River Esk angling compromise considered
An anomaly in cross-border fishing rights which has long angered politicians, anglers and landowners in Scotland may be about to be resolved.
Two anglers recently became the first to be convicted of fishing on the River Esk in Scotland without a rod licence from England's Environment Agency (EA).
It is responsible for the Border Esk in a deal which sees Scots officers patrol the River Tweed south of the border.
However, the EA has now confirmed it is looking to reach a compromise deal.
The EA was granted powers to enforce licensing on the Border Esk catchment under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.
But it only began enforcing its right in 2005 on the stated grounds that it wanted to treat all anglers fishing the river on both sides of the border "equitably" and raise money for the regulation of the fishery in Scotland.
That move proved unpopular in Scotland, where all other rivers are subject to a levy placed on fisheries' owners. That levy is paid to the relevant district fisheries boards and normally passed on to anglers as part of a permit charge.
Matters came to a head this month when two anglers from Newcastleton became the first in Scotland to be successfully prosecuted for fishing without an English rod licence.
The pair escaped any punishment at Jedburgh Sheriff Court after Sheriff Kevin Drummond said there was scope to resolve the issue within current legislation without the need to change the law.
On Tuesday, the EA, which has handled 12 Scottish cases since 2005 - nine of which ended in a warning letter, with one case pending - suggested it was prepared to reach a compromise and end the current rod licensing arrangements.
A spokeswoman said: "We can and would issue a general licence to fisheries on the Scottish part of the Esk provided all legal, financial and administrative requirements can be met.
"We are currently exploring the possibility of issuing of a general licence with the fisheries' interests on the Scottish part of the Esk."
The comments were welcomed by David Mundell, Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, who has long campaigned to end the rod licensing anomaly in Scotland.
He said: "I have been so disappointed about the length of time it has taken to get to this point.
"Everyone wants a solution to this but ultimately it lies in the hands of the Environment Agency if they are willing to complete the journey they have started and agree a general licence in terms that are acceptable to fishing interests in Eskdale and Liddesdale."
News of the EA's move is likely to be welcomed by Buccleuch Estates, which holds land rights on the Border Esk.
Speaking before the agency's statement, an estate spokesman said it was hoping for "common sense to prevail".
He said that since the EA had started enforcing the use of licences people had stopped fishing and that had had a "detrimental effect on local businesses".
The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards said that due to the "contentious nature" of rod licences many Scots anglers would have felt sympathy for the two men who were prosecuted.
However, it stressed that the law as it stood was quite clear but suggested the Scottish government should enter into a discussion about the case and its implications.
The Scottish government said it supported a catchment-wide approach to the management of salmon and freshwater fisheries in consultation with owners of fishing rights and all interested parties.
"Change to the Environment Act 1995 and the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 applying to the Border Esk would be a matter for the UK Parliament," a spokesman added.