The Avon Roach Project – a futile undertaking?

Anglers like stocking. They like complaining even more, and the source of the most complaints is a perceived lack of fish to catch. Whatever might be the reason for low catches, the average fisherman believes the answer is more fish, and then even more. All the coarse fishing clubs I belong to now stock fairly regularly, yet anglers still complain there are not enough fish.

A survey in 2005 by the Environment Agency apparently indicated low roach stocks in the Hampshire Avon, although there was no comparison with figures of waters with ‘normal’ stocks. This was the motivation for the Avon Roach Project (ARP), an undertaking by two fisherman to set up their own hatchery, collect fish eggs from boards placed in the river, rear the hatchlings for two years and then put them back in the river. The object, declared on the website, was to ‘reinstate a self-sustaining population.’ They don’t explain how it was possible to collect roach eggs from a river without a self-sustaining population.

The question is whether this DIY approach to stocking has had any benefit. This year they have stopped collecting spawn because roach catches are, according to the website, now good. No mention of another survey by the EA. So the evidence of success is anecdotal.

The EA apparently supported the hatchery programme, although the EA website publishes nothing about it. But the EA has supported coarse fish stocking elsewhere. This is curious in the light of its policy towards trout and salmon, where after a long history of hatchery rearing, the evidence now suggests stocking from hatcheries is counterproductive. Fish reared artificially are not the same as those growing in the wild; they are not so well adapted to their environment, and hatchery fish going on to breed may actually weaken a population. There is well established science research that indicates this. Hence the EA now insists that trout stocked for sporting purposes are infertile triploids.

Fish variability in natural coarse fisheries is well known. Populations can multiply rapidly one year and collapse the next depending on several environmental factors. Why the Avon roach population dropped so much, if indeed it did, is unknown and was likely a natural event. Perhaps the Avon project has boosted the stock, but it may have just as easily increased naturally. Quality of habitat is far more important, though to give the ARP its due, there has been some work in this area too.

Of course, to question the desirability of the ARP is to invite the reaction you could expect from biting off the head of a 2lb roach. Circumspection is not the typical quality of the angler who believes there are not enough fish. Stocking is always the solution, unless it’s shooting cormorants, or decrying otters. But criticism is always something else to complain about.

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