Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why John Bailey once joined rod licence boycott

I don't know if this story will ever make the angling media, but John Bailey made an interesting admission in his column in yesterday's EDP *linky*. He decided not so long ago to boycott buying a rod licence, in the hope he could highlight the EA's neglect of our rivers if he ever got his collar felt and had his day in court.

JB was far more positive about the EA when I bumped into him a couple of weeks back, while he was filming an episode of the forthcoming Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree series in King's Lynn. Over the last couple of seasons - leaving aside one disagreement over a story I'd written in the papers - I've come to the same view.

Whatever's been going on in terms of cutbacks and re-organisations behind the scenes, we currently seem to be blessed with some very motivated fisheries staff in this part of the world. And best of all, they actually listen to the people who buy rod licences.

Like John Bailey - who's now a reformed rod licence buyer - I believe I'm seeing a return on the money I fork out for two rod licences each season - currently the princely sum of £54. Enforcement officers are engaging with pike anglers via the River Watch scheme set up by Denis Moules.

Membership is growing, as is the information now being passed in the right direction. Better still, it's led to at least two prosecutions.

Tomorrow sees another watershed, when the EA officially unveils its new £400,000 fish pass linking the Wissey with the Cut-Off Channel *linky*. Paid for by efficiency savings, rather than rod licence revenue, the hi-tech pipeline will help eels, coarse fish and even sea trout migrate to and from their spawning grounds.

The EA's also undertaking a tagging programme, to monitor fish movements. While still in its infancy, the driviing force behind this is Karen Twine (pictured, right) - the fisheries scientist whose barbel tagging on the Upper Ouse revealed the real cause of the barbel's decline in the river. The EA then went to work restoring the barbel's spawning habitats, to improve recruitment.

I used to regularly complain that there was no enforcement, on the strength of never having my rod licence checked in more than a decade. But enforcement needs to be targeted, because the staff and budget aren't there to have people patrolling everywhere in today's financial climate.

It's down to us as anglers to act as the eyes and ears of the EA whenever we can. This is where River Watch comes in - it's all about working in partnership, to safeguard what we love so much.

As paying customers, anglers have got every right to be a critical friend of the EA and the ways in which it spends our money. But behind the scenes, there's a lot going on we can take heart from at the moment.

We might still have a long way to go, but we've definitely turned a corner and things finally seem to be heading in the right direction in the Fens.

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