Catfish, sturgeon, zander and grass carp under threat

Some of Britain’s most popular big-fish species face an uncertain future under a Government clampdown on non-native stocks.

It has been revealed this week that a long list of stillwaters containing cats, sturgeon, grass carp and zander are coming under scrutiny as authorities look to rid fisheries of illegally-introduced fish.

Current laws say that any venue wishing to stock these species requires a special licence under the Importation of Live Fish Act (ILFA) because of fears they pose a significant threat to native fish and their habitats if they enter nearby rivers or canals.

In light of this, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and the Environment Agency have revealed that they have ordered three fisheries to remove their ‘unauthorised stocks’ immediately, with a further 39 venues allowed to keep the fish temporarily, as long as they remove them in the near future. All but a couple of the orders relate to the illegal stocking of cats, and it’s these fish, which have become a favourite of anglers, that are most at risk.

Simon Clarke, chairman of the Catfish Conservation Group, believes the Government’s approach is misguided. He said: “Catfish have been wrongly persecuted for years and we believe that the laws should be relaxed and made more realistic. I heard of a venue that was refused a licence to stock cats because it posed a risk to other waters if the cats were stolen and introduced to an unlicensed venue. That shows how silly things have become.

Anglers love catching catfish and the authorities should only deny them this pleasure if it’s completely necessary.”

This is a view shared by Roy Parsons, boss of the hugely popular Richworth Linear Fisheries in Oxfordshire. He holds a permit for the specimen catfish on his site, but thinks the current wave of crackdowns is unnecessary.

“Haven’t the EA got bigger issues to address than hassling fisheries about a few cats? It’s madness. This species has been in the UK for longer than I can remember and is enjoyed by thousands of anglers. They haven’t spread any diseases or caused any problems with native species since I’ve been involved in the sport.”

In defence of the Government’s tough stance, an EA spokesman said: “It is our responsibility to enforce ILFA orders and investigate alleged failures to comply with licence conditions. We are investigating allegations of breaches of ILFA legislation at several locations and we will endeavour to do all we can to ensure that all fisheries comply with the law.”