Rivers are open again, but they look doomed

Who, I was left to wonder again this week, will the next generation of anglers end up blaming? Our various governing bodies? The different incarnations of the Environment Agency? The Government? Us, even? Some-one must be at fault for letting it happen. Someone must be responsible for allowing our rivers to slowly die.

If, for some  reason, you think that statement is incorrect, then you’re either wearing rose-tinted glasses or you haven’t visited running water for 20 years.

Because, make no mistake, river fishing is in sharp decline – a decline that, if allowed to continue at such a pace, will mean the anglers who follow us won’t require a stick float between them. By 2030, river fishing will be dead.

This is not, I stress, just a personal opinion. Men with more knowledge than me have reached the same conclusion.

Take John Woods, at London Anglers’ Association, who admits it would be hard to put someone on a good day’s fishing on the Hants Avon, Thames or Great Ouse. Or Dick Sidgwick, at Yarm Angling Ltd, who reckons sport on the Tees is so bad the club risks losing stretches it’s had since 1885. Or David Turner, of Nottingham Anglers’ Association, who believes the ‘golden period’ on the Trent is long gone.

Or John Williams, secretary of Birmingham Anglers’ Association, whose last throw of the dice is to lease a stretch of the Severn where anglers can park directly behind the peg.

If, after that, you still think our rivers aren’t in decline, then you’re living in denial.

Yes, there are still stretches that retain pockets of fish, both in numbers and size. But these are limited and individual specimens, or the odd seasonal bag of silverfish, must not be allowed to distort reality.

So, who’s to blame? The list is predictably sizeable.

Major industry continues to act with disregard by dumping waste into our rivers.

Pollution has wiped out millions of fish and will continue to do so while the deterrents – set by Whitehall – remain so weak. Governments must, then, be culpable. 

The EA, too, has to  shoulder responsibility. As the body anglers pay through the tax of a rod licence, it has a duty, among other things, to protect fish stocks. But, in my opinion, it has failed to do just that.

Take, for example, the life cycle of your average fish. Eggs are laid…and then eaten by alien signal crayfish. Those that survive reach fry stage…and then get washed away because our flood defences are ineffectual. The hardy few make it to become mere ounces...and then get taken by cormorants. A tiny percentage  reach maturity and specimen size…and then get eaten by otters, or Eastern Europeans.

I know I’m generalising here, but the pressures put on our fish are greater now than ever – and the EA has allowed that to happen. 

Fishing’s governing bodies must also be accountable. Up until the Angling Trust, they were too disparate and unprofessional to have been taken seriously. Now, at least, we have a single voice. Quite how powerful that is – and the evidence, particularly on predation, doesn’t bode well – remains to be seen.

So that leaves me and you, the anglers of this country. How much are we at fault for letting our rivers to die?

It’s always easier to point the finger at Government, at the EA, at our governing bodies, than it is to look at ourselves. But we do, in my view, have to accept our share of the blame. It has, after all, been our desire for ease, comfort and instant success that has driven the commercial fishery boom, a boom that has added to the demise of the rivers.

Remember, too, that fishing is a selfish pursuit, which at its core pitches one person against his quarry. As a result, we are indifferent and apathetic to anything above actually catching fish. Pollution and predation? They’re someone else’s responsibilities. Rivers in decline? They’ll get fixed. The problem is, they aren’t and they won’t.

Consequently, our running water venues are doomed and anyone connected with fishing is surely responsible.

Shameful, isn’t it?