‘Zander need protection under national byelaws, just like any other coarse fish.’
That’s the call being made by club officials and specimen anglers who claim that stocks of the predatory species in historic venues such as the Fens have plummeted.
Because of their classification as ‘non-native’, any zander caught from the UK‘s natural waterways can be freely taken for the pot. Ashley Brown, secretary of Kings Lynn AA which controls around 85km of Fenland drains and rivers, believes this is just one of the factors behind the decline and wants the species afforded some form of protection, so that stocks can be monitored.
He said: “Catches of zander on the Fens are down about 80 per cent and many anglers have abandoned the area – it’s a real shame. Poaching is rife in East Anglia, and predatory species always bear the brunt. There’s no doubt this has had a huge effect, but there’s also been a big increase in Chinese mitten crabs across the Fens, a highly-invasive species that eat zander spawn. Between the two of these problems, the fish don’t stand a chance - something needs to be done, and quickly.”
One man to have witnessed the decline first-hand is specimen angler Steve Younger. He’s in agreement with Ashley: “Poaching can’t be the only problem because, if anything, pike fishing on the Fens has got better in recent years. But the last time I caught a small zander was over six years ago, so that tells you they either aren’t spawning or eggs aren’t hatching, and that is why I believe mitten crabs are to blame. If the authorities aren’t going to give them the protection we have all been calling for since the turn of the decade, the very least the Environment Agency can do is monitor the stocks,” he said.
Despite the groundswell of opinion, when contacted by Angling Times, the EA said that it had no intention of looking into the issue. “We have no plans to change the level of protection because zander are non-native, invasive and potentially damaging to native fish stocks. Giving zander the same protection as native fish would undermine efforts to control their spread," said a spokesman.
Nevertheless, Neville Fickling, former pike record holder and secretary of the Zander Anglers Club, said that he and others would continue to lobby for change.
He said: “Since the new fisheries laws came into force in 2010 we’ve been talking to senior members of the Angling Trust in the hope that eventually, when the time is right, zander will be afforded the status of an acclimatised non-native fish species, valued as a sport fish as it is across mainland Europe.”