AnglingTrust The voice of Angling

Martin Salter with a roach

River Close Season – Is it time for a rethink? "I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I do get to talk to lots of anglers, politicians, fishery managers and EA staff. I’m also a mad keen river angler who cares about the future of angling. My views on the river close season are evolving with the climate and the changing circumstances of river fishing which sees a lot less pressure on stocks nowadays. So here’s ten key points to kick off the debate…" To READ MARTIN SALTER'S BLOG and LEAVE A COMMENT - click the image above.

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Facebook: Let us know what YOU think There's a lively debate about the close season issue going on over at the Angling Trust's Facebook page. Let us know what you think by posting your comments there...

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Email us your opinion or close season experience Email admin@anglingtrust.net if you want to tell us what you think. We can't promise to reply to all your emails but will publish snippets from a selection on this page. Please include your name, the type of fishing you do (coarse, sea or game) and county in your email - thanks.

The River Close Season Debate

Barbel on the float - credit James Champkin


The coarse fish close season in English rivers - plan to hold public consultation: Environment Agency statement, July 18th, 2018:

In May and June, the Environment Agency invited 20,000 randomly selected anglers from across England to provide their views on the coarse fish close season. Of the 5,147 anglers that took part, 2,553 (49.6%) would like to see a change, with 2,190 (42.5%) wanting to keep the close season as it is. Only 404 (7.9%) are undecided. Of those opting for change, 1,695 (32.9%) are in favour of abolishing the close season altogether and 858 (16.7%) prefer a change to the current close season start and end dates.

The survey follows a review of the evidence around the close season by a joint Environment Agency, Angling Trust and Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) study group.

Given that a significant proportion of those anglers polled want to see a change to the current coarse fish close season on rivers, we will now open up the debate to all anglers and others with an interest in freshwater fisheries by holding a public consultation later in the year.

Kevin Austin, Deputy Director for Agriculture, Fisheries and the Natural Environment at the Environment Agency said: “We are grateful to all those that took part in the survey. The fact that so many did shows how important this is to anglers. It also means the results are statistically robust – it is a true reflection of anglers’ views.

“We plan to hold a consultation later in the year which will examine all the arguments and evidence, to help inform any future change in the close season byelaw.”

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust said: “The Angling Trust will not take any formal position in lobbying for or against any changes in the river close season but we strongly believe that the views of all anglers should be taken into account and are pleased that this important issue is now going out to full onsultation.

"It will doubtless arouse some strong feelings on all sides but as an angling community we shouldn’t be frightened to debate, scrutinise and examine the evidence for the laws that affect and govern our sport.”

Steve Axford, from the IFM said: “The Institute of Fisheries Management is pleased to see that there will be wider public consultation on the closed season for coarse fish in rivers. We wish to help with assessment of the arguments and any further evidence that may come from the consultation and in the development of any proposed changes to byelaws that may result.”

The Environment Agency will now proceed with arrangements to consult anglers and anyone else with an interest in the close season and will publicise plans later in the year.

The coarse fish close season runs from 15 March to 15 June, and covers the spawning times for most coarse fish in most rivers in most years.

The current season dates back to 1878, a time when most coarse fish were caught and killed. Coarse angling is now almost exclusively catch and release. The close season was removed from most still waters in 1995 and from most canals in 2000.

In the Environment Agency’s 2003 survey on the close season, 50% of the 311 anglers polled supported retaining the current dates; 35% were in favour of abolishing it; and 15% were undecided. In a 2012 survey, 39% of the 10,416 anglers polled supported retain; 15% supported abolish; 8% supported a change; 27% supported change, if backed by scientific evidence; and 12% were undecided.

A joint evidence study group from the Environment Agency, Angling Trust and Institute of Fisheries Management found that the evidence of the impact of angling on spawning coarse fish is incomplete:

  • There is no reported evidence of impact where the close season has been removed, but also that there have been no direct studies to investigate any such impacts.
  • A scientific literature review gives a better understanding of angling related risks to fish and how these might be addressed.
  • The group looked at the possibility of further research, but concluded it would be expensive, take several years to complete and would only ever give a partial picture.

The study group’s findings are available below. In this recent survey, the Environment Agency invited 20,000 annual licence holders to give their view. These were representative for different licence categories and parts of the country, but otherwise chosen at random.



