Your questions answered by the Environment Agency's Head of Fisheries

In April 2014 the Environment Agency appointed Sarah Chare as their new head of fisheries, taking over from Geoff Bateman.

Having worked in the EA’s fisheries department for nearly 20 years including stints in enforcement, disease prevention and as an area fishery officer, Sarah has plenty of experience in the subject.

One of her main aims since taking on the role is to see the EA working more closely with anglers and angling based organisations but what else does she have in store? We were given an exclusive interview and decided to ask her some of the questions that really matter to Angling Times readers.

Q: Are you going to change the format or the price of rod licences? Josh Turner, Ramsbottom, Lancs

A: We are starting a full review for changes to be made starting in April 2016 and that includes the price, how anglers can buy their licence as well as the number of rods you can fish with. We will be talking to the Angling Trust and others making any decisions about this. We have a great relationship with the Angling Trust and I would like to see this continue – sometimes they challenge us in our role as the regulator but we have many areas of common ground.

Q: Would where you buy your licence ever change? Sam Whetting, Liverpool, Merseyside

A: It is important to us to keep the costs of selling licences down so at the moment we are not looking at selling licences in any other venues other than the Post Office or online.

Q: Is the way rod licence money is spent going to change? Colin Hoban, Wakefield, W Yorks

A: The priorities will stay the same as we need to protect our licence income so we can spend it on enforcement, fish kill response and eradication of non-native invaders to name a few. Unless anglers tell us differently these will stay the same. However, the way we go about our work will constantly be monitored and improved. I believe partnerships with other organisations are becoming increasingly important. For example, working with the Angling Trust has really helped with our enforcement work.

Q: Is the problem of illegal fishing and fish theft still high on your agenda? Michael Gittins, Runcorn, Cheshire

I will be looking at how the area teams are organised to do enforcement work that includes how we target illegal activity and working across boundaries. We have had some great operations recently such as Operation Vulcan which was a joint operation with the police. My job is to make sure the teams are funded and organised in the best way they can to maximise their effectiveness but we can’t fight this alone so my message to anglers is to report everything, as we use and process all information for future operations and to highlight problematic areas. Last year alone we had just under 3,000 prosecutions. We support fisheries or clubs asking for licences upon entry; anyone who goes fishing and claims to care about their sport should have a licence and those who don’t are robbing other anglers.

Q: Is the closed season going to be reviewed again? Charlie Robins, Lechlade, Glos

A: I know the closed season is really crucial to anglers and I am aware that there are some very strong and differing views surrounding it. We are going to be working with the Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) and the Angling Trust to review past studies and to look at how we can make an informed decision on something that is very important. It is possible we may do some limited trials at some point but this work is only just beginning.

Q: Is the amount of fish stocked into rivers and stillwaters going to change? Granville Noble, Nottingham, Notts

A: At the moment Calverton Fish Farm meets our demands so we have no plans to increase facilities. They will continue to provide fish to stock venues such as river stretches which are recovering from long term environmental problems or a pollution incident.

Q: With an increasing number of migrants resident in the UK, are the EA still working to reduce illegal fishing from these groups of people to educate them about our rules? Steven Wallis, Oundle, Northants

A: We are still funding the Angling Trust Building Bridges project which provides information to foreign anglers with what the rules are but those who are deliberately taking fish will be fully prosecuted; it is still high on our list of priorities like any illegal angling is.

Q: Angling venues have suffered a lot from pollution in the past. Are the EA still keen on prosecuting offenders despite high litigation costs? Matthew Walsh, Bridgwater, Somerset

A: If we think we have a case we will always take it to court; we owe it to anglers and the environment to try to prosecute those we think are guilty even if there’s a risk of it not working out. We also seek to recover our costs in court and provide information to the sentencing council about the impacts of fishery offences to help with future cases.

Q: Are government budget cuts going to affect how the EA goes about their work? Gavin Kelly

A: We are going through a big organisational change at the moment. Since April we have been changing from a three-tier organisation to a two-tier one which means working at a national and area level in order to make efficiencies and savings. We are also always looking at new ways of working to make the money go further and we have to spend on the right things and in the right way to continue to provide the same level of service.

Q: Are you going to help try to improve participation in the sport? Jane Rollins, Hemel Hempstead, Herts

A: The angling strategy is now with the Angling Trust who we have partnership projects with and these are also funded by Sport England. We are currently doing some marketing work targeting around 500,000 lapsed anglers who have left the sport to encourage them to get back into it. Our primary route is with the Trust but we have also been working with schools recently to get kids into fishing.

Q: Are you going to do more to eradicate crayfish numbers and other non-natives affecting fisheries? Scott Nevitt, Enfield, London

A: Non-native species is one of our priorities and a big part of what we do. When we discover a new one we need to look at what harm it can cause, where it has been distributed and how it can be controlled. In some instances we can only prevent spread rather than full eradication. There are many ways of eradication including biological control but with this you have to be sure how it’s going to behave as often there is no comeback.

Q: Would the EA consider educating fisheries with things like baliffing and disease control? Matthew Thomas, Aberystwyth, Wales

A: We have always run workshops for fishery managers and owners with organisations like the IFM and these will continue where there is local demand. We also have the stillwater fish ageing kits we can send out to anyone who requests them. These involve fisheries taking a scale sample and fish measurement and sending it back to our lab so we can determine the fisheries’ health. We can then give them advice or help. Also fisheries can always contact their local fishery officer if they seek any advice that includes bailiffing.

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