Anglers who use the Afon Cegin and Afon Ogwen, Bangor’s game angling rivers, could within months find themselves constrained by a host of mandatory measures that are being introduced by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to restrict game angling practices in an attempt to protect Welsh salmon stocks.
The ‘All Wales Byelaws’ will make it mandatory for fishermen to release all salmon – and larger sea trout – that are caught in Welsh rivers. They also include restrictions on fishing methods, the type of bait used and reduced net fishing seasons.
Welsh salmon stocks remain in a perilous condition. Although the mandatory catch and release proposals have proved unpopular with anglers, NRW firmly believes that they, along with other measures such as tackling agricultural pollution, improving water quality and managing the potential threats from predators are vital for the future survival of these iconic fish.
The angling community claim that the new byelaw will be a ‘wolf in sheep’s’ clothing and the greatest risk to angling and management of our fisheries this century, carrying a long list of potential risks which the angling community insist will impact on the community and prompt an exodus from the sport in Wales and damaging rural tourism.
The final stage of the ‘All Wales Byelaws’ Public Inquiry, which was held in Welshpool, was formally closed by the Inspector, Mr Declan Beggan on Thursday, 7th March, leaving volunteers from the Bangor area and across Wales, content that they have given their all to defend game angling and partnership working for improved environments.
Angling representatives who spoke and witnessed proceedings at the Inquiry, who were assisted by colleagues from North West England, however they are disillusioned with the fairness of the Inquiry itself. The Inquiry which began in January 2019, has followed on from a Byelaw development process conducted by NRW where they believe angler views were ousted from the final decisions.
Reuben Woodford, Local Fisheries Representative – Afon Ogwen, said: “The All Wales Byelaws, which would apply restrictions upon anglers fishing for Salmon in the Bangor area and the rest of Wales, are being sold by NRW, whose North West Wales Office is in the city, as the potential saviour of fish.
“In real terms, the angling community at the Inquiry have demonstrated that the All Wales Byelaws would do nothing to tackle the causative factors of stock decline. Water pollution; habitat loss; barriers to fish migration and artificially high natural predation rates, sustained, ironically by NRW regulation, stand as the main river impacts on fish stocks along with illegal fishing activity.
“Angling in Wales, accounts for only 2% of the exploitation of salmon, with salmon anglers across the country now returning 86% of their catch as part of a commitment to sustainable angling practices. Evidence presented at the Inquiry, shows anglers are not the problem, and a host of failures by NRW to undertake their duties to enhance the quality and security of our local environments makes their focus on angling unreasonable.
“At the Public Inquiry, volunteers from the local community have faced an undue level of bullying and prejudicial tactics from NRWs legal counsel, reputedly costing thousands of pounds a day to subdue the extensive evidence presented by representatives of the Angling community. That evidence, has illustrated that the local Afon Ogwen is compliant with the recognised salmon stock target (Established by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation) for Principal Salmon Rivers in Wales of which there are 23. Compliant with its target, the Afon Ogwen should not be placed under mandatory control at this time.
“On a voluntary basis, anglers have been showing they can provide real outcomes to protect and enhance community fisheries and this progress was set to continue. The angling community’s greatest fear is that the Byelaws pose an imminent risk to partnership working through community angling clubs and the significant service angling provides to communities could now be undermined or lost.
“The additional twist that has come to light at the Inquiry, is that rivers such as the Afon Cegin in Bangor, by their very nature being outside of the Principal Salmon Rivers in Wales, which also includes all rivers in Ynys Mon, should not under the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) guidance be available to NRW for mandatory control. The NRW confirmed at the Inquiry that rivers such as this would be and gave no recognition that this was a contravention of the guidelines.
“The NRW, repeatedly stipulated at the Inquiry that the ‘All Wales’ Byelaws are not a pan Wales policy and yet it is evident to the angling community they are. The only viable explanation for this, is that the nature and extent of the All Wales Byelaws comes down to the preference of NRWs executives and senior managers. The game of ‘smoke and mirrors’ played by NRW at the Inquiry, and reported by local angling representatives, raises real concerns as to the authenticity of NRWs statements.
“The Inquiry, headed by an Inspector attune to regular planning concerns, such as a new housing developments, rather than complex environment policy considerations as this is, raises further concern to the validity and fairness of this Inquiry and the ability of the inspector to make an informed decision. With a mix of technically complex evidence, volunteers drawn into an unfair process of legal gamesmanship and an Inquiry which has felt bias at all stages towards NRW, anglers now fear for the future of game angling in Bangor’s and the North Wales community.”
The inspectors report from the Inquiry, which will stipulate his recommendation for the All Wales Byelaws, which could be approved, adapted and approved or rejected, should be ready by the 17th May 2019. The fate of the proposed measures and anglers will then be made by the current Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Environment and Rural affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM.
Main Photo (Top): Angling Representatives at the All Wales Byelaws Public Inquiry’