The coarse fish close season in English rivers - evidence review and angler survey: Environment Agency statement, May 10th, 2018:

Together with the Angling Trust and Institute of Fisheries Management, the Environment Agency has reviewed the available evidence around the coarse fish close season on rivers. It has published its findings here:

1. Literature review of evidence around the close season

2. Summary of coarse fish spawning times

3. Coarse fish close seasons in other European countries

4. Assessment of risks of fishing during the current close season

5. Review of potential studies to improve close season evidence base

6. History of the coarse fish close season in England

Overview of current evidence

Angling in England on rivers (and some stillwaters and canals) has been subject to a coarse fish close season since 1878. This runs from 15 March and 15 June, inclusive, and aims to protect coarse fish stocks from additional angling pressure in the period when most species typically spawn. However, prohibiting angling on rivers also has other effects, including reducing the social and economic benefits from angling.

The close season has been retained on a precautionary basis – removing or reforming it would entail running a number of risks, most importantly that of maintaining fish stocks. England Fisheries Group established a study group, with representatives from the Angling Trust, Institute of Fisheries Management and the Environment Agency to examine the available evidence on the effects of the coarse fish close season in England, particularly on rivers, and whether collecting additional evidence to increase our understanding of likely effects of changes to the close season on rivers was possible.

The study group assessed all readily available scientific evidence and concluded there was a lack of studies specially addressing this issues of concern. As a consequence they found no conclusive evidence that the close season is necessary to protect fish stocks in rivers. Overall, the current evidence of the impact of angling around the spawning period on coarse fish populations remains circumstantial.

However:
  • the literature review provides a valuable synopsis of the available evidence on angling-related risks to fish, from which valuable inferences can be drawn;
  • risk-assessments produced by by an expert group add confidence to our understanding of issues and fish species most likely to be affected;
  • no evidence has been reported of detrimental impacts from angling during the close season period for rivers on the welfare of fish stocks or on the fisheries they support from locations where there is no (or a shorter) close season either in England or in other European countries. Equally, there is also an absence of studies which might provide evidence to investigate these risks;
  • further research to add to the understanding is possible, but only with very significant cost and time implications relating to the need to reduce uncertainty against background environmental influences;
  • regardless of whether or not close season angling does impact coarse fish stocks, the likely level of impact on stocks and recruitment in most rivers is unlikely to be detectable.

The Environment Agency considered the report and the feedback from England Fisheries Group and agreed to reconvene the study group to examine whether or not the options for the future of the coarse fish close season on rivers might be considered for a risk-based decision, and how these might be taken forward.

Next steps

To help it decide if there is a case for reviewing of the close season byelaw, the Environment Agency is taking a snapshot of anglers’ support for retaining, reforming or removing the current regulation in England. This will happen in May. We will let you know the outcome.

This snapshot is not a referendum, but will simply indicate whether the Environment Agency has a mandate to proceed with a review. If it believes there is a case and support for proceeding with a review of the byelaw, it will consult later this year, giving all anglers, fishery owners and others the opportunity to voice their opinion on future options for the close season.

Any future decision on retaining, reforming or removing the close season will be made by Government, following a critical examination of the evidence and arguments for and against change.

In the meantime, please have a look at the evidence the study group has collated.


The Environment Agency set up a consultative panel in 2015 to guide their work, which has included a review of arrangements in other countries and examination of available scientific studies. The group has been chaired by Steve Axford from the IFM, who also sits on the England Fisheries Group (EFG), and contains fishery scientists and three representatives from the Angling Trust all coming with very different viewpoints: Martin Salter (reform), Pete Reading (retain) and Dave Harrell (abolish).

The evidence paper has been approved unanimously by the whole panel and is now the subject of two EA consultations.

This is not the first time the close season has been subject to review but it is the first time there has been an attempt at some serious engagement with anglers.

The process has been scrupulously fair and impartial and the final report will clearly set out the pros, cons, strengths and weaknesses of each position. The subject has been discussed and the process approved by the EFG.

We are looking forward to a vigorous and respectful debate now the have EA published the report. The Angling Trust has remained studiously neutral throughout the process and has provided opportunities for a range of views to be fed in both through our website and at a number of our regional forums.

We hope that as many anglers as possible take the trouble to read through the evidence papers on the arguments for and against retaining, abolishing or reforming the 140 year old coarse fishing river close season. It will doubtless arouse some strong feelings on all sides but as an angling community we shouldn’t be frightened to debate and scrutinise the laws that affect and govern our sport.

