Midlands fishery owner warns of 'Duty of Care' timebomb

By Peter Cliff

Tim SmallAngling as we know it could change forever if a tiny minority start a legal challenge against the sport using something called secondary legislation, the owner of a leading Midlands fishery has warned.

Secondary legislation covers laws introduced to solve one problem but which inadvertently engulf other situations for which they were not originally intended.

Speaking at the Annual Conference of the Association of Stillwater Game Fishery Managers at Packington Hall, Tim Small (right), owner of the Lechlade and Bushyleaze Trout Fisheries in Lechlade, Gloucestershire, said that anglers are living under the false illusion if they believe their sport will never be banned because it is so popular.

He warned that secondary legislation could be used to curtail the sport – as nearly happened with the recent introduction of the Animal Welfare Bill. The Billh could inadvertently have covered angling and given antis legal grounds to take action against the sport.

Addressing some 60 stillwater trout fishery owners from throughout England, Tim Small told the ASGFM Conference: "I don’t know how many of you realised how desperately close we came to the end with the re drafting of the Animal Welfare Bill last year. It was incredibly close," said Tim.

The Bill, he said, would have imposed a 'duty of care' on animals... which for the most part would have encompassed fish.

"As fishery owners, we would have had a duty of care to our fish which would have covered freedom from pain and fear, and freedom from disease. Just putting a fish into a lake that had argulus in it could have been construed as a welfare offence," he explained.

"However, putting fish into a lake knowing that some fisherman was going to pull it through the water could also have been made an offence and even an angler, the second he had caught that fish, would also have had a duty of care towards that fish."

And he warned: "Don’t be fooled for one second, Secondary Legislation could be the downfall of many. I am certain that if hunting with hounds had not been banned, then some smart Alec would have had a field day taking the hunts to court for a breach of the duty of care."

He added: "So, what’s next? In the same breath we mutter 'shooting' we also mutter the word 'fishing' - but add that it will never happen. We justify our belief that too many people enjoy fishing and argue that hunting was about the people rather than the fox.

"However, it only needs a tiny minority to start a challenge using secondary legislation and the whole of angling could collapse like a pack of cards."

Dr Bruno BroughtonDr Bruno Broughton (left), Technical Director of the Angling Trades Association and a Director of the recently formed umbrella group the Fisheries and Angling Conservation Trust (FACT), said the Animal Welfare Bill had indeed been a potential threat to angling. But, he said, the sport's national bodies had responded "speedily, decisively and forcibly" to ensure angling and its practices were not "inadvertently scooped up by the provisions of the Bill".

“Following our interventions, backed by face-to-face meetings and the presentation of evidence to the House of Commons Animal Welfare Select Committee, we now have written and verbal assurances from the Government and from Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw that angling and its practices will not be covered in the Animal Welfare Bill. Clearly, there will be opportunities to amend the proposed provisions when the Bill goes before Parliament and through its various Committee stages, but anglers can be assured that the ATA and members of FACT will be closely monitoring this process.”

He said that FACT was now building on the working relationship that the sport had developed with the Government, which is evidenced by regular angling summits with Government ministers.

"As a result, we are now in a good position to monitor any impending threats to the sport and take timely and appropriate action. The formation of FACT means we will be able to receive early warning of future legislation in the drafting stage and intervene where necessary to protect the interests of angling and anglers. This is a far more effective approach than either the 'they’ll never touch us' attitude or the abject panic noticeable in some quarters at the very mention of anti-angling," said Dr Broughton.

"However, this does not mean that fish welfare issues should be ignored. All good anglers and fishery owners want to ensure the well-being of the fish they catch and manage," he added.

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