Clubs step in to save our rivers

Some of the country’s biggest angling clubs are ‘taking matters into their own hands’ to rejuvenate famous river stretches in 2013.

After enduring many years of dwindling silverfish catch returns at a number of once-popular running water venues, club officials have launched their own initiatives to redress the balance after becoming ‘disillusioned’ by the Environment Agency’s apparent inaction over the pressing issue.

As a result, a number of stretches on the Severn and the Warwickshire Avon are to benefit from a new ‘Roach Project’ designed to help fish spawn, while in the north, Leeds and District ASA is considering the viability of stocking excess ‘nuisance’ silverfish from their lakes into river stretches under their control.

John Williams, secretary of Birmingham Anglers Association, told Angling Times: “The EA denies that there is a lack of silverfish in the Severn and Avon, even though perfectly good anglers are struggling to catch them. Avon matches are won with a single barbel or catches of bream, so where have all the chub, dace and roach gone? They’ve been eaten by cormorants, that’s what.

“We’d love to stock our rivers but the EA won’t let us do it, even when we’ve offered to buy the fish ourselves, so we’ve had to look at other ways of replenishing our waters. The only time the EA seem to want to stock a river is when there’s been a pollution incident”.

John revealed that Birmingham AA has signed up to the Severn Roach Project, a scheme which aims to emulate the success of the Hants Avon Roach Project, whereby floating spawning refuges are placed into the river, where the fry hatch before being returned to the river when they are old enough. The initiative is to be trialled at a number of locations including Ironbridge and Shrewsbury, plus tributaries of the Warwickshire Avon.

The man heading it all up is Tony Bostock, who is a director of the Severn Rivers Trust as well as being an angler with 30 years’ experience in fisheries management.
“We’re putting these boards where roach have traditionally spawned in the past, to give the remaining population a helping hand. They are pieces of wood with chopped up sections of keepnets hanging beneath to mimic fontinalis weed which roach spawn in. If we get a lot of spawn we can look at rearing fish in tanks and stew ponds,” he said.

The Shropshire Anglers Federation of Anglers has already trialled its own project, putting artificial structures in back eddies at Shrewsbury, a once-prolific match stretch of the Severn. The spawn is then transferred upstream to its noted Quarry length. This section of river, which once saw 20lb-plus nets of silvers regularly put to the scales, hit rock bottom two years ago when just 1lb 9oz won a big memorial match.

Federation chairman John Roberts said: “A couple of years ago, before we started the project,we might have 40 anglers in a match and only five catching fish. Now we’ve now got 35 catching fish and more consistent overall silverfish weights – it’s a marked improvement. We’re basically encouraging the river to regenerate itself. Hopefully the town stretches will soon bounce back too, and we’re looking to work with the Severn Roach Project for the good of this amazing river,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Yorkshire Leeds and District ASA has been given permission to move unwanted roach and skimmers from one of the club’s heavily-stocked lakes into the River Wharfe, subject to health checks.

This comes after concerns over fish numbers were expressed by several clubs about the lack of fish in several stretches of the upper and middle river.

Clubpresident Stan Jefferies said: “Small silvers breed so well in commercials that they can become a nuisance, so why not put them to good use by replenishing our rivers? I’m not saying this will make an instant difference but eventually it would, if these fish reach a spawning age,” he said.

Steve Fearnley sits on the fisheries committee at the club and believes that the silvers in many Yorkshire rivers, such as the Ouse, Aire and Calder, have moved into the lower reaches.

“These parts are tidal and usually unfishable. So you get some sections which are solid and others further up where there are hardly any silverfish and trout have taken over. Why can’t numbers of fish simply be moved back up river? The EA here has been heavily stocking urban rivers such as the Don and Aire, thanks to the great work of fisheries officers like Peter Mishchenko and Peter Turner. But it seems other EA branches with upland rivers under their control won’t stock theirs, even though they are most in need,” he said.