The Angling Trust will not take any formal position in lobbying for a change in the river close season as we believe that the views of all anglers should be taken into account.

You can read the contributions to our close season debate below:


The Angling Trust will not take any formal position in lobbying for a change in the river close season until we see what the evidence would be on fish stocks and the views of our members and the various groups of anglers. As an organisation committed to conservation, it would be irresponsible of us to do anything else. However, we do accept that this is a live issue and we want anglers on both sides of this debate to have their voices heard and for the arguments to be tested.

Read Martin Salter's latest blog (March 2018) - three more views on the close season.

Alan Clark Thames Roach



Statement from the Environment Agency - 29/1/15

EA logo 66x100"The coarse fish close season on rivers remains a complex and emotive issue. We need to make sure any decision to change from the current close season is based on the best available evidence, as it could have a widespread and lasting impact on river fish stocks and the performance of our river fisheries. We need to get it right.

When we last reviewed the close season in 2003, we asked APEM, an aquatic and fisheries consultancy, to propose areas of research that could give us a better understanding of the potential risks to fisheries of removing the close season from rivers. APEM identified a range of studies, all of which had considerable resource implications and given that anglers’ opinions on the close season were (and to a large extent remain) divided and that the results from these studies could well be inconclusive, we felt at the time this was not a priority.

In recent months and with renewed angler interest in the close season, we have been looking afresh at the APEM proposals (and other proposals of our own) to see which are most likely to provide useful evidence to help inform the debate. These include examining the evidence of increased physiological stress in fish caught and handled during the close season; comparing the spawning success of fish in waters with and without a close season; and looking for any changes in fish survival rates in rivers where fish are caught and handled during the close season.

None of this work is certain - many of the practicalities still need to be considered and they all cost rod licence money. The Environment Agency will continue to work with the Angling Trust, the England Fisheries Group and other to look at which, if any, are likely to offer greater insight into this issue and whether they offer good value for money. Initial discussions on options, costs and how the issue might be addressed are expected to take place over the next 2 months."




RIVER CLOSE SEASON – IS IT TIME FOR A RETHINK?

By Martin Salter

Martin Salter ThNow I don’t deny that issues that divide angling opinion are more tricky for us than those on which there is a broad consensus but that is no reason not to engage with them. The job of a national representative body is to take up important mainstream issues and to see if we can find a way through which would benefit our sport without harming the environment and the resource on which it depends...

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WHY?

By Keith Arthur

Keith Arthur ThFor every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Although the quote from Newton's Law relates to movement, in my experience it relates to every single facet of life. Whatever you do, in whatever context, a chain of events are set in motion. Abolishing the current close season on rivers would do that, without doubt. The debate must be who or what would benefit from it and who or what would suffer...

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THE PERENNIAL DEBATE

By Ralph Clark

Ralph Clark, Byfleet Angling Association Committee member, with barbel x550px

Although the initial issues for protecting coarse fish stocks may have changed, it becomes quite apparent that coarse fish stocks still require the protection that a close season offers... It is essential that Angling gives itself a good name, as we all know there are too many people out there who dislike anglers and angling, some would even like to see the sport banned and I’m sure that they would be prepared to use the abolition of the close season on rivers to further their cause.

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THE CASE OF THE CLOSE SEASON

By Jeff Woodhouse

Jeff W ThSome want to call this debate the "silly season" and it is a subject that comes up every year at this time; naturally, who'd bring it up in the full season when everyone is out fishing on the rivers? 
Fact is that not everyone agrees with it and by debating it, we might just happen on a solution that will please all, or almost all. If you are a 'supporter' of the close season, then all is fine as it is, but if you're an abolitionist, then you are not a happy chappy and believe the law needs amending. However, it is not right in a democracy to have 50% (if that's what it is) of the anglers upset, but how do we find an alternative and is there one?...

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MATT'S ANGLE

By Matt Maginnis

Matt Maginnis ThThe river fishing season comes to an end for three months on March 14th, but do we really need the break? Matt has been researching the subject and has uncovered some very interesting facts. I talked a bit about the close season this time last year and didn't intend to do so again this year but after another really dire winter with very few opportunities to fish on many of our rivers the close season has become more of a talking point than ever...

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WHY WE NEED A RIVER CLOSE SEASON STUDY

By Dave Harrell

Dave Harrell ThThe close season on rivers was introduced well over 100 years ago and it has never had any basis in science.

