In the final part of our three-part series on the work of an Environment Agency Fisheries Officer, we look at the brighter side of the job. Away from fish kills, drought and environmental issues, the work of a Fisheries Officer can sometimes help provide opportunity when once, none existed.
Being a fisheries officer in the Environment Agency is a dream job for those lucky enough to hold such a position. If working with fish and anglers floats your boat, it’s as good as it gets. But there are moments in any job when you don’t want to do what you know you must do. Equally, there are times when you can smile and enjoy a sense of fulfilment that outweighs all those previous negatives. It’s at that moment you’ll enjoy a quiet, perhaps private feeling of self-satisfaction. In that regard, EA Fisheries Officer Ben Norrington is no different to the rest of us.
In Part One of this series, we followed Ben as he constantly navigated an area of almost 5,000 square miles to provide fully qualified, fisheries management services. In Part Two we saw Ben assisting fisheries and angling clubs and offering solutions for environmental issues at vulnerable venues. Essentially, it is what makes fisheries staff tick.
Today though, is one of those where Environment Agency support is clearly making a difference when it comes to participation. A torch with the word ‘community’ running down its side is shedding light at the end of long, dark climate-challenged tunnel.
We’re back at Rochford Angling Club. It has a huge catchment across Rochford, Southend and Basildon and within it, a high proportion of socially challenged areas. As a public angling club, Rochford’s committed mission is to provide an inexpensive way for people to gain access to fishing. Within that self-imposed remit, Ben and the Environment Agency have provided advice upon request that has helped the club get the most out of grant monies from funds such as the Fisheries Improvement Fund. (FIP) Today’s visit makes it clear the effort is reaping its social rewards.
Ben takes up the story, starting with memories of one of his first visits.
“One of the lakes was getting very over-stocked although, on hearing that, you might ask why that could be an issue? The answer is that aside from affecting growth rates and increasing stress which reduces the number of feeding and therefore catchable fish, fisheries with more fish than they can naturally support, are at much higher risk from disease, viruses and parasite issues.
“Cropping fish – removing a proportion – is a great fishery management tool to reduce risks and improve a fishery. We suggested we would give the water a health check – part of a service our National Fisheries Laboratory offers, as well as help with a netting to assess stocks. In return we asked if the club would be willing to donate the excess fish to other public angling clubs. It’s our normal stance for offering help and is a win-win for all clubs involved. Rochford’s committee understood the benefit and agreed. They said: “No problem, we don’t want any money and it will benefit the fishery in the long run too.”
Rochford A.C.’s main venue, Falklands Lake is a unique, match-style fishery with plenty of man-made, accessible swims and predator netting to avoid cormorant activity.
“It’s a very different venue to the natural fisheries around the area but specifically, it’s community focused;” says Ben. “Recently, the club took on an additional venue they could develop. Overall, as the biggest club in the area, Rochford is an important organisation for local angling and promoting angling is what our fisheries service is all about.”
A recent FIP grant was secured based on matched funding from the club and with that money the club has built fencing and platforms and have installed floating islands to improve the habitat – great for providing predator avoidance, shade, spawning material and natural food. As well as all that – the plants help remove nutrients, reducing issues like algae blooms. All of it under the advisory guidance of Ben and his EA colleagues.
“We did a netting with them and re-located around 2,000 fish into the new venue from this one. They did a lot of behind-the-scenes work to plan it all and gain a minimal amount of funding that helped make it all happen. It shows what can be done with the backing of the club members and this helps ensure Environment Agency funding goes a long way. From our point of view, it’s all practical application and stems from us talking to the club, offering advice and physically helping where we can. The great thing is we’re dealing here with a club full of like-minded people. If all you did was turn up and fish you might as well call it ‘Rochford Angling Shop’. This is a true club.”
Now, Rochford are building their community output even further. Junior angling sessions take place during holiday periods and schools and other junior groups make use of the facilities and bring young people, to experience angling and the great outdoors.
If it wasn’t for these facilities, they might not get the chance at all.
“The support we’ve had from people like Ben and his colleagues at the EA has allowed us to bring people fishing,” says Pete Wright, who serves as Rochford Angling Club’s Community Communications Manager. “Fishing should be inclusive of everybody, and it’s a sport that is accessible to everyone.
“At the moment, we’re bringing the schools in and getting the scouts and other groups over. The idea is to teach them fishing, let them learn to love the sport and get them off the electronic games.
“The Environment Agency has helped us do things correctly and put in the infrastructure to make sure it’s for everyone, not just a chosen few. We’ve been able to shore up the banks and put in new swims and add toilets on the site with wheelchair access. But the most important thing is that it’s a safe environment.
“Ben is my go-to person,” says Pete. “When it comes down to it, I’m just an ex-building worker and we’re all just anglers. We’ll say to Ben; ‘what do you think?’ and he might say ‘you can’t do that but the best way to do it is this way’. He’s our sounding board.”
Rochford’s anglers are currently planning their next moves which include a disabled-friendly access path at the new venue to overcome a problem caused by steep banking. But their burgeoning community reputation has created its own gentle pressure to carry on delivering. It’s a responsibility Pete and his colleagues look forward to meeting head-on.
“We had a young girl come along and her first fish was a carp that was nearly double figures! Now she comes here every week and she loves it. Normally you’d want them to catch a little roach and then build up, but when they come, they’re all catching good quality fish and having a great time. If it wasn’t for the work that Ben and the Environment Agency has done to support us, we wouldn’t be able to offer it.”
The final word is Ben’s.
“All the money generated from rod licence income goes back into the sport. The Fishery Officer’s job is to develop positive projects like this one, but also to protect the wider environment for fish and therefore fishing. That might mean educating landowners to prevent a negative impact to fisheries or in the worst case, responding to fish in distress, work with changes in the natural environment and help fisheries evolve or create resilience to the impacts of climate change. When people call the Environment Agency, our intention is to offer a balanced view and ultimately to help in a way that means people can go out and enjoy their local environment for themselves.”
If you see fish in distress or suspect a fish disease outbreak, please call the Environment Agency’s National Incident Hotline immediately on 0800 80 70 60.
If you would like advice or assistance from your local Fisheries Officer, contact them by calling 03708 506 506 (Mon-Fri, 8am – 6pm)
If you purchase a licence you are helping to fund the essential work of Ben and his colleagues