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National Rivers Authority, 550 Streetsbrook Road, Solihull B91 1QT, UK

The size, administration and use of the recreational fishery in England and Wales is described. There are 42,123 km of rivers and 1,653 lakes > 5 ha. Fisheries are in private ownership with the National Rivers Authority (NRA) implementing legislation. There are 2.2 million coarse anglers and 0.8 million game anglers, each spending about £1,000 per annum on fishing. Principal issues of concern for the future are human impacts, angling practices and funding of the NRA. The full socio-economic value of recreational fisheries needs to be recognised.

1. Introduction

Angling in the rivers, canals and lakes of England and Wales continues to thrive as a popular participant sport. It has been estimated (NRA, 1995a) that 2,296,000 anglers go coarse1 fishing, a further 843,000 go game2 fishing and 1,104,000 fish in the sea. Allowing for the fact that many (37%) take part in more than one type of angling, the total number of anglers in England and Wales is about 2.9 million. This paper considers only the inland fishery resource which is fully described by Dill (1993) and for which some basic statistics are given in Table 1. It will be noticed that the number of licences sold is well under the estimated total number of anglers. However, evaders are likely to be those who fish infrequently and have little impact on the resource.

1 ‘Coarse’ fish include cyprinids, pike, perch and eels

2 ‘Game’ fish are salmon and trout

2. Management of Fisheries and Angling

All inland fisheries in England and Wales are in private ownership as, historically, all fishing rights were associated with the possession of the adjacent land. However, there is national legislation in place to regulate the exploitation of fisheries. The most important statutes are the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, the Salmon Act 1986, the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Environment Act 1995.

The responsibility for implementation and enforcement of the legislation rests with the National Rivers Authority (NRA). Included in this is a statutory duty for the NRA to maintain, improve and develop fisheries, although the manner in which this task is carried out is subject to interpretation (NRA, 1993). Links with the fisheries community are both formal via Regional Fisheries Advisory Committees, set up under statute to advise the NRA on the method of conducting its business, and informal via consultative councils and angling associations.

Anglers wishing to fish require both a rod licence from the NRA and consent from the owner of the fishing rights, usually provided by a day permit or angling club Anglers wishing to fish require both a rod licence from the NRA and consent from the owner of the fishing rights, usually provided by a day permit or angling club membership ticket. Management of the fisheries is a balance between NRA regulatory activity and direct control by the riparian owner. Methods of regulation to both protect fish stocks and enhance fishery performance are described by Hickley et al (1995) and utilize Acts of Parliament, byelaws, fishery rules and voluntary codes of good practice.

3. Resource Utilization

3.1 Fish catches

In general, all coarse fish taken by angling are returned to the water after capture. Keep nets are normally used to retain the catch for the duration of the fishing session, especially if the fish need to be weighed at the end of a contest. Accordingly, even though large quantities of fish are captured, coarse angling in England and Wales has minimal impact on the resource when compared to removal fisheries elsewhere (Wortley, 1995).

Game fish are usually retained on capture and many trout fisheries are maintained by stocking, especially in lakes. However, angling for migratory salmonids in river fisheries exploits native populations and, if not properly managed, could have a significant effect on stock levels.

Typical catch-effort statistics for coarse fish in two large lowland rivers (River Severn and River Trent) and for migratory salmonids are given in Table 2.

3.2 Species and location

Preferences amongst coarse anglers for target species and type of fishery have been identified (NRA, 1995a). One quarter of anglers do not mind which species they catch. Of those with a preference, 36% prefer carp, 28% roach and 21% bream. This is a significant change from 1969–1970 (NOP, 1971) when the preferred species was roach (39%) followed by pike (29%). Unfortunately the principal species caught do not match the preferences with 45% of anglers catching roach most often and 25% catching carp most often.

In terms of fishing location, 52% of anglers usually fish lakes and pools, 35% fish rivers most often and 14% canals.

3.3 Amount of fishing

The amount of fishing carried out has also been quantified (NRA, 1995a). The proportion of the population participating in angling is relatively high at 7.2% of persons aged 12 years and above. The mean number of coarse fishing trips made in a year is 43. Game anglers make fewer trips with means of 7.5 per annum for migratory salmonids and 16 per annum for trout. Of coarse anglers, 36% fish once per week, 16% twice per week and 20% fish less than five times in a year. Of game fishermen, only 6% fish once per week, 46% had not fished in two years and over 50% also fish for coarse fish.

4. Finance

4.1 NRA income and expenditure

In the financial year 1994/95 the National Rivers Authority spent £24.4 million on fisheries activity (NRA, 1995c). Just over half of this was met by income from licence sales, a little by other income, such as sales of fish, and the rest (45%) by grant from central Government. Approximately one third of fisheries expenditure goes on enforcement which includes licence checks and anti-poaching patrols. One quarter funds fish monitoring surveys to provide information on fish populations. Other activities include fish rearing, habitat improvements, planning consultations, research, fish rescues and the provision of advice (NRA, 1995d).

