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Protecting our freshwater fish species – why the close season is so important

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Environment Agency, Fisheries and biodiversity

Fishing enforcement is an important part of the Environment Agency's role

Between March and June every year, many coarse (freshwater) fish will be preparing to spawn (breed and lay eggs), spawning, or recovering from spawning. This can be both stressful and exhausting and if they are disturbed, they may well decide to stop altogether. This sadly means they’ve lost their chance, not only this time, but for the whole year.  

To help protect our precious fish populations, from 15 March to 15 June inclusive, the annual close season for coarse fishing (on rivers and steams) reduces disturbances to coarse fish and protects vulnerable stocks during their peak spawning period.    

During this time, anglers are not permitted to fish for coarse fish in rivers, streams and drains across England, and could face a substantial fine if caught. Anyone with information about illegal fishing activities can contact the Environment Agency incident hotline 24/7 on 0800 807060. For our fisheries enforcement officers, this is undoubtedly a really important time.   

Tristan Davis is a Fisheries Enforcement Officer in East Anglia for the Environment Agency. He entered the angling world at the ripe age of six years old, following inspiration from his Mum, who was a keen pike and carp angler in the 80s and 90s, holding records in the sport. Many years later, he now plays a vital role patrolling and protecting the very rivers and watercourses that he grew up fishing on.  

“Growing up in a fishing household, the dream of working in fisheries was always in the forefront of my mind. It took me some years, but now I can honestly say, I have my dream job with the Environment Agency. My journey into this career started in lockdown March 2020 when I needed something to occupy my time as I could not fish, and I could not work. I decided to take a Diploma Certificate course in fisheries management, with the Institute of Fisheries Management, and a view to push on with my desire to work in the field.  

“I was also, at this time, part of the Angling Trust Volunteer Baillif Service (VBS), a group of volunteers that give up their own time to help the EA protect our waterways, by being eyes and ears on the ground and spotting illegal activity. Through my work with the VBS, I got to know some of the EA’s Fisheries Enforcement Officers who invited me out on joint patrols. Fast forward to mid-2023 and I arrived at the Brampton office, for my first shift working towards being a fully-fledged officer. 

“This will be my first close season as an officer, and I look forward to finally being one of the officers protecting our fish stocks and waterways. As many of you will know, the close season is still vitally important to the spawning and recovery of many of our river fish species, giving them the best chance to access the right habitat and breed successfully. As the temperatures slowly climb, the different species will start to look to reproduce, repopulating our waters for years to come. The pike tends to spawn in shallow, weedy water when the water temperature reaches around 9°C, being one of the first coarse fish species to spawn. Perch, dace, and grayling are also early spawners, with other species like barbel and bream spawning later in the close season, as the temperature continues to climb.”  The EA is responsible for enforcing fishing close season

Areas where fish spawn can be susceptible to damage, with eggs nestling directly in weeds, gravel, tree roots or even in your keepnet. Young fish, known as fry, that emerge from the eggs can be sensitive to silt disturbance, low oxygen and trampling.  

Protecting spawning fish is so important there is even a separate legislation under section 2 of the Salmon and Freshwater fisheries act that makes it an offence to disturb spawning fish, or the areas they use. People are however still allowed to fish on most stillwaters and canals, depending on fishery owner agreement (the close season covers a few canals and stillwaters – see here for details). Anglers may also fish for salmon and trout in many rivers, subject to relevant byelaws and holding the necessary licence.  

Throughout the close season, Environment Agency officers and Angling Trust Volunteer Bailiffs patrol the rivers to ensure anglers respect the no fishing period and, with fewer eyes and ears on the riverbank, to detect any offences that may otherwise go undetected – all part of our work to protect fish populations and fishing.  

“Unfortunately, there are the few who either choose to ignore the close season, or genuinely do not know it is in place. To help tackle the issue of illegal fishing, we conduct many hours of patrols. This is not just 9 to 5. We are often out early mornings and late at night, in all weathers using cutting edge technology to help find offenders.  

“This year I plan to use the Environment Agency’s regional drone team, with their thermal imaging and night vision capability, to help cover the vast stretches of water. I also look forward to working closely with POLICE Rural Crime Action Team (RCAT), along with the Angling Trust in Operation CLAMPDOWN, which is celebrating its 12th year in 2024. CLAMPDOWN joint operations have proven to be invaluable in helping protect our fisheries, year after year. 

“The fine for fishing in the close season is much the same as fishing with no licence. We have now started to put up signs, including in multiple languages, informing people of the closed season ahead. We’ve also been taking the time to talk to the anglers on the rivers to remind them they can still fish many of our still waters during the closed season so there really is no need to disturb our river fish during the closed season.” 

You too can help us ensure that our fish populations are surviving and thriving at all life stages by spreading the message. We actively encourage anglers and the general public to help us, by calling our hotline 0800 807060 if they see something they do not think is right. Officers like Tristan will then receive the reports, to assess and attend. If you know anyone that’s just started fishing for the first time, we ask that you not only remind them of the close season dates, but also explain why we enforce it. 

