The River Exe & Exe Valley Fishery – Recent FAQs & some answers

Last week I received several calls from amongst other places the Midlands regarding the “free Rainbow Trout fishing” on the River Exe.  Upon reaching their bag limit on Exe Valley, another angler decided to head down to the river and help himself … as a local tackle shop had told him it was “OK”.  Meanwhile every other day the phone rings and on the end is an angler enquiring whether or not Exe Valley Fishery is open any longer.  Apparently we have lost all the fish at the fishery and have none to restock …  because they all live in the river now!

Its little wonder that I might appear to be “playing down” (as one comment on this forum suggests) the events of 22nd December 2012, when we experienced the largest flood since 1952.  Anybody would think that I was scooping the fish out of our fishing lake and throwing them into the river.  And of course all along the Exe the fish farmers decided to open the sluice gates, sending their stock worth thousands of pounds off on a little holiday, to be caught by anglers who if they are honest have conservation at the back of their minds while they fill their boots (including the car) with free fish.

I wonder what would happen if a farmer lost a herd of sheep; would it be OK to just shoot them without asking the farmers permission?  I also wonder how many of those anglers out on the river this weekend (and the one before that … and that … ) have even thought to contact the fish farmers involved and see if they could help them recapture some of the fish they lost and keep them alive?

So to continue from where I left off as per my Panic! Rainbow Trout invade the Exe … post; I thought I would do a little online FAQ regarding the free fishing on the River Exe and what’s really going on at Exe Valley Fishery.  At least I can save my breath then ….

Q: Have the Environment Agency contravened the usual fishery byelaws relating to the River Exe to allow fishing, due to the infestation of Rainbow Trout from local fish farms caused by the great flood of 22nd December 2012?

A: Yes.  However this contravention has terms attached.  For example the only people allowed to fish are members of the River Exe & Tributaries Association (RETA), as per this document Dis-application of Environment Agency fisheries byelaws.  The period licensed is from 16th Jan to 14th March 2013, an EA rod license is required and permitted methods include both fly fishing and spinning, but with barbless hooks.  Other fish species must be returned alive immediately and a return must be made to the Environment Agency after every trip.

Q: Is the fishing for Rainbow Trout on the River Exe free of charge?

A: Technically Yes, members of RETA can fish for free to reduce the numbers of Rainbow Trout , so long as permission is acquired from the fishery/riparian owner.  Of course the owner is quite at liberty to charge for access to their water; if they so wish.  If not a member then it is possible to join at a cost of £30 per annum.  Click here for the RETA Membership application form.

 Q: Is Exe Valley Fishery (including both the farm managed by Andrew Maund and the sport fishery managed by yours truly) charging anglers a permit fee to fish on the river, but requesting that fish be kept alive for restocking purposes either back into farm ponds or the main fishing lakes?

A: No; and this is a two part answer.  I first heard this notion voiced at the Dulverton Angling Association AGM, along with a sarcastic comment that “if that’s not a good business plan, I don’t know what is!”  Well let’s be honest, losing a large amount of stock into the river is hardly a great business plan, is it?  No, this “notion” is completely false although I have an idea where it may have originated.  Around 10 days ago a chap who I have never seen before visited the shop, pronounced he was a member of RETA and would like to go fishing for Rainbow Trout.  While I am responsible for permits to fish the lake and the river I said this would not be possible until the owner, Andrew Maund, had been consulted.  As luck would have it he appeared on the scene and a discussion took place where Andrew made the point that the Rainbow Trout in the immediate locality (i.e. the River Exe forming the perimeter of the fishery) were his fish.  And that yes if the angler would like to fish he could do so but that if he was going to kill the fish, he would need to pay a standard permit charge.  If on the other hand he wished to keep the fish alive and stock them into a tank, then there would be no charge.  Either way the chap didn’t seem keen to pay and proclaimed he just wanted a “bit of sport” … which isn’t what he got because the water river was in spate and he blanked!  Good job we hadn’t charged him then!

Q: Are the Rainbow Trout in the River Exe mercilessly killing Salmon Parr, forcing Brown Trout from their homes and taking the mickey out of Grayling for having such a silly fin?

A: Almost certainly not.  I am not going to say an emphatic No, because let’s be honest who can honestly say at this moment in time whether or not these fish are taking the odd Salmon Parr or two and therein lies something quite interesting.  I have heard report after report of 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 (plus one of 126) Rainbow Trout caught in a day, but so far not one of these people has offered the findings of an autopsy.  Surely all these conservation minded anglers out on the river doing their best to protect the Salmon would be interested in the actual biology, facts … not fiction?

