The coarse fishing close season in England runs from 15 March to 15 June each year and covers the spawning times for most coarse fish in the majority of rivers. The season dates back to 1878 but was removed from still waters in 1995.
The Environment Agency has been considering ending the close season for some time and has conducted several surveys on Angler’s opinions. Predictably, opinions are divided! However, as time passes, more and more anglers are stating that they are looking for change. The number of anglers in favour of ending the close season is growing but many would like to see evidence that there would be no negative impact on the environment.
The enthusiasm for the removal of the close season is greatest in areas where rivers tend to be flooded for most of the winter. Anglers are only able to fish these rivers for a short period each year, a period which is limited further by the close season.
Lack of evidence stalls progress
The trouble is that evidence is in short supply. There is no evidence that ending the close season would affect fish stocks or the environment because there have been no studies specifically looking at this issue. Experts believe that such research would be very costly, would take years to complete and would provide an incomplete picture of what is happening in our rivers.
Catch and release
Certainly, one of the reasons that the close season was instituted no longer applies. In the 19th century, fish stocks were being depleted by coarse fishing as the anglers were almost always retaining their catches. These days most coarse fishing is undertaken on a catch and release basis.
The Close Season aims to protect fish from additional pressure during the period when most species spawn, but we really don’t know if it helps the fish or not. It is likely that angling does not impact spawning in larger rivers but may be problematic in smaller rivers.
The social and economic benefits of angling
We do know that the close season reduces the social and economic benefits of angling. There are concerns that it prevents young anglers from enjoying the sport during the school Easter holidays. This could be a contributory factor in the decline in young people taking up angling.
Another study group
The Environment Agency has now reconvened a study group to consider the available options moving forward. The organisation will also be surveying anglers again in May to gauge current opinions.
The final decision on removing or retaining the bylaw will be made by the government after examining the arguments for and against. The debate continues and there is a feeling of inertia developing. Perhaps the solution is to trial the removal of the close season in one region or on one river. It could be that the close season should be removed on some rivers and not others.
One can only hope that efforts are made to reach a decision. This is an issue which has been debated for years and years after which anglers’ opinions have remained split down the middle. It’s all a bit like Brexit. A lot of talking and opposing views with no consensus on the horizon.