Marine and Coastal Access Bill Committee

Charles Walker supports an amendment to enable inshore fisheries and conservation (IFC) authorities to delegate powers to the Environment Agency to manage all fish species in upper estuaries.

Mr. Walker: It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Reading, West. He is a great champion of fishing and fishermen. I spend many evenings on riverbanks with him and many days catching the beautiful freshwater fish that swim in our rivers. I share his concern. It would be quite ridiculous for me to fish at Teddington for chub and roach, not bass and mullet, and to see an IFCA fishery officer cruising past me in his boat. Although it is clearly in the tidal reach, Teddington is not a sea fishery. There are lots of pike, carp and exciting fish, but they are not sea fish.

There are issues of overlap that we need to be concerned about, particularly where we have migratory fish runs, but the Environment Agency is responsible for recruitment and breeding in the rivers. It will take a close interest in what is happening to migratory fish stocks in freshwater fisheries, namely rivers. It will know what spawning numbers are required, and what catch rates and release rates are being achieved. It would be mad for the EA to hand over responsibility for the estuary to IFCAs; commercial sea fishermen could net out the salmon and sea trout as they nose into the freshwater, thereby denuding that river of its native stock that leads to sustainable recreational fisheries in the river.

It is not just fishermen who benefit from stocks of salmon and sea trout. It is also local hoteliers, the local tourist trade and, dare I say it, those lovely animals that people like to see in our rivers, otters. Like the hon. Member for Reading, West, I have no time for mink, but I have a lot of time for otters, and sustainable fisheries support healthy otter populations.
Martin Salter: May I counsel the hon. Gentleman? We all enjoy seeing otters in the natural environment, but some of the wildlife trusts that have reintroduced otters into our rivers have done so without regard to the available food source. That is an important issue. There needs to be some balance to ensure that that apex predator does not do untold damage to fisheries.

Mr. Walker
: The hon. Gentleman makes my point perfectly. The Environment Agency has responsibility, in the main, for our freshwater fisheries. It should be consulted and included in important decisions, and it should have the final say on what happens. If we are to have viable fish populations, we need to ensure that the interests of fish are balanced against the interests of otters. That will always be the case.
I spend a lot time fishing on the Bure in Norwich. I shall be in Norwich in the coming weeks, but not to fish, unfortunately. The Bure is tidal up to Horning, and the idea of IFCA officers patrolling Horning among the pike fishermen is ridiculous. The amendment is good and sensible. We discussed it a year ago in the Joint Committee on the Bill, when we got frightfully excited about it, and now we are frightfully excited about it again. The issue matters to fishermen on both sides of the House. Fishing transcends party politics. It is not quite a religion, but it is very close to being so. I therefore hope that the Minister will accept the amendment in good grace, and ensure that the Government implement the necessary changes so that common sense prevails.

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