Thursday, 1 September 2016

August 2016 - Thank Goodness For Fishing

Am I alone in feeling grateful that August is now safely behind us, and with it the wall to wall coverage of the Olympic Games. Not that most of us at SENPAC need another excuse to go fishing but if we had then the non-stop waffle and the interminable repeat showings of soon to be millionaire ( if they are not already) "athletes" and their tear  infused thank you speeches was more than enough reason to get the maggots out of the fridge and head to the water side. One aspect of fishing that you can always rely upon........escape!

August is always one of the quietest months in the SENPAC year with so many other demands on our members time with family holidays, child minding and a myriad of other domestic duties all combining to reduce the time available to go fishing. But August is also when most of our number begin to think seriously about the new season's piking and solid plans are formulated for the campaign to come. It is obviously no secret that we pikers up here in the far north-east corner of the country are not exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to waters with a potential to produce a decent fish or two. In fact, to be completely honest we probably only have two such waters locally and one of them is notoriously difficult to get on to. As a result we rely quite heavily upon venues in Scotland to provide us with fishing that offers the opportunity to catch pike in reasonable numbers and also the chance of a notable fish. It was against this background that our Newsletter editor attempted to provide us all with an update on the progress being made with the Scottish Government's Wild Fisheries Review in his latest missive.
It didn't make for particularly comfortable reading and whilst it is acknowledged that the update is a much abbreviated version of the current situation and focuses on the potential impact on anglers who visit Scotland as opposed to the much wider debate that is under-way, and despite there being an inevitable degree of editorial interpretation and opinion included I decided to include the update here for information...............

The Scottish Government’s Wild Fisheries Review plods ever onwards, the first draft of the new Fisheries Bill was published in February 2016 and put out for consultation to interested parties, that consultation period concluding in May of this year. The draft Bill was a mixture of detailed proposals and much less detailed areas where further discussion and consideration was felt necessary in order to arrive at concrete proposals. Much of that further discussion and consideration is being undertaken by the augustly named Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG) which is made up of representatives of various interested parties and organisations. The members are……………………………………

Willie Cowan (Chair)         Scottish Government
Carole Barker-Munro         Scottish Government
Alan Wells                          Scottish Government
Mark Bilsby                        Association of Salmon Fishery Boards
Jonathan Swift                   Association of Scottish Stillwater Fisheries                                             Simon McKelvey               Institute of Fishery Management
Chris Horrill                       Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland
George Pullar                     Salmon Net Fishing Association of Scotland                                          Craig Campbell                  Scottish Anglers National Association
Ron Woods                         Scottish Federation for Coarse Angling
     Duncan Ferguson               Scottish Gamekeepers Association

The basis of the latest proposals remains as originally outlined following the initial consultation process, the abolition of most of the current fisheries management bodies to be replaced by a national network of regional Fisheries Management Organisations (FMO’s) who will be given the legal responsibility for the operation and supervision of all freshwater fisheries be that salmon, sea trout, trout and coarse fisheries both wild and commercial in the case of the latter two categories. The bureaucrat’s solution you might say, and as with all bureaucracy, the costly solution.

Perhaps then, not surprisingly, one of the more sensitive areas of the discussion is in relation to how this new organisation is to be funded and is one of the areas where there is a distinct lack of detail in the draft bill. Step forward the SRG. They have now produced their first attempt as to recommendations on how the whole shebang is to be financed and it is this report that has prompted me to provide this update.
My first reaction is that this does not look like good news for anglers like our-selves who visit Scotland on a regular basis for our fishing. The five options for raising the necessary money that were considered by the SRG were, in abbreviated form, as follows………………………………

1. A tax on fishery owners, this was dismissed as being difficult and costly to collect and administer, and was considered as un-fair, as the burden would fall on “commercial” fisheries to an unreasonable level and would be mired in problems of having to identify who owns what fisheries.

2. A tax on fishing permits’, this was dismissed for the reasons above.

3. Place non-migratory fishery owners under a legal obligation to manage their fisheries and make them responsible for raising the funding to achieve this. Again this option was dismissed, somewhat less convincingly I thought for the same reasons outlined in 1. above.

