An interesting conversation has sprung up after a fairly high-profile angler admitted catching a diamond back sturgeon and then returning it to a fishery. It had lived there happily for a while and seemingly wasn’t doing anyone any harm. He then added that the Environment Agency had been in touch, threatening to prosecute him for putting it back.
Releasing a ‘non-native fish’ into the wild is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. It’s in place to protect our indigenous species from invasive ‘nasties’ and to try to prevent them from taking over our waters, in much the same way that grey squirrels have replaced the native reds in many of our woodland areas.
In the UK the species of fish officially deemed non-native include grass carp, catfish, pumpkinseed, zander, topmouth gudgeon and bitterling. Some of these smaller species can become very invasive, and the zander debate has raged for a long time. Fisheries are required to have a permit to confirm what they have in their waters. If they have fish not on the list, they can be told to remove them, hence why the CRT removes zander from the canals under its control.
However, some people have now raised the question of consistency, and rightly so too. Catfish aren’t allowed in many stillwaters, ignored in some (normally as it’s ‘too expensive’ to remove them), and actually permitted in others. The same can be said for zander, with Rutland Water, Grafham Water and Old Bury Hill being just three examples of venues where they’re present in big numbers. There are even a few grass carp lakes around too. The law is of course the law, and we should all abide by it, but this area in particular seems to be incredibly grey. Perhaps it’s time for a rethink?