Too many carp in fisheries could lead to a dark summer

Question: How do we categorically, definitely and absolutely know that Britain’s commercials have too many fish in them?

Answer: When one of the UK’s first – and biggest – fisheries decides to shut one of its lakes for a couple of months to give the stock a break.

Never has the inference been more clear. Never has it, unwittingly or otherwise, been so loudly spoken. Never has such a small, single step said so much.

Hallcroft – ironically one of the more responsibly managed of these type of venues – might have acted in isolation, but in closing its snake lake to allow the fish time to recover from their daily chasing, it sent out a message. We have, it said, reached saturation point. Our pools simply cannot take any more fish. They are ready to burst. Burst or collapse.

Collapse into disease-ridden mass graves.

I have, keen observers may note, written about and around the subject of over-stocking before. I make absolutely no apology for that, either. I will, no doubt, continue to do so because, in my opinion, never in the history of the sport have so many waters been so horribly stuffed with so many carp. Fish have somehow become a commodity. A living, breathing and entirely expendable commodity. And that is nothing short of an outrage.

It may come as a surprise, but the Environment Agency has a policy on stocking levels. It breaks down stillwaters into three categories – natural, improved and intensive – recommending the amount of fish, in pounds, each one should hold.

The suggestion ranges from 200lb per acre in purely natural waters to 750lb in commercial, or intensive, venues.

Sadly, the EA’s advice is treated as a joke. Some, and I stress some, fishery owners simply ignore it. It’s not law, so they don’t take any notice. How do I know? Because there is no way on earth that anglers, regardless of how good they are, could regularly catch 200lb, 300lb, 400lb or even bigger catches in five hours if there really were just 750lb of fish per acre. It would be impossible.

The Hallcroft news broke in the same week that Steve Barnes, a fish farmer and consultant at Quiet Sports Fisheries, went on record to say this summer could be the worst for carp casualties.

The weather, he reckons, has played its part. No arguments there. But water temperature only ever becomes a factor when stupidly high numbers of fish are expected to co-habit in the same featureless hole in the ground. Any environment where fish are caught so regularly or are so hungry they are forced to eat their own faeces can never be healthy. Many commercial carp live in the slums of the angling world. And we know that disease thrives in exactly that kind of scenario.

I’m not stupid. I accept that places dug for the sole purpose of providing anglers with convenient pleasure are not new, and in many ways they have helped prop angling up during a period when natural venues have been destroyed by predators and pollution. But something’s been lost along the way. The balance has gone. That happy medium between sport and habitat has made way for pure ease and greed.

The summer of 2010 may, as predicted, be the worst on record for fish deaths. If it is, then let it act as a watershed. Enough is enough. It’s time for fishery owners to clean up their act.