4.2 Cost of fishing trips

It has been estimated (NRA, 1995a) that both coarse and game anglers spend an average of over £1,000 per year on fishing. Trips made by coarse anglers cost £21 and for game anglers £44 (but as coarse fishing trips are more frequent the annual outlay is about the same). Travel is a significant portion, 22% for coarse and 28% for game. The amount spent on fishing gear in a year is approximately £200.

4.3 Economic value of fisheries

Environmental economics is an important tool for the strategic management of the aquatic environment (Postle, 1993) and in recent years attempts have been made to quantify the economic value of recreational fisheries. Radford et al (1991) evaluated the salmon fisheries of Great Britain and, with capital asset values included, assessed each salmon to be worth £3,600 in economic terms. In promoting the importance of wild trout as a resource, Elliott (1989) considered the value of sea-trout to be £500 per fish.

Calculations based on the perceived benefits of improving river water quality have provided estimates of the economic value of improvements (Green et al 1992). Examples of improvement and associated cost benefit are: fishless river to coarse fishery, £6.20 angler-1 day-1 and coarse fishery to trout fishery, £7.92 angler-1 day-1.

5. Trends

Some significant changes to the status of recreational fisheries in England and Wales have occurred in recent years (O'Grady, 1995). Salmon catches have declined, a contributory factor being the impact of netting, both along the coast and on the high seas. For trout fisheries there appears to be a decline in wild populations whereas stocking of rivers is on the increase, bringing with it the concerns about genetic integrity. The popularity of fishing for trout in lakes is greater than before and more artificial trout lakes have been created to meet the demand for this type of fishing.

Similarly, there has been an increase in the number of specially created stillwater coarse fisheries operating on a day-ticket basis. In the wild, the coarse fish populations of the river systems are generally stable. On the human side, however, angling clubs are being badly affected by decreasing membership.

6. Principal Issues

6.1 Human impacts

Many issues arise from the impact of human activity upon the aquatic environment and there is much potential for conflict between user groups. Key issues relate to the main topics of water quality (eg pollution, pesticides, eutrophication), water resources (eg abstraction, regulation, hydropower, impoundment), flood defence (eg land drainage, channel works) and riparian owner activity (eg land use, river bank modification). In addition, competition for the use of the resources can bring conflict between fishing and other recreational activities, eg a particular difficulty in England and Wales at the present time is the requirement of canoeists for increased access to rivers.

From the fisheries perspective, consultation and information exchange with the other regulatory, functional groups within the NRA is vital with respect to both internal activity and external development. The NRA operates a system of catchment management planning whereby many environmental issues are identified and proposals for the protection and improvement of the water environment are considered. Through a process of public consultation, plans outlining areas of work and investment proposed by the NRA and others are being produced for each major river catchment throughout England and Wales.

6.2 Angling practice

The interaction of anglers with their fisheries and associated environment is important. Particular areas of concern relate to fish welfare and the protection of wildlife. Efforts must be made to promote good angling practice through regulation at all levels, including byelaw reforms and voluntary codes. Through education and liaison with fishermen, so as they can identify more closely with the management of their resource, many improvements can be brought about. The aim should be to promote the sustained enjoyment of the sport alongside the desire for conservation.

Careful handling of fish, state of the art designs for keep nets and the use of barbless hooks are examples of how anglers are able to contribute to fish welfare. Similarly, problems with litter, bankside damage, discarded terminal tackle and disturbance to wildlife could all be addressed if the minority of offenders adopted the caring attitude of the majority.

6.3 Funding the fisheries service

At the present time the future funding of the NRA fisheries service is of major concern. Currently, the income from sales of trout and coarse fishing licences is enough to completely cover the costs of the NRA's activity in relation to these species groups. In contrast, however, there is great shortfall in licence income relative to expenditure for migratory salmonids which takes all the grant allocation (40% of total income) from central government. Should the grant in aid be reduced, there will be a serious problem in funding the salmon and sea-trout work. On the principle that the beneficiary should pay, options such as contributions from riparian owners are being investigated but would be difficult to implement. Whilst it is arguable that some government grant support should remain to finance those activities not attributable to user groups, the main difficulty is a satisfactory assessment of public benefits.

Income from fishing licences could be increased by further sales targeted at those occasional anglers who appear to regularly risk fishing without a licence. In some parts of the USA, compulsory display of licences (eg. on a hat or tackle bag) by anglers when fishing is required and the NRA is considering the introduction of such a scheme. Of anglers currently fishing without a licence, 40% said they would be likely to buy one if compulsory display was required (NRA, 1995a).

7. The Future

One of the main challenges of the future is to manage recreational fisheries with respect to changing angling habitats and attitudes. Fishing pressure is high at key locations where anglers know they will get a good return for their effort. In particular, many lake fisheries are overstocked in conventional terms in order to meet popular demand for a guaranteed high catch rate. Modern management strategies not only have to balance the protection of stocks with fishery performance but also have to account for business needs. However, the NRA, with its statutory duty to maintain, improve and develop fisheries, advocates the principle of sustainability wherever practicable. An example would be a move away from restocking and towards habitat improvement for river based coarse fisheries.

