AS REPORTED in this week’s Angler’s Mail magazine, the Angling Trust have called for major reforms within the Environment Agency.

And the Government have insisted sweeping changes are going to be made.

The main news story is in the current magazine, but this is the full press release from the Angling Trust…

The Angling Trust, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Association of Rivers Trusts, Salmon & Trout Association and Wild Trout Trust have issued a detailed joint proposal for reform of the way in which rod licence and government funds are spent on managing angling, fisheries and biodiversity in England and Wales.

These organisations are determined that, in light of planned cuts to public expenditure, maximum value is achieved from the limited funds available to help achieve a sustainable future for fisheries and biodiversity in rivers, lakes, canals and estuaries.

Following a meeting with senior EA staff and Board Members today, the organisations welcomed the EA’s response to its concerns about accountability, in the form of more detailed reports on expenditure and activity by the Fisheries function.

They called for this transparency to be built into a new structure which would meet the Government’s Big Society agenda by involving angling and fisheries interests in decision-making, and for Defra to transfer to the third sector most of the funds currently spent by the EA on delivering river improvements, monitoring, rod licence enforcement and promoting angling.

In a joint letter to the Chairman of the EA, Lord Smith of Finsbury, the organisations also pressed the EA to maintain sufficient funding from Government grant in aid (GIA) to support delivery of the Agency’s statutory duty to maintain, improve and develop fisheries.  While GIA contribution to fisheries has remained static at £9.4 million for the last decade, funds raised from anglers’ rod licences have almost doubled in the same period to a high of £26 million. The latter currently covers the EA’s work on trout and coarse fish, but GIA is vital to continuing efficient enforcement and monitoring of salmon and sea trout.

Executive Summary of Report

1.   We support the continued delivery of the Fisheries statutory duty by an integrated Environment Agency.

2.   We support the continued requirement of freshwater anglers to pay a rod licence fee, but wish to see greater transparency and accountability for the application of these funds to external bodies and local communities.

3.   We wish to see Government funding for fisheries, which largely supports salmon and sea trout monitoring and enforcement, maintained.

4.   We are opposed to the creation of a separate national body and/or regional bodies with responsibility for fisheries.

5.   We propose the creation of a national committee with external and senior EA representatives to advise the EA about delivery of its fisheries function and other activities which affect fisheries.

6.   We propose that RFERACs should focus on fisheries and conservation, and lose responsibility for recreation and navigation.

7.   We believe that the Agency should be reformed to become an effective regulator rather than a regulator and a delivery body.  Delivery should where possible be carried out by Rivers Trusts, the Riverfly Partnership, the Angling Trust and other third sector organisations, which are much more cost-effective.

8.   We would like to see dedicated, specialist fisheries officers employed by the Environment Agency as a single point of contact in every catchment.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust said: “As the representative body for all anglers, we are determined to ensure that our members’ substantial contribution to the management of fisheries and angling is spent effectively and efficiently, and that the EA is called to account for the way it spends our money.”

This paper reflects the views of the principal NGOs concerned with angling, fisheries and river conservation on the Environment Agency’s role in respect of salmon and freshwater fisheries.

The Environment Agency has a statutory duty to ‘maintain, improve and develop’ salmon and freshwater fisheries; a ministerial direction to the EA requires it to interpret this as a duty to:

●      ensure the conservation and maintain the diversity of freshwater fish, salmon, sea trout and eels and to conserve their aquatic environment;

●      enhance the contribution salmon and freshwater fisheries make to the economy, particularly in remote rural areas and in areas with low levels of income;

●      enhance the social value of fishing as a widely available and healthy form of recreation.

This interpretation was recommended by the 2000 Review of Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries.  In accepting it, the then Government stated that the greatest weight should be given to the first objective; this is concerned with the conservation of fish and their habitat, not with their exploitation.  The EA’ s primary objective under its fisheries duty is therefore an environmental one, to conserve fish biodiversity and the natural aquatic environment.  However, the Government also attached importance to the economic and social aspects of the fisheries duty, noting that it was these that distinguished the fisheries duty from the EA’s wider conservation and recreational duties.

Another feature that distinguishes the EA’s fisheries work from its other activities is that a large proportion of the former is funded by anglers via the rod licence. Currently, rod licence income accounts for £26m out of a total spent on fisheries of £34m, and the proportion derived from licences has risen consistently over the past decade as grant-in-aid has been cut in real terms.

