S&TA and AST meet Natural Environment and Fisheries Minister

Paul Knight (S&TA) and Ivor Llewelyn (AST) met Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, on 21 September.

Paul Knight (S&TA) and Ivor Llewelyn (AST) met Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, on 21 September.

The S&TA and the AST urged the Minister to maintain Government funding to the Environment Agency to combat illegal fishing for salmon and sea trout and for the scientific monitoring of salmon and sea trout stocks. They said that while they appreciated that cuts would be made in Environment Agency funding, it was essential for the conservation of threatened salmon and sea trout stock to protect these activities. They also stressed the importance of continuing to support research.

Both organisations highlighted the threats posed to salmon and trout by environmental degradation. To respond effectively to these, river catchments needed to be managed in an integrated way, with single body responsible for dealing with everything that affected the aquatic environment, including abstraction, diffuse pollution and flood protection. For this reason, both the S&TA and the AST believed that the Environment Agency should continue to be responsible for the regulation and management of salmon and freshwater fisheries.

The S&TA and the AST told the Minister that they were not simply endorsing the status quo; there were a number of improvements that the Environment Agency needed to make: it should delegate improvement work on rivers to organisations such as river trusts, which could carry out the work more cost-effectively; it needed to do more to break down the barriers within the Agency that were standing in the way of fully integrated catchment management; it needed more dedicated and identifiable local fisheries officers, with a career structure for fisheries staff.

The two organisations stressed the importance of fully complying with the Water Framework Directive. The limited number of water bodies that were classified as being of good ecological status demonstrated the problems that faced our rivers and streams. Taking the actions needed to meet the standards in the Directive would go a long way towards resolving these problems. In this context, they were disappointed at delays introducing new rules on improving fish passage and on stocking and moving live fish. The former were needed to ensure that hydropower developments did not create fresh barriers to the passage of migratory fish.

The Minister said that he had taken careful note of the points made by the S&TA and the AST. However, as they were aware, the Government faced difficult decisions.

The Minister asked what the two organisations thought about the Environment Agency’s policy on the stocking of brown trout into rivers. We responded that we felt there needed to be a further review of this policy, and that delivery should be focussed locally rather than to a prescriptive national strategy.

Ivor Llewelyn said ‘This was an opportune meeting. The Government will be reaching key decisions on a range of important matters over the next month, and we were able to impress on Richard Benyon the need to ensure that these do not do lasting damage to the conservation of salmon and sea trout.’

Paul Knight added, ‘we made it clear to the Minister that pristine fisheries depended on a healthy aquatic environment, and that integrated catchment management, inclusive of all the relative issues and involving communities in local delivery, was vital to the future management and protection of our river systems and fish stocks.