4. Raise a tax on fishing tackle sales. The SRG helpfully pointed out that such sales were already subject to VAT and the suggestion was dismissed on the grounds of the additional financial burden it would place on anglers, which quite frankly I found laughable in the light of what followed.

5. Introduce a “fisheries management and development levy” to be raised directly from individual anglers. The SRG seized on this one as being “the fairest and most cost effective approach………..and to be the only viable and acceptable funding system if combined with suitable levels of government funding” They went on to dress this idea up with statements about such a levy providing anglers with a personal stake in fisheries welfare and development, the ability of anglers to influence fisheries management and provision of anglers insurance cover of some sort!

No mention so far of a rod licence you will no doubt have noticed, which at first sight appears strange. Well there is a very good reason for that and this is where the politics creeps in. It turns out that the Scottish Government has already committed to a policy of not introducing a rod licence and is clearly desperate to side-step the inevitable bomb-blast of reversing such policy on such an emotive subject. So I think it a reasonable preposition to suggest that for “Rod Licence” read “Fisheries Management and Development Levy”. There may be some good news concealed in this situation though, especially for us pike anglers. There doesn’t appear to be any connection between the payment of the “Levy” and the numbers of rods that can be used which may have proved problematic and costly if the principle of the rod licence was adopted. Historically, all fishing legislation in Scotland has been based around a single held rod. Multiple rods in rests remains strictly illegal (set-lines?) so perhaps a single payment not linked to numbers of rods and sorting out the set-line nonsense is a positive. On the other hand it is perhaps too early to celebrate.

 Whilst I suspect we wouldn’t have been overjoyed with having to buy a rod licence(s) for our fishing in Scotland, it would at least have been straightforward, what is now being proposed raises additional practical difficulties and potentially increased costs.

The SRG proposals for the levy are……………………………

1.  It must be compulsory

2. It must be universal, apply and be collected nationally, apply equally to Scottish based anglers and visitors alike, apply to all anglers pursuing all species of fish.

3.  Be easy to understand and access.

4.  Be efficient in collection and administration.

5.  Be set at a level which represents good value to anglers but is sufficient to raise adequate funds to finance the new management organisation.

6.  Have uniform rates for all types of angling activity with discounts for juniors, disabled and OAPs’.

7.  Be based upon an annual fee but with weekly or monthly options for visiting anglers.( no mention of whether “visitors” can opt to pay the annual levy?)

8.  Provide the means of collecting, generating and disseminating information to anglers.

So in a nutshell, coarse anglers are going to pay the same as anglers on the best salmon fishing rivers and we, south of the border as visitors, may well have to organise weekly or monthly            “ permits’” or whatever they will be called, each time we want to fish. Compared to what we have become used to over the years this all sounds like it could be an expensive nightmare! Just consider the impact on our PAC visits to the Lake of Menteith which to be honest are already something of an expensive luxury for most of us

Clearly there is still work to do by all concerned and I have yet to find anything that suggests just when the new arrangements, whatever they end up being, are to be introduced, so we may just squeeze in another season of piking before we have all this to worry about. 

If you need to learn more then I would suggest that you consult the Scottish Government's website on a fairly regular basis. As I said earlier, not the most comfortable reading and easy to see that, should these proposals be implemented, then a visit to Scotland will be a more complicated and expensive affair, consider the impact on the PAC visit to the Lake of Menteith which for many of us is already an expensive luxury without the costs associated with a weekly "levy" being added?

On the SENPAC fishing front, well as I said all a bit quiet although, speaking of Scotland as we were, one of our number gave up on patiently waiting for the new season to start and took himself off to a favourite water north of the border for a four day session and had five doubles with two at 18lbs on his first day! Not a bad start? Our Summer League matches were concluded during August but catch returns were poor on both matches. Despite that congratulations go to the winner Dave Greally who showed us all how to do it for the second year in a row.

The September meeting for the Region will be on Tuesday 27th at the Northumbrian Piper as usual, it would be great to see you.

Tight lines to all.