Many of you will already be aware that the Welsh Assembly will in the New Year be debating the question of canoe access on Welsh rivers. As ever, the canoeists’ organisations are pushing for the unrestricted, round-the-clock, all-year-round ‘right to paddle’. The Welsh First Minister has refused to rule out the possibility that the issue will be debated in exactly those terms.
Whereas the angling and landowning side of the debate tend to be in favour of the negotiation of voluntary local access agreements, the canoeists remain adamant that they have an existing, unrestricted right of access in law which can simply be put into practice.
Whatever anglers think of this stance, the canoeists must never be allowed to win the argument by default. Already, hundreds of submissions from anglers, landowners, fishing clubs and others opposed to the canoeists’ aims have been received. But this is not an excuse to relax. There are enough of us to put up a very convincing case, both in terms of numbers and quality of arguments. So let’s make sure we do exactly that.
It matters little if, like me, you have no connection with Wales, or have never fished there. You will still be aware of the devastating impact canoeing can have on a river fishery, and also of the rights and wrongs of the access issue, especially the fact that the canoeists seem to want to use rivers free of charge.
Whether you are a coarse or game angler is irrelevant; in cases like this, an attack against one is an attack against all. You might also like to bear in mind that if you do happen to live in Wales, your fishing is highly likely to be game fishing. The same applies to Scotland, where the canoe issue is, I’m sad to say, something of a lost cause. And please do not forget: if the canoeists make headway in Wales, then England will be next in line. The issue will not just go away. The British Canoe Union makes a point of pushing for what it sees as its legal right on its own terms every year.
If you have fished in Wales, you might like to quote the cost (and hence your contribution to the local economy) of any accommodation and services used. Perhaps you know someone who fishes there, and can get rough figures from them?
Here is the text of the submission I made recently:
Carwyn Jones, AM
John Griffiths, AM
Alun Davies, AM
Subject: canoe access on Welsh rivers
I wish to submit the following brief comments on the subject of access for canoeists to Welsh rivers, for your consideration. I understand that the subject will be debated in the Welsh Assembly at some stage in 2014, and trust that what I have to say will help to clarify the situation.
My credentials are simply that I am a lifelong angler, a member of the Angling Trust and of several fishing clubs in my area. I remain passionately committed to the right of future generations to enjoy fishing rivers and streams as well as lakes. May I state at the outset that I am not totally anti-canoe, but am in favour of access being on the basis of local agreements such that the sport and enjoyment of all is preserved. I have no specific link with Wales, other than a feeling of solidarity with fellow anglers there, but feel that the points below will nevertheless be relevant.
You may wish to take the following points into consideration:
• The canoeists’ argument has been, and remains, that they have a right to unrestricted, all-year-round access, on the lines of a universal, unlimited ‘right to paddle’. This is clearly not acceptable, if only on the grounds that at certain times of year the damage to spawning areas and the disturbance of spawning fish would be considerable. Not least, disruption to angling would be catastrophic. Illegal, uninterrupted rafting has now made salmon fishing impossible on the upper Tay in Scotland; whole salmon fisheries have collapsed due to lack of custom and livelihoods have been lost, not to mention the impact on local hotels and businesses.
• This may at first appear a selfish argument, but it should be borne in mind that fish need to be present before fish-eating birds can exist; it is also a fact that canoe access will inevitably cause considerable disturbance to fish and other wildlife (birds) on smaller rivers, to a much greater extent than angling does.
• Some landowners/property owners and farmers will also feel that canoe access in certain areas makes them vulnerable as regards security.
• It is only fair that canoeists are subject to necessary limitations and seasons, just as anglers already are, in the interests of conservation.
• Angling clubs and related organisations can take the credit for much of the preservation and improvement of the riverine environment. Organisations like the Wild Trout Trust have done wonderful river restoration and improvement work on behalf of client angling clubs, in some instances rescuing parts of rivers which have often become severely degraded in environmental terms, through neglect, mistreatment or excessive abstraction. Anglers, notably through the environmental/angling organisation Fish Legal (formerly the Anglers’ Conservation Organisation) have taken countless polluters to court and fought for the banning of certain toxic substances, notably harmful substances used in farming. Canoeists contribute nothing to the environment.
• Once having gained agreed access, canoeists should without a doubt be licensed and identifiable, and also pay an annual due to the Environment Agency towards environmental work, just as anglers do. All anglers pay an annual license fee to the Environment Agency: £25 for non-migratory trout and coarse fishing and £72 per annum for salmon fishing. Once having legitimised themselves, actual fishing access for anglers is in most cases through membership of a club, annual subscriptions for these being anything from c. £60 to £250 per annum. The club pays on behalf of its members for access and fishing in the form of rents to landowners.
• UK-wide, recreational angling provides employment for approximately 40,000 people and contributes an annual £3.5 billion to the economy.
I quote above in full to give you a few ideas. But of course you should put your own submission in your own words. If you can put the case better than me, then that is all to the good; so much the better in fact. But you can be sure that your contribution will count.
For further information on putting the case and who to address it to, see the dedicated website at: www.accesscymru.org.
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.