‘Put-and-kill fisheries’, that is the damning term being used to describe poorly managed, heavily stocked fisheries by those calling into question the wisdom and ethics of some who run modern match carp waters.
With huge match weights of carp becoming increasingly commonplace, more and more fisheries are looking to cater for the ‘big bag’ generation of commercial matchmen.
But high stock levels demand a high quality of fisheries management that some fishery owners simply aren’t capable of delivering, resulting in them inadvertently killing fish and breaking new Animal welfare laws introduced last year.
“All fishery managers have a responsibility to the fish they keep and how the water in which they are held is managed,” explained Mike Heylin, who sits on the Fisheries and Angling Consultatives Trust’s Fish Welfare Group, a body concerned with promoting good fisheries management and helping to minimise fish mortalities.
“Natural stock densities are typically 500kg/hectare. It is possible to run fisheries with levels perhaps as high as 5,000kg/hectare but as the density increases so does the risk of disease, de-oxygenation and associated fish kills.
“At the Fish Welfare Group some fisheries are referred to as put and kill fisheries because of the density at which they stock fish and the number of fish transfers they make each year, presumably to replace the fish that die each week,” said Mike.
The issue came to a head after a recent freak catch of 645lb of carp from Essex’s Entire farm, the third 600lb-plus match weight recorded in the past 12 months.
The Entire Farm catch was made by anglers fishing a club match who didn’t realise floating baits were banned at the fishery which normally produces average weights of around 150lb.
“At first I didn't believe it when I'd heard the result and thought it was a wind up. I actually wish the catch hadn't been made at our lake, as I don’t want us to be thought of as an over-stocked pond where we don’t care for our fish. The reality of it is, is that the welfare of the fish in our lake is paramount to us,” said Entire bailiff Fred Smith.
But many fisheries managers are concerned that huge weights and increasing incidences of fish deaths up and down the country could give them and the sport a bad name.
“We put a lot of fish in our lakes but they are not overstocked,” said Terry Sears, manager of Daiwa Hallcroft Fishery in Retford, Nottinghamshire.
“We prefer to keep our match weights around a realistic 60 to 100lb mark, which makes it a bit more challenging but ensueres our fish remain in excellent condition. “Although angling as a sport is exempt under the Animal Welfare act, fisheries are not and nobody is currently policing it. The onus seems to be on local authorities who do nothing,” he said.
While the Environment Agency admits that it has no set policies regards stocking levels, which are dependent on many factors such as water capacity and numbers and species present, it generally recommends 1200kg/hectare.
But what do carp-orientated match anglers think about the issue?
Ilford, Essex match man Gary Huth made history in August 2007 when he banked a mind-boggling 661lb of carp in six hours, the heaviest-ever UK match weight. Gary admits that he gets a buzz from catching such weights but recognises that fish welfare is always paramount.
“The adrenaline is a bit like motor racing, it’s a sprint rather than a marathon. Provided plenty of keepnets are used (I now carry six and, fish are weighed in correctly and treated with care, I don’t see an issue,” said Gary.
“In Ireland anglers used to have 200lb of fish in a single knotted keepnet and they all went back alive - nowadays we are a lot more conscious of animal welfare and if this style of fishing caused problems for fish I for one wouldn’t do it,” revealed Gary.
But England stalwart Denis White, a renowned purist who loves his natural venues, isn’t quite so keen on netting 600lb of carp.
“Catching these kind of weights isn’t sport, it’s hook a duck and heave. I’ve said it before, but when I’m old, mad and senile, that’s when I’ll fish these places for carp. I suppose you still have to be efficient in order to amass a big enough weight to win, but it’s definitely not for me – give me 20lb of Trent roach any day!” he said.
No doubt 2008 has more bumper match catches in store and the British record may well be broken again. But are these densely stocked fisheries coming to the end of the road? When is enough, enough?
A guide to the management of intensively stocked stillwater coarse fisheries is available from the Institute of Fisheries Management and can be ordered, free of charge, by emailing FACT at firstname.lastname@example.org with a postal address.