In order to succeed in meeting the present day management demands, certain information needs have to be satisfied. The principal areas for further work are:

The NRA has an ongoing research and development programme, and many of the knowledge gaps are being addressed, but much work remains to be done. In particular, the ability to produce plausible and justifiable socio-economic valuations for the often intangible benefits of environmental protection is paramount. Also required is a definitive fisheries management handbook and a code of good angling practice.

The privatised nature of the fisheries resource means that implementation of any long-term strategy will depend on education and liaison in addition to regulatory measures. Accordingly, the NRA will have to make more effort both to identify user requirements and to disseminate its knowledge base. Fisheries interests can assist the liaison process by, for example, being prepared to monitor stocks and catches.

EIFAC recently recognised the importance of recreational fishing within Europe (FAO, 1994). It is vital that both the private sector and the NRA, as regulator, develop and adhere to robust fishery management plans to sustain the status of recreational fishing within England and Wales.


The author thanks his colleagues for assistance in gathering information. Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the National Rivers Authority.


Cowx, IG and Broughton, NM (1986) Changes in the species composition of anglers' catches in the River Trent (England) between 1969 and 1984. Journal of Fish Biology, 28, 625–636.

Dill, WA (1993) Inland fisheries of Europe. EIFAC Technical Paper 52, Suppl., 213–269.

Elliott, JM (1989) Wild brown trout Salmo trutta; an important national and international resource. Freshwater Biology 21, 1–5.

FAO (1994) Report of the Eighteenth Session of the European Inland Fisheries Advisory Commission. FAO Fisheries Report 509, 78pp.

Green, C, House, M and Morris, J (1992) Valuing River Water Quality Improvements. Report to the Department of the Environment.

Hickley, P, Marsh, C and North, R (1995) Ecological management of angling. In: The Ecological Basis for River Management (DM Harper and AJD Ferguson, eds.) Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 415–425.

National Rivers Authority (1991) NRA Facts 1990. Bristol: National Rivers Authority, 68pp.

National Rivers Authority (1993) NRA Fisheries Strategy. Bristol: National Rivers Authority, 19pp.

National Rivers Authority (1995a) National Angling Survey 1994. NRA Fisheries Technical Report 5, 31pp.

National Rivers Authority (1995b) Salmonid and freshwater fisheries statistics for England and Wales, 1994. London: HMSO.

National Rivers Authority (1995c) Annual Report and Accounts 1994/95. London: National Rivers Authority, 132pp.

National Rivers Authority (1995d) Rod fishing licences 1995/96. National Rivers Authority information leaflet, Misc. 569 Rev 04/95, 1p.

NOP Market Research Ltd (1971) National Angling Survey 1969 – 70. London: Natural Environment Research Council.

North, E and Hickley, P (1989). An appraisal of anglers' catches in the River Severn, England. Journal of Fish Biology, 34, 299–306.

O'Grady, K (1995) Review of inland fisheries and aquaculture in the EIFAC area by sub-region and sub-sector. FAO Fisheries Report 509, Suppl 1, 79pp.

Postle, M (1993) Development of environmental economics for the NRA. National Rivers Authority R&D Report 6, 12pp.

Radford, AF, Hatcher, AC and Whitmarsh, DJ (1991) An economic evaluation of salmon fisheries in Great Britain. Report prepared for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Centre for Marine Resource Economics, Portsmouth Polytechnic.

Wortley, J (1995) Recreational Fisheries. In: Review of inland fisheries and aquaculture in the IEFAC area by sub-region and sub-sector (K O'Grady, ed). FAO Fisheries Report 509, Suppl. 1, 60–73.

Table 1 Baseline statistics for the inland fishery resource of England and Wales

1. Geographical Area15,142,064  ha 
2. Population50.6  million 
3. Total length of rivers42,123 km 
4. Total length of canals2,789 km 
5. Number and total area of reservoirs > 5 ha688 27,811 ha
6. Number of total area of other inland waters > 5ha965 18,345 ha
7. Number and value of migratory salmonid licences sold37,278 £m   1.06
8. Number and value of combined trout and coarse licences sold964,896 £m   11.04

References: 1–6 = NRA (1991);
7–8 = NRA (1995b)

Table 2. Typical coarse fish and game fish catches for England and Wales

1.  Coarse fish(a) River Severn(b) River Trent
 Average catch as g man-1 hr-194115
 Principal species in order of importanceBarbelRoach
2.  Migratory salmonidsEngland & Wales
Average total number of salmon caught per year (1989–94)15,322
Average catch of salmon as fish man-1 day-10.05
Average total number of sea-trout caught per year (1989–94)20,665
Average catch of sea trout as fish man-1 day-10.08

References: 1(a) = North and Hickley (1989); 1
(b) = Cowx and Broughton (1986);
2 = NRA (1995b)

Species: Salmon = Salmo salar; Sea-trout = Salmo trutta; Barbel = Barbus barbus; Chub = Leuciscus cephalus; Roach = Rutilus rutilus; Dace = Leuciscus Leuciscus; Gudgeon = Gobio gobio; Bream = Abramis brama; Perch = Perca fluviatilis

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