Friday, 12 March 2021

Setting the record straight


I suspect the existence of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, founded in 2016 to ‘raise awareness on the lives of billions of animals reared on intensive farms around the world’, would have remained forever obscure except for the fact its patrons include government minister Lord (Zac) Goldsmith, the Prime Minister’s fiancĂ©e Carrie Symonds and his father Stanley Johnson. So, when the Foundation published a report this week, Fish Welfare in the UK, it caught some headlines.


Most of the report concerns deep sea fishing and caged farming, both important issues but what caught my eye were the sections on land-based fish farms, which have had some terrible publicity recently and recreational fishing which is included under the chapter, Hobbyist, Recreation, and Experimentation.



Carrie Symonds


Before I get into that a bit of background. Yes, this is a Foundation that is Conservative with a capital C with most of the founders and patrons being MPs, MEPs, Lords, activists or spouses of the aforementioned, all mostly connected in some way to the Conservative Party. It is an aside and I could well be wrong, but I didn’t notice much crossover with the All-Party groups associated with rivers and angling.


However, the Foundation itself did not write the report, preferring to commission the Fish Welfare Initiative, who hardly seem the best of choices. To start with the Fish Welfare Initiative don’t seem to be actually based in the UK. Any physical address is absent from their web site, the only clue to their whereabouts being adverts for interns and staff, the posts based in India and Asia respectively. Of the sixteen people listed as staff or advisors only two are based in the UK, with half either in the US or India.


Now to be scrupulously fair one of the two people who wrote the report is one of Fish Welfare’s British contingent, a chap called Tom Billington who is Director of Research, a grand title for someone who appears to only be in his 20’s and holds no apparent scientific credentials beyond degree in philosophy from Southampton University. As I say, I am being fair so I will add that his co-author is Jennifer-Justine Kirsch from Germany does hold a degree in environmental sciences and marine conservation but again is in her 20’s and, if her Facebook page is anything to go by, motivated by the environmentalism movement. But neither appears to be a professional in the field of which they write or be attached to an accredited institution.


I am not expert enough to comment on all 40 pages of the report; large parts of it are way out of my areas of expertise so I can only judge by the bit I know about which is covered in the Hobbyist, Recreation, and Experimentation section. The first half of the opening paragraph reads:


“It is also worth noting that fish welfare issues are not confined to the food sector. There are also considerations to be made as to fishes used in other sectors, as well as for recreational purposes. In recreational fishing, fish suffer from hook injuries, stress, and crowding when stored in buckets. Although no official statistics have been obtained, it is unlikely that every angler properly stuns the fish they catch to eat, meaning that fish may still be conscious while asphyxiating or being gutted.”


The bucket reference I find a bit head scratching; my reading of the Environment Agency rules suggests this would be illegal. As for the second point on gutting,this is highly tendentious extrapolating a point view without any supporting evidence. However, it is really the second half of the paragraph that is strewn with false information.


“Catch and release activities are also stressful for the fish and even when released back into the wild survival rates can be dramatically low. Some researchers suggest a survival rate of only 1-2% for released fish and up to 50% for crustaceans, while others suggest a mean survival of 18%. Regardless of what the exact survival rate is, from a welfare perspective catch and release remains a highly stressful event for fish from which they recover only slowly if they recover at all.”


So, if we take the Fish Welfare in the UK report at its word, the death rate of released fish is somewhere from 99% to 82%. Really? I am not going to recite here all evidence, both scientific and anecdotal that counters this, but anyone with even a passing knowledge of recreational fishing would know this to be utter nonsense. Carp lakes are not strewn with the dead. Trout streams bobbing with fish corpses. Or canals death zones. However, the authors in citing data that is clearly wrong, have been drawn to make to an emotive and inaccurate conclusion that would anger me if I was unaware of the true facts of fish mortality.


However, the real tragedy of this report is not the inaccuracy of the report – we all make mistakes – but the fact that it ever saw the light of day and is now out there in the public domain with many high-profile supporters who may give it credibility it does not deserve. Hopefully it will die a death. Perhaps it is equally inaccurate in other parts. But at least we know enough to shoot it down as regards our particular sphere of interest.