The EA’s Responsibilities and Structure

While there are a number of problems with the way the EA operates at present, and many anglers are dissatisfied with the way it exercises and reports its responsibility for fisheries, we believe it is essential that a single body remains responsible for regulating all the activities that affect a river catchment, including fisheries.  We are strongly opposed to suggestions that separate bodies be established to regulate fisheries either locally or nationally.  It would make no sense to have a body responsible for fisheries that had no control over abstraction or water quality.  However, we do want to see new measures in place to demonstrate that rod licence funds and grant in aid are spent on fisheries and angling, rather than being diverted to other functions of the Agency.

It is also important that the conservation of fish is fully integrated into efforts to conserve other aspects of the aquatic ecosystem.  For example, fish depend heavily on invertebrates, both aquatic and terrestrial, for food, as do many bird species, so action to conserve invertebrates will benefit both fish and birds.  Indeed, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) makes it necessary to address all issues that affect a water body’s ecological status.

At present, many of the benefits of having a single catchment regulator are not realised because the different parts of the EA continue to work in their silos, with inadequate co-ordination, not helped by the fact that the regional and area structures are administrative rather than catchment-based.  This lack of integration needs to be changed, with the various teams working together to deliver outcomes that benefit all the EA’s objectives.  Flood protection schemes, for example, should maximise opportunities to produce environmental benefits.  The EA has started to do this, but much more needs to be done.

Third Sector Delivery

Currently the EA operates both as a regulator and a delivery body.  Where physical improvements to rivers are needed, such as the removal of barriers, installation of fish passes, re-creation of more natural channels, the EA usually designs, approves and carries out the work, often with the help of external consultants.  However, the EA’s costs are high, and its procedures complex; as a result, work undertaken by the EA is often significantly more expensive and lengthy than work carried out by bodies such as rivers trusts and the Wild Trout Trust.

Given the need to reduce Government spending, and the significant challenge presented by the need to deliver the WFD objectives, it is essential that river restoration work is carried out as efficiently and economically as possible.  We propose that, wherever possible, river improvement work, including work needed under the WFD, is carried out by third sector delivery bodies such as rivers trusts, angling clubs and similar bodies.  The funding for this work should be reallocated by Defra from the EA directly to the appropriate delivery bodies, and used to lever further funding and practical delivery work from European funds, charitable trusts, the public, anglers, fisheries owners etc.

We believe that rivers trusts in particular can play a key role in this. The rivers trust movement has developed dramatically over the last 20 years or so, and the largest rivers trusts now have a great deal of experience of river restoration and fund raising.  Their work is supported and co-ordinated by the Association of Rivers Trusts which also helps share best practice between trusts and secure funds at a national and European level.  Trusts are increasingly employing their own scientists, and are compiling extensive scientific information about their rivers. These trusts are well placed to act as lead partners in river improvement and restoration work, supported by funding from Defra and the EA, and in some regions could help with other tasks such as routine monitoring.  Other trusts are smaller, and in some parts of the country have yet to be established.  We would like to see the Government and the EA take active steps to promote the creation and development of rivers trusts through start-up grants, and consider other ways of supporting trusts financially including opening up the restrictive public procurement process which currently favours national commercial consultants.

It is essential, though, that work of this sort remains properly regulated.  River restoration is complex, and changes can have unexpected consequences for the hydrology and ecosystem of a river. The EA should therefore retain responsibility for ensuring that conservation activities and remedial measures undertaken within catchments are fit for purpose and carried out on a properly co-ordinated basis.  As the competent authority it should also remain responsible for prioritising the work needed under the WFD to attain GES.

The EA should extend partnership working to other areas including the sharing of data and critically, the data handling platforms necessary to analyse and utilise the information.  The Riverfly Partnership’s Anglers Monitoring Initiative under which anglers are trained to collect and identify aquatic invertebrates, so that they can regularly monitor the water quality in their local rivers, collecting data and reacting to trigger levels that might point to pollution incidents , is an excellent example of what can be done.  This system could be used for other types of monitoring, both to help reduce the EA’s costs and increase participation among anglers and other members of the public.  This community involvement is one of the objectives of WFD delivery.

The Wild Trout Trust provides a unique, practical advisory service to voluntary groups wanting to carry out habitat restoration and other physical improvements to rivers.  This advice can be offered at a fraction of the price of paid consultants’ and with the experience of countless projects to improve the habitat of trout and invertebrates throughout the country.