The restriction it places on anglers and the many businesses they support is very significant and it is about time that we reviewed whether or not this is really necessary...

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THE "COARSE" CLOSE SEASON

By Mark Everard

Mark Everard ThNo time for a lengthy reply to Martin's article but, yes, the coarse fishing closed season on rivers is, well, coarse, but that is the way it was intended by its progenitor: Anthony John Mudella.

It does not cover the precise spawning time of all coarse fish species within the broad scope of natural variability every year and regionally...

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ABOLISH THE RIVER CLOSED SEASON FOR COARSE FISH? NO WAY!

By Rod Sturdy

Rod Sturdy ThTwo words which are frequently used in an environmental context are 'responsible' and sustainable'. Doing away with a statutory lay-off period for coarse fishing on rivers would be neither responsible nor sustainable.

It would affect adversely the fish themselves as the quarry we depend on for our sport and enjoyment, and it would certainly tarnish the image of angling, and hand over ammunition to the antis, who would dearly love to ban angling altogether...

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CHANGE IS LONG OVERDUE

By Jim Baxter

Jim Baxter ThRef the closed season debate (press release 10th March), as a lifelong angler who fishes all year round, I'm delighted that Martin Salter has seen the light. I think that enforcing a 12-week time close in Spring 2014 is ridiculous, and that some of the angling brotherhood are acting selfishly over this issue. I'd have made your headline bolder, if you don't mind me saying, along the lines of: 'surely an end to the river close season is long overdue?'...

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MY CLOSE SEASON VIEW

By Gary Newman

Gary Newman ThI've always been a big fan of the Close Season on certain waters to give the fish and the banks a chance to have a break.

On the club lakes that I'm involved in running we still maintain a traditional three-month shutdown, as do a lot of my other local venues, and I believe that the fish and bankside vegetation benefit from this.

This doesn't mean though that I won't go and fish other waters during this period as there is no way that I could go three months without being able to go fishing - I find it hard to go three days without wetting a line!...

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DO WE REALLY NEED A CLOSED SEASON?

By Jimmy Sallis

Jimmy Sallis ThWith no closed season on still waters and canals then why should it still apply to the rivers? Most anglers will argue that, due to unpredictable and uncharacteristic seasons, fish like barbel and chub will often begin spawning early or even late, which will fall into the end of a season or the beginning of the new one. I myself have witnessed fish in spawn as late as July, a great sight to see but certainly not a time to drop a bait in the water.

There are highly pressured rivers and meadows which, in my opinion, deserve a break from all the human presence. On the flip side I have a stretch of water which I rarely, if ever, see another angler on....

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LETS PUT THE WILDLIFE AND COUNTRYSIDE FIRST

By Martin James 

Martin JamesI must ask where does the six months come in reference to the river close season? It's three months March 15th June 15th both days inclusive. Just because rivers were flooded there was always some places to fish on river. The River Wye was for instance over 17 feet above normal, the Avon was well, over the fields but it was still possible to fish if one was prepared to make the effort. I do not agree with the AT getting involved in writing to the Prime Minister ref tackle shops and fisheries suffering through rivers being flooded. The countryside needs a close season to give the rivers and streams a chance to repair the damage we anglers do.

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LEAVE WELL ALONE

By Neville Fickling 

Neville FicklingI’m afraid it has started again. I know we have been washed out this winter and I’m sure we will be washed out again. However it looks as if member clubs of the Angling Trust are pressurising the Trust into doing something about the close season. The debate hinges on the lack of scientific data on the effects of close season fishing on rivers and drains. The EA adopts a precautionary principle suggesting that they do not know if close season fishing will damage fish stocks, but rather than find out the hard way and with no resources for meaningful research, they have decided to keep the status quo. That is exactly right. Let those that want to fish rivers and drains fund the research themselves, but via an independent organisation such as the EA.

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RIVER TRUSTS ARE BEST PLACED TO TAKE ON THIS TASK

By Mike Storey 

Mike Storey
I have been knocking my head against this brick wall now for more years than I can remember, and the key point that virtually everybody misses is simply this; the key word is STATUTORY.In other words, the desire for users, owners or lessees of a particular river system are imposed on all others in this debate as a statutory requirement- if this were removed, those who prefer to impose a closure of their fishery can do so, at any time and for any duration, without imposing this on other rivers that may be different in nature...

