Picture: The correct keepnet - essential for every angler! Alex Murray at Viaduct Fisheries
It seems hard to believe that it is only three years ago that the Angling Foundation launched its Nets Accreditation Scheme for keepnets, landing nets and allied equipment. The scheme was formulated because of increasing concern by observant fishery owners over the abrasiveness of certain types of nets and the effect this could be having on their fish.
In the initial months, in early 2003, the initiative was the subject of public comment because of the mistaken belief that there would be moves to prohibit poorly designed nets. True, fishery owners did - and still do - reserve the right to examine anglers' equipment to ensure that it does not jeopardise the welfare of their fish, but the scheme was always voluntary and remains so.
Once the net standards had been established and publicised, manufacturers were invited to join the Foundation – for an annual fee - and submit nets for testing, for which an additional charge was also levied. In the initial period, significant numbers of nets failed the tests because of the abrasiveness of their mesh or design faults which would have caused the equipment to fail the Environment Agency's net byelaw provisions. Nevertheless, appropriate nets began to be accredited, each labelled with the distinctive water-lily logo and the accreditation number unique to that product.
Contrast that situation with the current position. Such has been the success of the scheme that there are now 15 manufacturers in membership, and more than 100 products have passed the tests. They are listed on the Foundation's website www.anglingfoundation.com. Indeed, the majority of nets on sale in the UK have now been examined, tested and approved, and manufacturers know exactly what standards need to be met when new product is being designed.
Anglers who purchase this equipment can do so safe in the knowledge that the equipment that meets the highest conservation standards for fish welfare. Moreover, there has been no attempt to hike up the price of the accredited products, despite rumours that this might happen.
This scheme really does represent a win-win situation. The quality of nets available for purchase has improved significantly in the last three years, equipment that meets and – in most cases – exceeds the legal requirements. The welfare of fish has improved as a consequence, with obvious benefits to fishery owners and their customers.
It is worth pointing out that although the water-lily logo and accreditation number provide assurance to fishery owners and anglers that a net has passed the tests, those few manufacturers who have yet to join the scheme are also aware of the standards. Some of them produce excellent nets which would also meet the standards, of course.
There are wider implications that stem from the nets accreditation scheme. Here is an excellent example of how a sport can recognise a problem, take decisive action and improve matters within a short period of time. It broadcasts a strong message to those who might wish to impose restrictions on angling that the sport can indeed 'put its own house in order' through the combined, concerted efforts of manufacturers, fishery owners and anglers themselves. That message has been recognised and acknowledged at the highest levels!
The Angling Foundation itself is a non profit-making organisation. The fees that it derives from its members and from the product testing have helped promote the scheme – so it is financially self-sufficient – and any surplus is ploughed back into the sport via educational and conservation initiatives.
Membership of the Foundation is open to any manufacturer or distributor of nets and allied products, but only members may submit products for testing. Details of how to apply for membership – and further information about the scheme - are available from: The Angling Foundation, The Sports Industries Federation, Federation House, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park,Warks.CV8 2RF. Tel: 02476 414999; Fax: 02476 414990 or on the Foundation's website.
The Nets Accreditation Scheme is good for fish, good for fisheries and good for anglers. It promotes the best products modern technology can produce… and you are playing your part in the raising fish welfare standards when you purchase and use approved nets.
Now that really is a success story!