Just for interest I Googled escaped rainbow trout from fish farms and this interesting document appeared.  Available on the Tweed Foundation site as a PDF, with the title Rainbow Trout in Scotland: A Blessing or a Curse it appears to conclude that there is no hard evidence to suggest that Rainbow Trout will predate on Salmon Parr.  It’s only a report of course but I would just like to add something of my own view to this answer.

During the last 15 years of my life I have been lucky enough to provide guided fly fishing to hundreds of people on the River Exe (not to mention the previous 19 years prior to that as an obsessed pleasure angler) and of course during that time I have landed a good few Rainbow Trout.  I dispatch each one religiously and also examine its stomach contents.  Car door poised over my Hardy Zenith I can honestly say that I have never, ever retrieved any kind of fish from the stomach of one of these fish.  Not even a Minnow!  Weed: Yes.  Sticks: Yes.  Stones: Yes.  Aquatic, natural life: Not a lot …

In amongst the capture of these Rainbow Trout there have been quite considerable amounts of Brown Trout, but I release them and I refuse to use one of those terrible stomach pumps to check what they are feeding on.  However, it is rare to head to the Exe without returning home with memories of plucking a tenacious little Brown from its lair or indeed outwitting a near specimen Grayling, so even if the Rainbows are bullying them for their avant-garde dress sense it appears to be having little effect.  And anyway those stocky Rainbow Trout won’t last long against these wild fish because a) they don’t posses the agility or skills to hunt in the wild b) they won’t be able to breed successfully in the future and c) their lifespan is short, especially as the high protein diet that they were weaned upon has completely dried up!

I am going to put it another way.  If a town full of average modern day people living on a diet of Horse (whoops, slip of the typing fingers there) was released into the wild and had to live off the land, how long would they last?  Would all the Birds, Bunnies, Deer, Badgers, Rats, Squirrels ….. disappear overnight?  If they had a gun; maybe, but find food for themselves without any assistance using just their instincts?  In this day and age I would bet that all those creatures would be sat back having a right laugh as we shivered under a hedge row while nibbling on an old piece of gum stuck to the inside of a pocket while the more adventurous tried their hand at brewing nettle tea.  Anyway, perhaps I am digressing and should leave making my point at that!  But before I do …. what of Exe Valley Fishery?  I promised some answers after all, so here they are.

Exe flooding into Exe Valley Fishery

The River Exe begins to flood into Exe Valley Fishery

Q: Was Exe Valley Fishery completely washed out by the 22nd December 2012 floods?

A: No.  We did have a mighty amount of water, that’s for sure. We lost some picnic benches, a few casting platforms became rafts and no doubt the odd Rainbow made its way into the Exe.  But with 12ft of water to play with, in the main lake, why would they choose to take their chances in a cold raging brown torrent, at night?  So no, we are not washed out and we have been open for business as usual since just after Christmas 2012 … and while I am at it I may as well plug the World Bank Masters being held here on 9th March, the Trout Fisherman Trout Masters fish off on 23rd March and our loyalty card scheme.  There are a few other things going on too, but that’s another blog.

Q: Is Exe Valley Fishery closed for the foreseeable future?

A: No.  See above

Q: Does Exe Valley Fisheries (the fish farm) have any fish left to stock with as rumour has it that the company lost most of their stock into the river?

A: Yes.  Exe Valley has huge amounts of stock available … ask the anglers at Farmoor for example.  Of course some fish did escape, but even from the fish farm at Exe Valley it is unlikely that this number is any more than 1000 fish, while the pleasure lakes still contained most of the stocking that I introduced prior to the flood.  The fish farm further downstream did lose huge quantities, but as my blog last week explained a massive proportion of those fish were fingerlings.  Meanwhile judging by the 20,30, 40, 50, 60 … 126 per day reports they are being mopped up pretty quickly.  I also have no doubt that the cormorants have taken note of this new larder at their disposal and I for one would much prefer that their attention is so engaged, rather than seeking out native fish for their supper.

Q: And finally a question for myself.  Am I playing down the leak of Rainbows in the Exe because I have a vested interest to do so?

A: Everyone has a right to an opinion and I respect that, but this theory that I would play down this event because I have a vested is completely unfounded.  After all what do I really gain from doing so?  I stick by my views above and in my original blog that this is not an environmental disaster but a hiccup which has a solution.  Personally I believe that other methods could have been used to mop up the escapees rather than publicising a free for all with rod & line and even if this was not the intention; that has been the end result.  But more importantly if I truly believed that the Rainbow Trout in the Exe, the river upon which I first wet a line and that inspired me to become a teenage fly fishing guide, were really going to do that much damage I would not be writing this … I would be out there catching them now.

