Environment Agency to allow Norfolk Broads fish barriers to go ahead despite warnings from experts

The Environment Agency has today bowed to pressure from Natural England and granted permission for controversial fish barriers to be installed at one of the prime spawning locations for coarse fish in the Norfolk Broads in direct contravention of the advice of their own fisheries staff and experts at the Institute of Fisheries Management.

Last October, solicitors at Fish Legal issued a successful legal challenge against an earlier decision by the Environment Agency and Natural England to install the fish barriers in Norfolk’s Hoveton Great Broad as part of a plan to promote more weed growth. The court agreed that the Agency had failed to put the advice of its own experts into the public domain and forced a second consultation which is now complete.

The previously ‘hidden’ EA Fisheries Team advice stated:

“It follows that the proposed bio-manipulation methodology, involving the installation of fish proof barriers to prevent fish accessing the habitats currently found within Hoveton Great Broad carries a high risk of detrimental impacts to the fish populations of both HGB and the Northern Broads system.”

Top fisheries scientists at the Institute of Fisheries Management, who formally reviewed the project, maintained their strong opposition judging the barriers to be potentially harmful and recommended that they should not proceed.

The second consultation was also questioned by the EA’s National Fisheries Team who warned that bio-manipulation schemes are only likely to be successful in ‘closed systems’ rather than the River Bure catchment which links the Broads and that the EA had a duty to ‘protect and improve’ fisheries and a legal obligation to maintain passage for eels. They also raised concerns over monitoring and questioned whether fish are indeed responsible for the condition of Hoveton Great Broad when it is heavily impacted by nutrients from agriculture and other sources.

Despite all the evidence, the EA decided to grant a permit to Natural England allowing them to proceed and anglers are now reliant on conditions within the permit and a yet to be agreed monitoring system to assess what impact these barriers will have on successful recruitment and sustainability of the Broads Fishery.

Kelvin Allen, Chairman of the Broads Angling Services Group, said:

“We and the Broads angling community are staggered with the Agency’s disregard of the data and of their own fisheries officers’ concerns and recommendations. Their action has damaged an effective partnership that has been built over recent years and will destroy any trust that anglers have in the Agency’s support of fish, fisheries and anglers. In addition it opens up the very real risk that the Broads famous bream stocks will be severely damaged for decades to come, together with its resulting potential impact on the Broads’ tourist sector and the local economy.”

Martin Salter, Head of Policy at the Angling Trust, said:

“It is a crying shame, but not entirely unexpected, that the top brass at the Environment Agency have rolled over to please their colleagues in Natural England rather than following the advice of their own fisheries experts who had spent seven years on fish surveys, studies and tagging at a cost of more than £250,000 of rod licence and taxpayers’ money. These studies showed beyond all doubt that the proposed barriers would be harmful to the recruitment of bream stocks in the Northern Broads. Bream are one of the iconic species upon which the £100 million angling economy of the Norfolk Broads depends and this decision is simply not one we can accept.”

Justin Neal, Solicitor at Fish Legal, said:

“It is disappointing that once more the permitting team has ignored the fisheries team at the Environment Agency and apparently granted this permit. It is clear, however, that the fisheries team’s view is that this will cause considerable damage to the wider Bure system and the WFD status. We will be advising the Angling Trust and BASG on the legal options.”

Click here for the Environment Agency’s Decision Notice


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