow nesting birds to get on with their business undisturbed, for example.
True, there may be a case for varying the lay-off period to suit local conditions or particular species, but in general terms we need a closed season to ensure that fish have a chance to feed properly in the spring run-up to spawning, and also a chance thereafter to spawn undisturbed and to recover a bit from that exhausting process. We are simply refraining from fishing for certain species when they are at their most vulnerable, and – let us be perfectly honest with ourselves about this – when they are most likely to go belly-up. Not to mention when they are in poor condition and hardly worth catching. It would all be – to use a rather old-fashioned, but very appropriate term – unsporting.
I am not interested in ‘scientific evidence’ suggesting that the closed season is a waste of time. Whatever this ‘evidence’ might be, common sense and a feel for fair play tell me that retaining a closed season would be a positive move.
Neither do I take too much notice of the so-called ‘democratic’ argument that many, if not most anglers would be in favour of opening rivers to year-round fishing. To say the least, it is a highly dubious one. I suspect that many of these anglers are unable to get to grips with what I call ‘real’ river fishing, which takes place mainly in the winter. Cold weather (the poor dears…) and rain-swollen rivers tend to put a lot of potential anglers off fishing in the colder months, so they call for rivers to be open all the year round. The most ridiculous suggestion I have come across on this subject was that, if we really must have a closed period on rivers, it should be for three months over the winter, fishing to resume in April, simply to accommodate anglers when it came to the time when they preferred to fish!
Such suggestions show an appalling lack of knowledge of the fish concerned and are – to use what some might consider a harsh term – unethical. In other words, they show consideration for the angler, but not the fish.
In the end, angling is not a science: it is a sport based on reasonable ethics and care for the target species on which we depend for that sport. And we as anglers should demonstrate sportsmanship.
A closed season makes sense: period.
Coarse fishermen would do well to look to game fishing for a bit of guidance as to how to conserve and manage their most precious asset: the fish they want to catch. Salmon anglers are now happily living with growing restrictions on the methods they use and the times when they use them, not only with the ever-growing regime of catch-and-release, but with restrictions on fishing when water temperature is high and fish would be stressed and prone to die if caught and handled. The choice is either to live with these new developments, or face the likelihood of salmon dwindling to very small numbers indeed. If some anglers had their way, coarse fish could suffer the same fate.
Neither do I buy the commercial argument that the angling industry and retail trade would benefit from abolishing the closed season. In the short term, it might gain of course. But in the long run, it would suffer, along with the coarse fish species we are talking about.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rod began fishing in his local park lake at the age of twelve, and from there he graduated to chub and roach from the river Tees in North Yorkshire. He now lives in Surrey within striking distance of the river Mole, as well as the Medway and the Eden in Kent and does a lot of surface carp fishing on small waters in the area. Latterly he has enjoyed winter fishing on the Test in Hampshire.
He has contributed numerous articles on various angling subjects and personalities to ‘Waterlog’ magazine and remains a passionate angler as well as a member and promoter of the Angling Trust.