January 2007 – Finding
heaven on earth
In the past year or two I have come to know some people
in the fishing business. Each of them, without exception,
was drawn to the business through a love of fishing. But
speaking to a few of them lately, their stories have been
“How’s your fishing going?” I ask. “What
fishing?” they say, “It’s so hard to get
away from the office.” I feel that some counselling
is necessary. Nothing, not the year end accounts, not the
government report, not the pending merger, not the complex
derivative, not even the fifth terminal at Heathrow, should
get in the way of fishing.
That’s the theory anyway. In reality diary demands
can soon begin to eat away at our best intentions. I too
have found myself turning down two recent grayling fishing
trips. For this reason I’m going to be devoting a
chunk of time this month to making arrangements for the
I have my salmon fly boxes next to my desk and every now
and again I open a box, take out a fly, look at it and put
it back. That alone is enough to trigger a Pavlovian reaction
in the salivary duct. Fishing is ninety per cent anticipation.
In his classic work Fly Fishing, published in the closing
year of the 19th century, Sir Edward Grey, the longest continuous
serving British foreign secretary in history, describes
the building excitement ahead of a visit to the Test or
the Itchen as he boards an early train from Waterloo Station.
He writes of leaving behind the smoke and bustle of the
capital before stepping from the carriage an hour or so
later in to a world of “long-desired things”
where “you are grateful for the grass on which you
walk, even for the soft country dust about your feet.”
His description of a perfect June day on the chalk-stream
is all the confirmation anyone should need of heaven on
There is something ironic about Grey’s passion for
nature since his work as a statesman was instrumental in
taking Britain in to the First World War, leading to his
famous remark that: “The lamps are going out all over
Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Today those who share his passion are witnessing other
threats, many of them environmental and some of them man-made.
The lamps are flickering now over the world’s oceans
and the new European Union fishing quota has done far too
little to redress the depletion of international fish stocks.
We are approaching the time that the seas can no longer
be viewed as a free for all where trawl nets can hoover
up species indiscriminately. Fish farming needs to be improved
and attitudes to wild caught (or “net caught”
as it often appears on the menu) species must also begin
I won’t order wild salmon in a restaurant if I see
it. Nor will I order swordfish. This year I’m thinking
of turning away also from tuna, much as it pains me to do
so. Tuna, whether canned, as sashimi or gently seared over
the grill is one of my favourite eating fish.
The netting and subsequent farming of tuna has become
a big industry, first in Australia and, increasingly, in
the Mediterranean. But what amounts to penning and fattening,
rather than rearing from hatching, has done nothing to lift
the threat on wild populations. In fact, says the World
Wildlife Fund, it has added to that threat.
Tuna are marvellous fish to catch on rod and line too,
arguably the greatest saltwater game fish of them all. As
a child I recall seeing sepia-toned pictures of giant tuna
landed off Whitby in the late 19th and early 20th century.
But Atlantic tuna catches have been declining for some years
now and Atlantic bluefin stocks are reaching critical levels.
The popularity of rod and line fishing could not be sustained
today without a conservation ethos among anglers. Sometimes
this runs in to ethical difficulties when the culling of
one species is promoted as a means of protecting another.
The killing of seals, cormorants, even other fish such
as pike, is often advocated as a solution to predation of
freshwater stocks. But predators have a role to play in
the maintenance of healthy fish populations. A problem arises
when predation is excessive. Cormorants, for example, have
only become an issue on rivers and lakes since their sea
fishing prospects have declined. The same may be true of
For this reason anglers should avoid the easy option of
demonising other species and begin instead to look at long
term fish conservation.
The campaigning and legal work among various bodies such
as the Wessex Salmon and Rivers Trust, The North Atlantic
Salmon Fund and Stop Salmon Drift Nets Now, an organisation
representing Irish fishery owners, has shown what can be
done to protect salmon stocks, not least by their latest
victory in ending Irish drift netting for salmon.
But the work of these groups and others like them must
continue, not only in the interest of rod and line fishing,
but in the wider interest of international fish conservation.
At the same time other conservation groups, including
those whose members would deny all kinds of fishing, should
recognise the role of angling in conservation. It wasn’t
Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund that fought and won
these battles, but the hard work and dedication of a few
individuals backed by the donations of anglers and those
who support angling. We should not forget that.