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  1. Comment by David Charrington posted on

    Why are paddle boarders, canoeists and dog walkers still able to access the river systems during the closed season surely they also effect spawning fish and fry ??
    Guessing the gallons of raw sewage into our water courses either, does not affect spawning fish ??

    • Replies to David Charrington>

      Comment by Ian gregory posted on

      I’ve just written exactly the same. Just shows how people really think.

      • Replies to Ian gregory>

        Comment by Tinny posted on

        Sorry is it just me or are you really missing the point, the difference between the activities of an Angler and these other aquatic passtimes, get over it.

  2. Comment by Ian gregory posted on

    I don’t understand why river fish need all this protection. No protection from sewage. Yet still waters and canals need no protection.
    Canoeists and paddle boarders churning up the river is fine yet fishing is not.
    Absolutely none of it makes any sense.

    • Replies to Ian gregory>

      Comment by Tinny posted on

      Sewage is a totally separate issue and if you are so concerned Do Something about it apart from just winging.

  3. Comment by Joe perez posted on

    Don’t fish in canals & lakes need protection as well canoeists paddle boarders ect get a free pass! Totally illogical rule!

  4. Comment by Richard Hall posted on

    Not a mention about predation by otters, cormorants etc. Don't they have any effect on spawning fish?

  5. Comment by Tony Millaird posted on

    I absolutely agree with these comments only last summer I lost a big trout to a canouist they can be a nuisance. The pollution is a separate issue. Would anyone at the environment agency care to comment on these issues.

  6. Comment by Chris Nicholson posted on

    Try darlington at broken scar, Low conniscliffe, or even the river skerne, people fishing with no license, taken fish regardless of size or species, close season doesn’t apply to some people, or so they think! and also people fishing on club waters without paying there subs! And leaving behind all there open tins of sweetcorn, luncheon meat, and beer!Annoys the living daylights out of me and other anglers who abide by the rules, we need something done about this

  7. Comment by John posted on

    In the past, I’ve always supported the EA even where the logic of a close season in one type of water is enforced & another it is not - now I see you increasingly as a propaganda tick box.
    If more time & effort was put into tackling & prosecuting the the thousands of cases where raw sewage gets knowingly & illegally dumped into our waters, you can then spout on about closed season enforcement.
    The illegal dumping of sewage (& run off) is doing far more damage to our fish than the odd rogue fishing out of season.

  8. Comment by Trevor Payne posted on

    I have to agree with some of the comments above, especially about sewage, but would add that canoeists, kayakers and paddle boarders, not to mention wild swimmers and the like, appear to be able to go where they want, do what they like and all at zero cost ! We anglers have to pay licence fees to the EA and probably also to the local angling club in order to legally fish a river for just nine months of the year. We would then get a hefty fine if we infringed the rules. These other sports and activities can access the rivers for a full twelve months, with complete impunity - free of charge. I would also argue that these activities cause much more damage to the water environment than responsible fishing does. I have to say that I have no problem with EA and club licence fees, I've paid them all my life [I'm 71 and a very keen environmentalist and EA supporter] and no problem with the close season either, in fact I endorse all of that - that's all fine because fish and other water based wildlife needs protection, but let's have some parity with other activities. Incidentally, I see, in the picture at the top of this article, that the image seems to suggest an angler getting a ticking off from an EA bailiff. I also note that in the background there is a motor boat moored at the river's edge - does the boat owner contribute anything to water protection or management ? Does the owner get any fines ? Does the owner have a close season ?

  9. Comment by geoff holland posted on

    A few years ago I reported a local waste disposal site to the Environment
    Agency because they had deliberately opened gates on a drain that carried highly polluted water from the base of the tip and allowed it to flow into a
    nearby canal . This was found by an Agency employee and could be proved .
    Result ,the company was cautioned !
    Contrast this with the 100% prosecution policy towards non licence holders and anglers fishing out of season .I am not suggesting that that prosecution policy is wrong but its indicative of their failure to tackle really serous offenders like the water companies .

  10. Comment by Christopher mcgarry posted on

    I agree with all of the above comments so come on government and EA get your fingers out , maybe if all the millions of anglers decided to boycott paying are licence fees you might actually start doing something about water companies polluting are rivers, it's quite clear what the people think ,

  11. Comment by Tim Down posted on

    I have just returned from the middle Severn, the river is at a perfect height but the visibility is appalling less than 12” and the river has been like this for over 10 days, there is no sign of any fish rising rising to the hatches of flies on the water and indeed very little visible life in the river. After living by the river Severn and Teme for 50 years I have never seen the said rivers in such an awful state, what on earth have the Environment agency allowed to happen to our rivers and what do they intend to do to rectify the situation?

  12. Comment by William Richardson posted on

    Seems pretty clear from all the comments that anglers are the easy target. We constantly (of late) see articles about pollution and sewage, but we never see anything about action against this pollution which is knowingly carried out. Bit of an imbalance perhaps?


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