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CLOSED SEASON VIEWS

By Bob Roberts

Bob Roberts ThIt's that time of year again when folk like to make a lot of noise but ultimately do nothing. It will probably be just the same this year and in the closed seasons to come. Unfortunately talk is cheap, especially on internet angling forums. But this year we are told things are different. Some who were previously opposed to change have had a Road To Damascus moment and it's making headlines. Big deal. Forgive my cynicism but I remain unconvinced that this will have any bearing whatsoever. I'm pleased to be able to report that I haven't changed my mind one iota. I remain utterly convinced that the current CLOSED season is a farce. Always has been, always will be...

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CLOSED SEASON THOUGHTS

By Nick Simmonds

Nick Simmonds ThI believe that a rational investigation into the coarse angling river closed season is worth pursuing, to try to ensure that a closed season fulfils its intended purpose in affording a relief from angling pressure on fish gathering to spawn, spawning and recovering from spawning. If the outcome is to shorten, lengthen or move the period of the closed season then so be it, if the basis for doing so is sound. In my opinion the arguments for abolition of the river closed season are all about the desires of the anglers and others who favour abolition and nothing to do with the welfare of fish...

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THE COARSE CLOSE SEASON

By Dick Clegg OBE

Dick Clegg ThFor sure the close season debate will go on for many years yet with each side going to great lengths to point out their own reasons for retaining or abolishing it. After being in the angling trade for 40 years and being based in South Yorkshire I do have a greater overall view of the situation than most of the people passing comments. The main issue surrounds the spawning of fish and retaining the environment required for them to succeed. The Yorkshire season always closed and opened 2 weeks earlier than the rest of the country and how that benefited some species is beyond me...

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AMBIVALENT ABOUT THE CLOSE SEASON NOWADAYS

By Jan Porter 

Jan PorterRe the closed season I'm pretty ambivalent about it really, the nostalgia of the glorious 16th has been deeply ingrained in my psyche for over 50 years. Maybe it's not as magical these days for most me included since it's only rivers, some canals & a few stillwaters that are out of bounds. I like the idea of allowing swims/pegs flora on rivers that are heavily fished some respite. I understand and appreciate that for many species of fish it serves no purpose in terms of preventing them from being caught during spawning. As has been well documented in any instances fish spawn well before the end of the season and after the season recommences. There will never be a calendar period post Xmas and well into July that will ensure certain fish aren't caught as they spawn. 

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CLOSE SEASON - TIME FOR A RETHINK?

By Steve Pope

Steve Pope Th.jpgLet me put my cards on the table straight from the off so that there is no confusion, I am a supporter of a close season (CS) and these are my personal views. My reasons for supporting a close season are very much in line with what I would term old school thinking. Pro CS supporters would empathise, those against would say I'm out of touch so this is as good a time as any to, as Martin suggests, have a revisit and a rethink. Being pro close season does not mean I have a closed mind and I take a view that it is always sensible to revisit "laws" every so often to ensure they are still in keeping with the current situation, common sense I would have thought...

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STRONGLY IN FAVOUR

By Pete Reading

Pete Reading Th.jpgI remain strongly in favour of the retention of the current close season dates, for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is, in my view,based firmly on conservation grounds. Although the current dates are not perfect,and never could be, they do offer some respite,protection and respect for our fragile wild river fish populations, which are under increasing pressure, and not only from anglers. Riverine fish have to be naturally self-sustaining in order to form stable populations, and catching and handling fish before, during and after spawning must put them under stress at a very vulnerable time, and is likely to affect spawning success and recruitment, especially on smaller rivers...

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IS IT TIME FOR A RETHINK?

By Ray Wood

Ray Wood ThIs it time for a re-think on the river close season, some celebrity anglers think so. One could be forgiven for thinking that for them it is all about money. Not one of them has put forward any real reasons to support this call based on facts or sound sense. Floods have been put forward as one reason due to the exceptional ones we have had over the past season. That is exactly what they were exceptional, they are not the norm, and in all honesty they did not affect my season. I still managed to get my full season on our rivers it just meant travelling to different areas. Which in turn took me to some rivers I had not fished before and with some outstanding results to boot...

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SIX COMMON SENSE REASONS
WHY THE RIVER CLOSE SEASON NEEDS REVIEW

By Mark Berry

Mark Berry-smThere is a common misconception that the debate surrounding the close season on UK rivers is a complex one. On the contrary, the issue is remarkably simple. And it's all about common sense...



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