A great Kind


I always remember the first time I met Kind, Frankel’s mother. It was something of a shock. There she was, standing in a stable at Coolmore in Tipperary, Ireland with her newly born foal beside her, with her rump more akin to hedgehog. She was undergoing acupuncture.


In high-end bloodstock horses are afforded care as every bit as good as humans. In fact, often better. And Kind, who died earlier in the week aged twenty, often had troubled births. The foal I saw that day in 2018, a filly called Chiasma who is currently in training with John Gosden, was her first since 2013.


Kind will be remembered as one of the pre-eminent broodmares of this century. Frankel, of course, will always be her greatest progeny, but her other sons Bullet Train, Noble Mission and Joyeuse would make up an impressive CV even without Frankel.


But all that said, maybe her last foal, sired by the great stallion Kingman and born six days before she died, will be better than all the others? 



KInd with her Kingman foal born 2 March 2021



Have you ever stayed somewhere amazing?


I am on the lookout for amazing fly fishing cottages. If you have stayed, know of or perhaps even own an exceptional cottage anywhere in the British Isles do let me know.


I’m casting my net wide, so don’t feel constrained by any thought that the fishing has to be on a chalkstream. Or for that matter only brown trout. Salmon, sea trout and grayling are all included. The only real requirements are that the cottage is set up with fly fishers in mind and that the fishing is on the property or very close by.


Do drop me an email. Many thanks.



Easter Holidays Kids Camp


With all the Covid uncertainties, and fearing the worst, we did not originally schedule any dates for the One Day Kids Camp over the Easter holidays at Nether Wallop Mill. But, with the roadmap opening the way, it is now on with a packed day of casting, fly tying, bug hunting, fishing and, of course, catching fish!


Wednesday April 7th      12-15 years

Thursday April 8th           8-11 years


We will be fitting a lot into the day (10am-4pm) that is held here at Nether Wallop Mill, hosted by Steve Batten and myself. All tackle is provided. £135/child with a 10% discount for siblings. Details here.


Call 01264 781988 or email to book.




When is a fly not a fly?


In the continuing monthly series of Hero vs. Villain Charles and I will be inviting you to debate with us what truly is a fly.


Should a fly always represent something that exists in nature? Have we blurred the lines as to make the term fly fishing valueless? Are some flies the fishing equivalent of cheating at patience? Or should we accept that if it is good enough to fool a fish it is good enough to use? To join the Zoom register or drop me an email. The debate takes place at 11am on Friday March 26th. Sign up here.


You can catch up on the last debate, the North/South Divide, which inflamed as few passions on social media when first announced but ended up being a very informed discussion on the day with guests Phillippa Hake and Marina Gibson. Catch up on You Tube or listen to the podcast.


And if you haven't seen or heard enough from me you can catch up with my Life of a Chalkstream Fish in the Reads organised by Orvis. Watch and listen here. The passcode is =QPS3RX^



The roadmap for fishing


These are the key dates for fishing as lockdown is eased:


29/March Fishing fully open subject to the rule of six, or two households, with no restrictions on travel.


12/April Fishing tackle stores open, as is all retail. Self-catering accommodation reopens and domestic overnight stays now allowed. Pubs, hotels, cafes etc. open for outdoor seated service.


17/May Hotels, inns and B&Bs open. Pubs, restaurants, cafes etc. open for indoor dining. Rule of six and two household rule no longer applies to fishing.


All the above is subject to the usual social distancing protocols. Currently all visitors arriving from overseas must quarantine for 10 days on arrival. This advice will be reviewed by the government 12/April but international travel will not resume before 17/May earliest.




This week questions loosely based on anything at all to confound, dismay or delight.


1)     Which country produces the greatest tonnage of rainbow trout for the table?


2)     In what year did the first France vs. England rugby union match take place?


3)     Who is sixth in line to the British throne?



Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,



Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing




Quiz answers:


1)     Islamic Republic of Iran at 167,830 tonnes. Who would have thought? Britain is fifteenth in the table at 13,041 tonnes.

2)     1906. England won 35-8.

3)     Prince Harry.

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