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| Salmonid migration|
Written By: Mark Lloyd
On Date: 24/12/2006
Open letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Salmonid migration through the Tees Barrage
The Anglers’ Conservation Association is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1948 which represents our members’ interests in matters relating to angling law and civil claims for pollution and other damage to their fishing rights. We have a membership numbering approximately 900 fishing clubs and fishery owners and 9,000 individuals. There is more information about our work at www.a-c-a.org and we enclose a copy of our recently published annual report for your information.
We are acting for several fishing clubs and owners on the River Tees regarding the issue of migratory fish being unable to pass the Tees Barrage. Fish are delayed by the Barrage, particularly at times of low flow and are consequently vulnerable to predation by seals at this point. There is now a resident seal population at the Barrage for fairly obvious reasons. ACA solicitors have witnessed three salmon taken in two very short visits to the barrage in the last six months (see enclosed photographs). In short, the Barrage is hindering the recovery on the Tees and preventing the Tees mirroring the great success story of salmon on the Tyne.
This is an issue which our members have raised with us, and with your own Department, for many years and we have reached a point where I believe action may be required by yourself in order that anything might actually happen on the ground.
We have been carrying out some detailed research on this issue and have asked to see the relevant files held by DEFRA, the Environment Agency, English Partnerships and British Waterways. We have now received all but English Partnerships’ files and the contents do not reassure the ACA that the organisations responsible for our waterways have acted responsibly or diligently. Indeed, we feel that all the activity thus far has been intended to delay taking any decisions and has merely led to significant amounts of public money being wasted on holding meetings, writing letters and commissioning yet more unnecessary research projects. It is quite clear that all parties recognise that the current fish pass does not work. As early as October 2003, Environment Agency fisheries experts are on record as stating that "if further monitoring is carried out this is likely to show that the fish pass is totally inefficient", a view shared by DEFRA staff as well.
In December 2003, DEFRA recognised that "neither British Waterways nor the Environment Agency appears to have been taking the problem on the Tees very seriously" and that "on the Tees, various studies have shown that the pass is not very effective.”
In 2004, DEFRA stated to the Environment Agency that "British Waterways appear to be continuing to avoid the key issue; that the fish barrage [sic] represents an unacceptable barrier to fish movements and the fish pass is not working effectively. The Barrage was built in 1995 and it is disappointing that we appear to be no further forward in any assessment of whether the fish pass works effectively or not. Potentially yet another survey will only confirm anglers' claims and the underlying belief that the fish pass is not effective. As a result we will then need to agree a new fish pass with yet another monitoring programme."
By March 2004 the Environment Agency was reporting to DEFRA that "if we were installing a fish pass in a similar new structure we would not build one in this form – it is not the most effective design."
By January 2006 the Environment Agency's own internal assessment of the Barrage was that "there is a risk that the fish pass in the Barrage is not working effectively and cannot be approved" and that "there is another risk that the Barrage is increasing the level of predation by seals on migrating salmon and so may be creating a greater obstruction than first envisaged."
However, by September 2006, British Waterways, the current owners of the Barrage, were expressing surprise at the costs of the envisaged monitoring programme and were raising the issue of whether the Environment Agency's requirements in respect of monitoring to back-up an application for final fish pass approval are now proportionate to the actual legal obligations placed on British Waterways.
The ACA is taking Counsel's advice on how to break this log-jam, but it is quite clear that in the eleven years since the Barrage was built, there has been a systematic failure by the various bodies involved to confirm everyone's belief that the fish pass does not work effectively and to take the necessary action to make whatever alterations are necessary at the Barrage to allow unhindered salmonid migration across the Barrage.
The ACA is also now considering what legal action can be brought against any of the parties concerned for the damage to the salmonid fisheries upstream of the Barrage. It is quite clear that both DEFRA and CEFAS believe that the recovery in salmonid stocks on the Tees has been hindered by the Barrage. In those circumstances, it is only right and proper that owners and users of salmonid fisheries upstream on the Tees are compensated for the damage to their fishing rights caused by the Barrage. The ACA will be examining how best to do this in the next few weeks. The longer the inaction goes on, the greater our potential claim for damages will be.
Further, it is quite plain that the Environment Agency has not been effective in enforcing the terms of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 in respect of the fish pass. It has always remained open to the Agency to revoke provisional approval of the pass and to ensure that a new fish pass, which is fit for purpose, is constructed. We believe that the Agency may not have done so purely because it has been avoiding a public disagreement with another organisation in the DEFRA family. Whatever the reason for the delay, we would like to see this decision taken now. We have copied this letter to the Chief Executive of the EA and will be examining with Counsel any reasons the EA may now give for not doing so.
We will also now be alerting the media to the fact that the ACA has had to resort to writing to you to ask for Ministerial action on this issue. We hope very much that you will be able to make something happen.
· ACA Annual Report
· Press Release
Photographs of seal predation at Tees Barrage