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8 Responses to The River Exe & Exe Valley Fishery – Recent FAQs & some answers

  1. Good afternoon sir. I’m absolutely horrified by your cavalier attitude and irresponsible comments about the recent escape of Piranha from your ornamental lakes into the environment. I am appalled that you didn’t foresee the impending deluge weeks ahead and build a brick wall around your lakes to prevent this catatrophe. My view of the natural order of life has been turned upside down as a result of this and I’ve now been prescribed Prozac to cope with the devastation I feel. How could you let it happen?
    Depressed of Minehead

    Paul | February 26, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  2. The ecological impact of such a large number of non-indigenous fish is likely to be significant to the point of catastropy . The ability of the ecosystem to self repair is affected by the carrying capacity of the river, predation on natural inhabitants, disease introduced by the escaped fish and ultimately, the long term impact on reproductive success of the natural inhabitants. This can be affected over many years if predation has made scarce the right sized breeding stock. It might be possible to say the damage caused to the Exe ecosystem represents ecocide.
    Mr Hart makes many emotive statements in his blog. The anglers I have met are not concerned about the impact of the escapes to their fun, but are rightly, concerned about the ecology of the river. I would like to see a co-ordinated approach to clean up as many rainbow trout as possible. I fear the full impact of the invasion of the Exe habitat will not be known for many years.

    Claire | March 2, 2013 at 10:11 pm | Reply
  3. Thank you Paul, I hope things are getting better! Claire, the fish farm at Exe Valley has been in operation since the late 1800s and of course during that time a good few Rainbow Trout have been deposited in the river. However the beat adjacent maintains a healthy population of Wild Brown Trout & Grayling, not to mention Salmon Parr. We also have to remember that the fish which escaped have been farmed and therefore will struggle to survive in the wild for very long. I share your view that a coordinated approach is required, the question is whether the current rod & line solution is the answer.

    Nick Hart | March 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Reply
    • Hello Claire- isn’t the word “ecocide” a tad emotive?
      Paul.

      Paul Tiso | March 6, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Reply
  4. I think ‘ecocide’ is probbably appropriately applied to this situation. An unknown number of invasive fish is bound to have an impact on the natural and delicate balance of the exe. Only time will tell what effect such a release might have on the salmon and trout populations. I just hope that once these inevitable consequnces do occur, those people who are found to have put personal business interest over the conditions of a cherished and beautiful local environment will be severely dealt with.

    Adam Lievendag | March 17, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Reply
  5. Thanks for your input Adam. The definition of ecocide in the Oxford dictionary is “destruction of the natural environment, especially when deliberate:” What was deliberate about the events of 22nd December 2012? And here is another question for you. As the large amounts of Rainbow Trout being extracted from the Exe are showing no signs of predation on wild species , what is it that they are destroying within our cherished and very beautiful local environment? I would offer the view that along with the physical changes to the River Exe caused by the floods it is the destruction of Salmon Redds which should be our main cause for concern.

    Nick Hart | March 20, 2013 at 8:46 am | Reply
  6. The neologism ecocide can be used to refer to any extensive destruction of the natural environment and disruption or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory to such an extent that the survival of the inhabitants of that territory is endangered. [1][2] Ecocide can be irreversible when an ecosystem suffers beyond self healing. It is generally associated with damage caused by a living agent whether directly or indirectly.

    Dictionary definition, to clarify, the cological term.

    Claire | April 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Reply
    • Do give it a rest Claire, this is a fishing blog, not an area for you to demonstrate your intellect. What you still fail to acknowledge is that escaped Rainbow Trout pose little threat to the survival of the inhabitants of the River Exe. If anything did threaten the ecosystem it was the flood itself which will have severely damaged Salmon redds. Were you at the RETA meeting? The Rainbow Trout escape was widely debated and in all but one case those who had caught Rainbow Trout reported that they were empty. Quite coincidentally the one person who did apparently find a Salmon Parr in one of the escaped Rainbows was the very same individual who requested a resolution be passed and backed by RETA to commence legal action against one of the fish farms involved in the escape. The resolution was not supported and the individual could produce no evidence to back their claim. Meanwhile just 200 yards from where I sit now Rainbow Trout live alongside Wild Brown Trout, Grayling & Salmon Parr in one of the feeder streams connected to the fishery … if the ecocide theory you are defending is true what’s wrong with the fish in that stream? Perhaps they are vegetarian!

      Nick Hart | April 14, 2013 at 7:14 am | Reply

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