Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle

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Pollution - A glimpse of the future?.

After seeing the dirty state of the Mediterranean in the Bay of Naples during my recent trip I was reminded of a piece I wrote in the eighties. All I was trying to do was present the extreme view of fishing as it might turn out in the event of unrestricted pollution. Anyway - here it is!......

Rubber booted feet slashed along the rock ledges following the fast receding tide. At the seaward end of the skeer a massive concrete pipe extended into the grey water. On reaching the pipe the anglers set up their tackle and having baited their hooks they lobbed their offerings into the kelpy gully ten yards from where they stood.

It was not many minutes before the rod tip of the most shoreward angler jerked sharply a couple of times. He picked up the rod and when the nylon twitched and straightened he struck hard.

The fish on the end of the line seemed to have no heart for a battle and within seconds it was flapping weakly on the wet rocks. Its captor viewed his emaciated catch with obvious dismay, a codling of that size should have been at least five pounds but this one was barely half that weight.

The pathetic fish was unhooked and returned to the water where it sank slowly from view. Before the sun rose the three anglers had landed ten codling but only one was keepable. Five were literally skin and bone, three were covered in cruel ulcers and the ninth, although it looked well, had made their little battery powered Geiger counter buzz like a demented grasshopper.

For me at least the above is a vision of hell. Since I was a lad one of the greatest pleasures in angling has been to catch a fish, any fish, which was sleek, healthy and in prime condition. Perhaps it seems far fetched to suggest a situation where most fish caught were sick or polluted but quite a few of the active environmental groups are now painting just such a picture of the North Sea.

Unquestionably, a great deal of pollution enters the 54,000 cubic kilometres of salt water off our east coast. Roughly 170 tonnes of cadmium, 60 tonnes of mercury and 3 tonnes of Polychlorinated Biphenylís, all very poisonous even in low concentrations, are dumped in to our rich traditional fishing grounds every year. (These figures may now be a bit different of course.)

These are only a few of the substances which we and our European neighbours inflict on the long suffering fish which have for so long provided us with food and recreation.

There is no question that pollution on the scale mentioned above is (was.) taking place. However, the North Sea is a big place and with out doubt it can tolerate a certain amount of contamination, so how do such effluents affect the well being of our popular fish?

Most poisonous chemicals leave the water and stick to the particles of mud and sand on the sea bed. These sediments are the food for a whole host of worms, cockles, shrimps, sea cucumbers, brittle stars and other animals which are eaten by fish. The fish which do most of their feeding on sandy and muddy sea beds are haddock, whiting, rays and particularly flatfish like plaice, dabs and flounders.

Because of the association of flounders and dabs with soft sediment Dutch scientists have chosen these fish as possible indicators of pollution. They claim to have found unusually high levels of disease and abnormality in fish from contaminated areas. The sort of problems which they found were wounds and ulcers on the skin of the fish and growths on the livers. The skin, of course, is the tissue which comes in to contact with the polluted sand and the liver is the organ in the body which has the job of dealing with poisonous substances.

Of course fish, like other animals, sometimes suffer from illness and disease. Flatfish are particularly prone to skin problems so even when the sea bed is perfectly clean some flounders will look the worse for wear. When fish are stressed by overcrowding, over-fishing, lack of food or by pollution, then they will be more likely to show signs of poor health; so the truth is that it is all a matter of degree.

Environmental scientists claim that as many as 30 to 40% of dabs, for example, may have liver tumours in parts of the North Sea. British politicians counter with the argument that Ďourí pollution only effects our own coastal waters and that the evidence is not conclusive.

Itís much the same story that we were told about acid rain and no doubt a close replica of what the Japanese inhabitants of Minimata Bay were told before they were poisoned by mercury loaded fish.

It would be reassuring to think that it just canít happen here but how long will it be before we are subjected to statutory limits on the numbers of fish which we can safely eat? Already, anglers fishing inland waters in Canada have just such limits imposed on them!

The truth of the matter is probably somewhere between the extremist views. As I have said the sea is being polluted and the pollutants must accumulate in sediments, in plants, in worms, snails, shrimps etc. and ultimately in fish.

However, biological systems can take a good deal of punishment without breaking down and, provided common sense prevails, it may never be necessary to resort to drastic measures. Unfortunately governments love to hide behind the fog of scientific uncertainty until disaster forces action. Anglers are probably the only sizeable group of individuals who regularly handle and examine live fish of many kinds; so it is up to us to be wary and alert.

We must not be afraid to let environment agencies and ministries know if we suspect that something is amiss with our catches. They have the expertise and facilities to detect and confirm pollution problems and when they speak, government departments listen.

The battle to protect our sea fisheries is hotting up on all fronts and it would be tragic if we managed to achieve conservation measures such as cod quotas (Note that we now have them and that total bans are a possibility) or bans on commercial bass fishing (We're still fighting for these) only to find that the remaining fish were not fit to eat or so sick that they were not worth catching.

With any luck none of us will ever see the day when it is necessary to carry a Geiger counter in the fishing bag or indeed when every mouthful of fish has to be counted but we should not be complacent.

Anyway, even the Med. was not quite as bad as the picture I painted. Obviously with little tide the gunge tends to hang about more than it does in the English Channel - so it's more obvious. At any rate most of our fish still seem to be fit to eat if we want to and it looks as though overfishing is a bigger threat than pollution.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com

INFORMATION SPOT

Pollution.

Weed pile.

Weed and rubbish tend to come ashore in the same places.  Sadly this is often where the fish also turn up.

Cuttlebones.

Not rubbish but the skeletons of dead cuttlefish.  Notice the three distinct sizes (year groups).

Sea squirts.

these common creatures filter the sea water and are susceptible to suspended pollutants.

Edible crab.

Would you want to eat a crab from the end of a sewer pipe?

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