Now that fox hunting is shortly to be made illegal, how long will it be before attention turns to the issue of the cruelty involved in fishing? Whilst there does seem to be evidence that fish do actually feel pain, (see news 2.8.04), most anglers take the utmost care to ensure that the fish they catch are treated as humanely as possible and are returned unhurt.
However, it is worth stressing what steps can be taken to minimise pain not only to the fish we catch but to the environment that we fish in. The Environment Agency's angling pages offer some great advice on this issue.
Close Season - Abide by the Coarse fish close season which runs from 15 March to 15 June inclusive. The legal basis for the statutory close seasons is to protect fisheries from the impacts of angling during the breeding season. For coarse fish, a close season was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century, when coarse fish were usually killed upon capture. Nowadays coarse fish are almost invariably returned to the fishery and therefore a close season may no longer be justified on all waters
The coarse fish close season applies to all rivers, streams and drains in England & Wales, but does not apply to most stillwaters. Recent byelaw changes mean that the coarse fish close season does not apply to most canals in England and Wales. However, there are some exceptions. For full details, contact the Environment Agency on local office 0845 9333111.
Keepnets, keepsacks and landing nets - It is against the law to use a landing net with any knotted meshes or meshes of metallic material. Make sure that it is large enough to easily accomodate the size of fish you are likely to catch. If you have to use a keepnet it must have no knotted meshes or meshes of metallic material, have no holes in the mesh larger than 25mm internal circumference, be greater than 2m in length and it must have supporting rings or frames greater than 40cm apart. Keepsacks must be constructed of a soft, dark coloured, non-abrasive, water permeable fabric, have dimensions of more than 120cm by 90cm if rectangular; or have dimensions of more than 150cm by 30cm by 40cm if used with a frame designed with the intention that a frame be used. Keepnets are only suitable for small shoal fish. Never use for large carp, pike, zander, tench, perch, barbel, catfish or grayling. Large fish are not suited to keepnets because of their size, and others, regardless of size, such as carp and barbel, are unsuited because their dorsal fins can be caught and damaged by netting.
Unhooking mats - Always use an unhooking mat for fish too large to hold comfortably. They should be spread on a soft flat surface, rather than on uneven or hard bankside (e.g. gravel).
Litter - Never drop litter or discard tackle and remember that discarded nylon is particularly hazardous to wildlife. Discarded or damaged line should be taken home and burnt or cut into short lengths before disposal. Always clear up litter before you leave - even if it's not yours. If you see any litter or discarded tackle, pick it up, take it home and bin it.
Breakages and Snagging - Remove immediately rigs caught up in bank side vegetation, branches or underwater snags where it is practicable and safe to do so. Report lost terminal tackle to club bailiffs or the fishery owner for removal, if you cannot recover it.
Swim Choice - Choose your swim with care to reduce the risk of snagging bankside trees, vegetation and obstructions in the water.Take extra care where people feed waterfowl; the birds may have learned to associate people with food at that site and their expectations may increase the risk of entanglements.
Unattended Rods - Never leave rods unattended while fishing. Not only is it poor angling practice as it may result in a hooked fish becoming snagged but it also increases the risk of birds becoming entangled in the line or taking the bait. If you need to leave your swim, all lines should be retrieved and the hooks secured to the rod. Never leave rods on the bank with hooks still baited, as these food items could be picked up by birds or animals. Remember - it is illegal to leave a rod unattended while fishing
Rigs - Use a hook length of lower breaking strain line than the reel line where possible. Never use reel line straight through to the hook without a weaker link. This will ensure that the minimum amount of line is lost in the event of snagging. Leger links should also be of a lower breaking strain to minimise loss of line. Remember that whatever type of rig you use, weaknesses will occur at the knots where line is joined, where it is tied to swivels etc, and where shot are pinched onto the line. Check your reel line regularly for flaws caused by wear and damage. Remove and carefully dispose of any damaged line and replace your reel line regularly.
Hooks - Use barbless hooks or reduced barb hooks where possible. Hooked or entangled birds are more likely to be able to rid themselves of the hook and in the event of a rescue being needed, removal of the hook from a bird will be much easier.
Weights - No fishing weights made of lead may be used except those of 0.06 grams or less and those of more than 28.35 grams. In angling terms this means that lead shot from size 14 to size 8 and lead weights of over 1 ounce can be used in fishing. While lead dust shot (size 8 and smaller) are legal, they are toxic to birds if ingested. Use spillproof containers for lead dust shot and always dispose of used lead safely at home.
Be aware While Fishing - Beware of birds swimming into your line or picking up surface baits. Submerge rod tips when legering using bite alarms. Keep lines under the surface to avoid waterfowl. Watch your rod at all times when legering with quivertips or other visual bite indicators. Retrieve your line when float fishing if there is a risk of birds swimming through the line. Take great care when fishing surface baits such as bread or 'floaters' as they may attract waterfowl.
Golden Rules - For a copy of the Environment Agency's Golden Rules leaflet, please visit their web site or telephone them on 0845 933 3111.