The Angling Trust has written to the Environment Agency asking for answers to questions raised by anglers on the state of coarse fish stocks in the River Severn and its tributaries, notably the River Teme.
The Trust says that, because of the decline in fish numbers on these rivers, clubs and businesses are losing members, day ticket and tackle sales on a daily basis. These are important rural businesses which rely on healthy fish stocks to continue employing staff and providing benefits to the local economy and to people and communities.
Andy Jones, Secretary of Montgomery Anglers Association and Assistant Manager at Total Angling in Shrewsbury said: "We have been asking the Environment Agency questions about the downturn in match and pleasure angling catches for over five years and not one representative from the Agency has been able to answer us or has seemed willing to do anything to improve the situation. The Environment Agency just will not admit that there is a serious problem with fish stocks and they continue to ignore a simple fact, which is how good the fishing has been on the River Severn in the past and how poor it has become now. Local anglers fully support this letter from the Angling Trust and hope that now, at last, something will be done to improve things. Our club memberships, retail income and the local economy have been affected by fewer anglers coming to fish the Severn here and that's a real shame because in the past the river has produced amazing catches of roach, dace and chub. If the Environment Agency act now then things can get better."
Commenting on the decline in fishing on the Severn, Sir John Roberts, Chairman of Shropshire Anglers Federation, said: "It is now time for anglers to shout and shout loud. This has to stop. Summer floods have played a part in natural egg and fry losses and the constant onslaught of predation cannot be accepted by us.
Sir John added: "The competition scene in Shrewsbury has seen income in the £1,000s five years ago reduced to less than £100 in 2012. Local clubs and Federations alike have seen their revenue halved."
The letter from Angling Trust and Fish Legal Chief Executive Mark Lloyd to Dafydd Evans, Area Manager at the Environment Agency, said:
"I am writing to you following our conversation regarding the very poor state of coarse fish stocks in the River Severn and its tributaries, notably the River Teme. I have been contacted by a number of member clubs and tackle shops on the upper and middle sections of the river and on the River Teme, and they have given me compelling evidence that there is a very serious decline in fish numbers on this very important fishery.
"This is a subject that has been raised with the Environment Agency by anglers and angling clubs on numerous occasions in recent years and yet it is difficult to see if any concrete action has resulted.
"At the Angling Trust Midlands Forum meeting last year, anglers were told by your officers that the floods in recent years had led to damage to several year classes of fish. Your officers also gave a presentation about the work that is going on in a small number of tributaries to improve spawning habitat and to remove barriers to migration. Anglers were also asked to fill in match catch returns and to send these in to the Agency. However, many of our members have stopped holding matches because the catches are so poor. I have attached match results from Shrewsbury from 2007 to 2010 that demonstrate a stark decline in catches.
"The Angling Trust is also aware that cormorant and goosander predation have increased significantly, particularly on the Upper Severn, and as you know we are campaigning for greater freedom for angling clubs and riparian owners to control these avian predators. We hope that there will be an announcement about this soon.
"However, we believe that the fish populations should be able to withstand both floods and predation and that the root causes of the decline are not being tackled at anything like the scale or speed required for a fishery of this size and importance. There needs to be a proper assessment of the water quality in this river system and the availability and accessibility of habitat for fish to spawn and hide from floods and predators.
"I am therefore calling on the Environment Agency to carry out such an assessment and to draw up a Fishery Action Plan to restore coarse fish stocks in the river. I would imagine that the catchment walkover studies carried out to help with delivery of the Water Framework Directive would provide a list of actions required to address diffuse pollution and other issues in the Severn and that these would form the basis of the Plan. We would be very happy to facilitate consultation with our membership and we will do all we can to encourage them to help with its delivery.
"I am aware that the Severn Rivers Trust is planning to install roach spawning boards, a project that might help that one species in the future. Our members have already committed to helping with that project. However, the Rivers Trust does not have the necessary resources at the moment to carry out the scale of work required to get this river back on the road to recovery. Once the Fishery Action Plan has been completed, we would support substantial partnership funding from the Environment Agency being provided to the Rivers Trust to support delivery of the plan.
"All this will take time. Many of our member clubs are losing members, day ticket and tackle sales on a daily basis and they do not have time to wait. These are important rural businesses and they rely on healthy fish stocks to continue employing staff and providing benefits to the local economy and to people and communities.
"Therefore we urge the Environment Agency to stock fish to the upper river and the Teme to compensate for those that might have been lost in the floods, which would do something to restore stocks in the short term.
"If you would like to discuss this with me, then please do not hesitate to get in touch. I would however welcome a written reply to this letter, as our members will be keen to know what action is going to be taken to address the current situation.
"Given your previous experience as Head of Fisheries, I won't need to remind you of the Agency's statutory duty to 'maintain, improve and develop fisheries' on behalf of the millions of anglers who pay their rod licences each year. They are keen to know how those substantial funds are to be used to restore their fisheries, the capital value of which will be affected by further inaction."