Wednesday 6 May 2020


River banks are empty due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Today’s blog, blog number 5, is an open discussion blog on behalf of the SGA Fishing Group. It contains a key question and it welcomes responses.

Could rivers be open for local fishermen and women, now?

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy toll. Everyone in the fishing community reacted with due respect when Govt took its lockdown decision in March, just as many rivers were getting into their season. 

Staying at home, not putting undue pressure on the NHS and saving lives was well understood and acted upon.

Scotland, now, is tentatively beginning to look beyond the lockdown and what a ‘new normal’ may look like. These measures are due to be reviewed on Thursday (7th), with little indication of change at this moment in order to keep new cases below danger level.
However, the First Minister announced on Monday that Scottish Government would be taking the views of the public on what steps potentially could be taken in future which could allow some restrictions to be loosened. One of the areas mentioned was some ‘outdoor work’ and another consideration was allowing people to be longer than 1 hour outdoors, providing they could maintain social distancing.
The next date for the Government review of restrictions is May 28th.

This week, the SGA Fishing group has been drafting guidance as to how fishing could safely return, whether now, or when lockdown is more widely eased (in whichever shape that takes).

In announcing its latest roadmap on Monday, the Scottish Government did not rule out introducing some changes between its mandatory 3 week review periods, if they were deemed workable and sensible.

Is there a case for local fishing to be included in that consideration?

For example, most people buy fishing today, online, reducing the need for contact during financial transaction. 
By using his/her own rods, tackle and landing equipment, a local angler would not be able to transmit Covid-19 on any shared surface and, in general, anglers will always only fish where there is one person on one pool at a time. If gates or other barriers needed to be touched accessing the bank, gloves could be worn.

Social distancing in fishing is, generally, standard (as the image shows) and, with bank fishing, it would be very easy to maintain the appropriate distance. We also know that the risk of transmission is much reduced in outdoor settings.

If limited local fishing was allowed (people can walk to the river or drive only within their local area), then fishing from boats would not be envisaged at this stage (although it would be incorporated during a wider easing period by ensuring only one person and ghillie per boat, with gloves and face coverings and 2m distancing in the boat).

As some ghillies are currently furloughed, catch- and- release could be observed by all anglers as some rivers are graded differently as to the conservation status of salmon on the local water during that grading year and will have different regulations on whether salmon can be taken or not. Returning all fish would simplify this and bailiffs are still operating on many rivers, keeping on top of poaching. Ghillies still working could also keep an eye on things, ensuring social distancing is maintained at all times.

Social areas such as huts would remain closed and anglers would bring their own food to consume.
All of these measures, it would seem, could readily be taken now, allowing people to get back onto the banks and into the fresh air without increasing the chances of transmitting Covid-10. Fishing is, generally, a solitary activity but it has benefits for health and wellbeing.

It would also, potentially, push a little bit of much needed money back into the sector until societal restrictions are lifted more widely and more anglers are active again.

The SGA Fishing Group has been working on how this could work, after lockdown is eased more widely but this discussion blog is to gather views on whether local fishing, as described, could actually be done NOW, before restrictions are lifted more widely.

The angling sector, like many, will take a long time to recover. We are now into the 7th week with no fishing and, at a time, when catches were declining anyway, the pandemic is now keeping anglers away from beats and away from the other local businesses and trades that normally benefit from the season.

One correspondent with the SGA Fishing Group, a keen angler who fished the Dee regularly in 2018/2019, did a rough river calculation based on rod availability on the booking site, Fishpal.
Taking an average of £75 per day, the calculations on lost rod days amounted to over £1m on one river alone, before the trickle down economic impacts were even considered.
Whilst only a rough calculation, it nevertheless gives an indication of the lost revenue to the rivers not to mention the additional loss of potential income to reliant tourism businesses in often fragile communities.

We encourage comments on this ‘debate’ blog. You can respond to  using the subject: Coronablog or you can simply post comments on the social media threads. 
Thank you for reading. Stay safe. Help the NHS.

You can also give your views directly to Scottish Government, here. (You will need to register first).