THE Environment Agency published their long-awaited Close Season review in May 2018.

Anglers have long debated the river fishing Close Season, which means that fishing on rivers for coarse species is banned between March 15 and June 15 inclusive..

The latest review of evidence by the EA was comprehensive, but very few anglers are really aware what it looked at and what it concluded.

Below is a summary of the key areas of the Close Season review’s findings. The project will later this year move along in the form of a ‘poll’ of 20,000 rod licence holders.

After that, the EA will decide whether further review and move for change via Government is the way forward.

If you would like more information on any of the six categories below, click the header link to download the official pdf files.

1. Literature review of evidence around the Close Season
The review concludes that as far as the direct and indirect impacts of angling practices on coarse fish is concerned there are still many evidence gaps, and in particular, information is lacking on angling mortality and exploitation rates of specific UK coarse fish.

But even with the best intentions, good fish handling skills, and 100 per cent catch and release, there will always be a residual mortality cost associated with angling, and to some unknown extent this would be intrinsically increased with any extension of the open season.

2. Summary of coarse fish spawning times

While coarse fish species in England do not all spawn between 15 March and 15 June, the statutory Close Season covers the majority of spawning activity by the majority of species.

Pike, grayling, dace and perch can spawn earlier than 15 March, and most cyprinids, other than dace, can spawn later than 15 June.

Hence, some spawning fish are already vulnerable to angling disturbance and potentially to angling-related stress and/or mortality.

While there have been no studies that have examined whether this is impacting on stocks, the review is not aware of any reports of detriment to stocks.

3. Coarse fish Close Seasons in other European countries

Different European countries have different Close Season arrangements and most countries have a coarse fish close season, albeit dates and species covered are different from those in England.

Notable exceptions include Belgium, which only has a Close Season on protected waters; and Ireland where there is no Close Season but restrictions on coarse fish removal.

The review is not aware of any studies or evidence of potential impacts on coarse fish stocks or fisheries in countries with no close season or lesser close season regulation than England

4. Assessment of risks of fishing during the current Close Season

The study asked a number of leading lights in the angling world to give an assessment of risk to fish by abolition of the close season.

The most sensitive species to Close Season fishing/disturbance are perceived to be barbel (pictured below), chub, grayling, dace and pike with the least sensitive roach, perch and bream.

The highest perceived risks were increased mortality and reduced spawning success due to catching and handling spawning fish, and disturbance of spawning aggregations, although the last of these was skewed towards certain species, including dace and barbel.

The potential impacts were generally considered to be greater in smaller rivers/upper reaches, where populations of the species of concern are present, e.g. the impacts on barbel spawning aggregations in smaller rivers/middle reaches.

5. Review of potential studies to improve Close Season evidence base

The study group examined a range of proposed field-based and other projects that could improve understanding of the risks around the close season, including those previously outlined by in a 2004 study carried out on behalf of the EA by environmental consultants, APEM.

The group concluded as in 2004 that there were no viable options and to give any degree of scientific certainty, the requisite studies are likely to be prohibitively expensive; extend over several/many years; and/or may only shed light on the risks to one or several species or river types.

6. History of the coarse fish Close Season in England

The review traces the origins of the original introduction of the current Close Season back to the Freshwater Fisheries Act (Mundella Act) of 1878, changes in legislation through the years, previous reviews and the build up to the current review.

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