The newly-formed Angling Trust, which is due to incorporate the Angling Development Board in the next year, is the representative and governing body for angling.  It could play an important role in delivering low cost, but highly effective enforcement by helping to recruit volunteer bailiffs, who could check rod licences and provide intelligence to the EA’s own dedicated enforcement teams.  It could also deliver greater angling participation and licence sales by training coaches, improving facilities, organising angling events and marketing rod licence sales.  Many of these activities are eligible for third party funding and can be delivered much more cost-effectively in the third sector than by the EA.  Changes in the police force, including the employment of partly warranted Community Support Officers and increased use of special constables, provide experience of this approach.

The EA’s Fisheries Role

As stated above, many anglers and fisheries interests are dissatisfied with the EA’s performance.  There are several reasons for this.  One is a loss of confidence in the way rod licence income is used, caused at least in part by a lack of transparency.  Another is the lower visibility of fisheries staff on the ground; a series of reorganisations has reduced numbers of dedicated fisheries staff and led to the creation of multi-functional teams.  This reorganisation was intended to promote an integrated approach across the many related issues the EA deals with, but has had the effect of diluting specialist knowledge of fisheries, and further lowering the profile of fisheries in the EA.  It has also in many areas removed a knowledgeable local point of contact for anglers within the Environment Agency.

To remedy this situation, we propose:

●       a national fisheries committee comprising national angling, fisheries and conservation NGOs should be established to oversee, in an advisory capacity, how rod licence income and other dedicated fisheries funds are spent.  This committee should meet regularly, include a representative of the RFERACs, two members of the EA board and be attended by senior EA staff, and independently chaired.

●       arrangements to involve anglers and other interested people in the EA’s work at local level should be strengthened.  RFERACs should lose responsibility for recreation (other than angling) and navigation, and focus on fisheries and conservation issues; ideally they should be realigned around River Basin Districts.  Committee members should have strong links with local bodies such as rivers trusts, fisheries associations, Angling Trust regional forums and conservation trusts, and their numbers should not be artificially constrained.

●       in addition, the EA needs to develop more effective means of directly involving local communities in its work and decision making.  Greater use of partnership planning and working will inevitably mean that local communities are more involved in decisions and work on improvements to their local rivers and fisheries.  There is no general formula for involving local communities that can be applied universally.  Some areas have well-established angling consultative committees, others have catchment level bodies; some have both.  The EA needs to work with the Angling Trust, river trusts, fisheries NGOs and local bodies to develop local consultation arrangements, based on existing structures (where these work well) and factors such as the size and capabilities of local angling clubs, fisheries associations, rivers trusts etc.  There should be a clear link between these arrangements and RFERACs.

●       the EA needs to make greater efforts to provide a satisfying career structure for fisheries specialists, recognising that fisheries work is a specialism that requires particular training and expertise.  It should also ensure that localities have their own dedicated and visible fisheries officers.

●       links between the national fisheries team and local fisheries officers should be strengthened, and fisheries given a higher profile within the EA

Fisheries Funding

Fisheries is fortunate in having a hypothecated source of income, the rod licence fee.  We support the retention of rod licences and the use of rod licence income to help fund the EA’s fisheries activities and further its fisheries and angling objectives.  In this connection we support the use of funds to promote angling participation and rod licence sales, which has been shown to generate more licence revenue than it costs and is important to maximise the benefits of angling to communities, the local and national economy and in maintaining and increasing a constituency of people who are willing to volunteer and help fund environmental improvements.  However we do not believe that the Agency has to be the delivery body for these activities for which a number of voluntary and charitable organisations already exist. We also support the use of licence income to fund improvements to rivers that will help achieve good ecological status under the WFD, provided that they improve fish conservation; wherever possible it should be used in ways that attracts further funding from other sources.

We support the EA policy of not using money raised from coarse and trout anglers to fund work on salmon and sea trout.  This means that Government funding via GIA remains essential for the conservation of salmon and sea trout in England and Wales.  The vast majority of salmon and sea trout rivers are failing to meet their conservation targets and are failing Water Framework Directive criteria as a result.  There is significant work to be done to reverse the decline in salmonid populations on many rivers.

It is particularly important that the EA maintains adequate levels of monitoring, involving the third sector where possible, and improves its fisheries enforcement, which are at the heart of its regulatory role. The former is necessary if we are to keep track of how stocks respond to the effects of climate change, both at sea and in freshwater, and monitor the performance of fisheries management.  Illegal fishing can threaten vulnerable stocks; effective action against it requires the use of dedicated, properly trained enforcement teams, supported by the local community, and is very important to anglers and fishery owners who suffer the consequences of organised poaching.