Group calls for law change after deaths

Pike welfare is in the spotlight after the Environment Agency revealed it can't explain why three large fish, including one estimated at over 30lb, were found dead on Oulton Broad last month.

Local anglers believe the deaths are down to poor handling – almost certainly by people fishing from concrete banks without using unhooking mats.

Despite their fearsome appearence and status as the apex predator in our waters, pike are more vulnerable than most species.

Oulton has few areas accessible to bank fishing. They all have concrete or tarmac banks, including the area where the dead fish were found.

A mat protects the pike from damage it can sustain if allowed to flap about on a hard surface.

It also allows the angler to control a large fish, get a firm grip on the gill cover which will open its mouth without risk of being cut by its teeth, and turn the hooks out.

Good mats double as weigh slings and can be used to carry the fish back to the water and return it quickly.

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If the fish is worth a picture, the angler can hold it on the mat to again reduce the risk of dropping or damaging it.

Umbrella organisation the Broads Pike Angling Strategy Group wants a by-law which requires anglers to go properly equipped to catch and return pike of all sizes without harming them.

Chairman John Currie said: 'The minimum we're trying to achieve is you must have an unhooking mate, a suitably-sized landing net and the right unhooking tools.

'The EA legal team are now looking at the wording.'

The Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain, which has campaigned to protect the pike and pike fishing for more than 30 years, has a checklist of tools every angler should carry, along with online guides on how to land, unhook and return the fish quickly. It says pike welfare starts before one even picks the bait up. Effective bite indication and prompt striking help reduce the risk of deep hooking.

PAC president Tim Kelly said: 'We've been monitoring this case and while the EA hasn't come out and blamed bad angling for the deaths of these fish, we'd urge all pike anglers to think about where and how they're fishing, and how they're going to unhook and return the pike safely to safeguard their fishery.'

Anglers are also angered by the revelation that the Broads Authority looks set to press ahead with dredging Heigham Sound, on the historically-important Thurne system.

• Anglers who discover pike either dead or dying should phone the EA hotline 0800 807060.

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