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Close-Season Controversy

Experts slam the current close-season laws.
“In my opinion, the current close-season laws are completely outdated. Afterall, they were introduced back in 1896 when far less was known about fish science.”

These were the words of Dave Harrell, one of England’s best respected river anglers. His comments come on the back of a hard opening week of the season for many anglers, with fish up and down the country still spawning. 

Dave went on: ”I am doing a lot of coaching at the moment, and for this reason I am in touch with what is happening on the rivers. With the cold weather that we experienced earlier on in the year, the fish are clearly still spawning – leading to poor opening-week sport on many venues. 

"I think a far more sensible option would be a two-month closed season between May 1st and July 1st. This would be better for the fish, the angling trade and for us anglers.”  

Maver Bait Tech skipper, and river fishing legend Wayne Swinscoe also thinks the current three-month curfew is outdated. He explained: “I am all for a closed season, and always have been. I think that it gives fish a much-needed break, and chance to spawn without anglers disturbing them.

"It would be better to have a variable close season, though, as with our changing climate, fish are spawning at different times of year, meaning the current three-month fixed period often misses fish spawning times altogether. I would also argue that if the closed season was placed at the right time, a three -month closed season wouldn’t be necessary – two months would be ample.

"I fully understand that fish spawning is a very difficult thing to legislate for, as they can sometimes spawn multiple times if the water is warm enough, or not at all on cold years. A variable closed season would give us the best chance of giving spawning fish maximum protection though.“

With the recession hitting tackle shops hard, many also believe the current laws are doing little to help trade.

Dave Packwood is manager of ‘The Bait Box’ in Evesham. He explained: “I think the current close-season laws are making it very difficult for shops in areas with a strong river fishing culture to survive. With the particularly harsh winters of the last few years, we are effectively experiencing a six-month shut-down period where anglers aren’t going fishing, three months through the depths of winter and three months through the closed season.

"I also strongly question the science behind the current laws. I would like to see the statutory closed season abolished, and the decision as to when to shut the water for spawning left to the riparian owners of each water. The actual spawning process is usually over and done with within two weeks, so whenever the owners deemed it appropriate, the water could be shut down to protect the spawning fish. 

"After all, it is in fishery owners interest to protect spawning fish – no-one wants to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.  

"Allowing waters to be fished up to spawning, and immediately after would surely be good for the fish anyway – as nutrients going into the river in the shape of bait would help them to build up to, and recover from their exertions.”

Fish expert, and fishery manager at The Glebe complex, Roy Marlow is in favour of the closed season, however, and enforces his own closed season on his stillwater venue, even though it could legally be fished for 12 months of the year. He recalled: “Back in 1995 when the decision was taken to lift the compulsory closed season on stillwaters, I was one of the people who was dead against – both from a commercial and conservational point of view.

"At that time, I ran a tackle shop in Leicester, and even though people weren’t going fishing, takings were rarely down, as anglers would save the money that they would have been spending on going fishing, and put them towards bigger items – like rods, reels and poles. In many respects, it was a good period for the trade.

"From the point of view of fish and wildlife, I also believe the closed season was a great idea. Fish generally spawn in mid May, so it gives them plenty of time to get it over and done with – though as this year has proved – this is dependant on the weather. It also allows bankside vegetation to recover, and birds to nest undisturbed.

"I still enforce a closed season at The Glebe complex that I control through the months of April and May, allowing only occasional high-profile matches to take place. That said – I can well understand the point of view of fishery owners who choose not to operate one. Anglers are often quick to criticise venue managers as ‘greedy’ but they have little idea of the costs involved.

"As an example, I was trying to sort out public liability insurance at The Glebe last week – and some of the quotes I received were in excess of £10,000. People moan about paying £7 for a day ticket, but it is a drop in the ocean really – which is why successful fishery management is all about balancing the numbers. With the dreadful winters that we have had to endure, many fisheries have had to suffer several dire months anyway, so imposing a three-month additional down period on them would be wrong.”  

What do you think?

Click here to have your say on the closed season laws in our online debate!

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