Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: freshwater fisheries

Updated 8 May 2015

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/managing-freshwater-fisheries. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


Inland fisheries earn money for the UK, and fishing can help sustain rural communities. A recent evaluation of the UK’s freshwater fisheries estimated that they support about £1 billion of our household income, the equivalent of 37,000 jobs.

We need to safeguard our fish stocks for the long term. This will keep our inland fisheries productive.

Angling is a popular and healthy recreation with social benefits in the UK, as shown by the National Angling Survey 2012 and the Fishing for Answers report.

Freshwater and migratory fish are also important to the natural environment - maintaining fish stocks helps us protect biodiversity.


Better management of fish stocks

We’re encouraging better management of migratory and freshwater fish stocks by introducing regulations designed to protect them.

The Environment Agency regulates rod fishing for migratory and freshwater fish. Anyone fishing for salmon, trout, freshwater fish or eels in England must have a rod licence. The Environment Agency carries out licence checking patrols to ensure compliance with fishing regulations

Increasing Europe’s eel stocks

We’re working to improve Europe’s eel stocks by producing management plans to prevent overfishing and improve eel habitats.

New laws on moving live fish

We have introduced new laws which make it easier to move live fish around our rivers and inland water bodies. This should make trading easier for some fish farms.

Non-native species of fish

We’re limiting the numbers of non-native species of fish in our inland waters, where it makes sense to do so.


Stocks of some fish species are very low. For example, stocks of European Eel have declined by about 95% over the last 30 years.

The most recent annual assessment shows there are fewer salmon rivers ‘at risk’ than in the previous 5 years, although salmon stocks in England and Wales are still low.

The EU Water Framework Directive says we have to restore fish stocks to the levels near to those that would exist ‘without human impacts’ - in other words, if our inland waters hadn’t been fished, modified, polluted etc.

Who we’ve consulted

During parliament’s scrutiny of the 2012 Water Bill, we consulted on the potential for including approvals for fish passages in the Environmental Permitting Regulations.

The new regulations are designed to make the application process to build fish passages more straightforward for businesses.

Bills and legislation

We implement and enforce the following legislation:

Who we’re working with

The Environment Agency

The Environment Agency has day-to-day responsibility for salmon, eels and freshwater fish.

Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) provides Defra with scientific advice on migratory and freshwater fisheries. Cefas’ Fish Health Inspectorate provides advice on aquaculture (the farming of fish, shellfish and other water organisms).

Natural England

Natural England works to conserve rivers, lakes and other water-bodies.

The Angling Trust

The Angling Trust represents all game, coarse and sea anglers in England. It produced the Fishing for Life National Strategy in November 2012. It’s now working to implement the strategy with partner organisations.

Appendix 1: increasing eel stocks

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Populations of glass (juvenile) eels have dropped across Europe by 95% in recent years. Reasons for this include pollution and over-fishing.

EU member states have agreed to work together to reverse this decline and increase the size of the future eel population.

Eel management plans

European Council Regulation No 1100/2007 says EU member states (where eels naturally occur) have to produce eel management plans aimed at reversing the decline in eel numbers. These have to set out actions to ensure that at least 40% of potential adult eels will return to the sea to spawn (reproduce).

We’ve produced 15 Eel Management Plans for the European Commission. These cover the UK’s 15 river basin districts. A river basin is an area of land drained by a river and its tributaries.

The plans were approved by the Commission and the Management Committee for Fisheries in March 2010. We’re putting them into action.

Eel management plans for the UK

England and Wales


Northern Ireland

EU member states have to submit regular reports to the European Commission reviewing these plans. Read the 2012 UK report.

Appendix 2: non-native species of fish

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We’re limiting the numbers of non-native species of fish in our inland waters.

We’re doing this because some non-native species can have a bad effect on fish native to the UK, on vegetation, or on the wider ecosystem.

Signal crayfish

The signal crayfish is an example of a non-native species that’s caused trouble for UK species.

Introduced into UK fish farms from their native North America in the 1970s, signal crayfish escaped into the wild and bred in large numbers. They’re now found in rivers and streams all over England, Wales, and Scotland.

Signal crayfish carry crayfish plague and compete with our native crayfish for food and shelter. They also eat the eggs of other fish species and damage riverbanks through burrowing.

To stop something like this happening again, we’ve introduced the Alien and Locally Absent Species in Aquaculture (England and Wales) Regulations 2011.

The rules say that anyone who wants to import a new species of fish into the UK has to put the breed through a risk assessment. If it fails the risk assessment, the importer can’t bring it in.

New rules about non-native species

The Prohibition of Keeping or Release of Live Fish (Specified Species) (England) Order 2014 revokes and replaces the 1998 and 2003 Orders made under the Import of Live Fish Act 1980 in relation to England.

The new Order provides better protection for our native biodiversity as it now covers all species of non-native fish. Established trade in non-native fish species will continue largely unaffected. Most fish species currently used in trade will be covered by a general licence held by Defra.
Anyone who wants to import a new species of non-native fish, that are subject to the new controls, will need to complete a risk assessment before trade can begin.

The Cefas Fish Health Inspectorate will administer the new controls and will be able to answer any questions on the new arrangements.

Appendix 3: better management of freshwater fish stocks

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We’re encouraging better management of migratory and freshwater fish stocks in several ways. See protecting freshwater fish and other aquaculture species guidance and more specific guidance:

Fish passage

We intend to introduce new laws to help salmon and other freshwater fish migrate upstream and downstream.

The new legislation will give the Environment Agency greater powers to install fish passes. These man-made structures help fish get round obstacles such as weirs or dams. The new laws will allow for the removal of obstructions and installation of fish screens to stop fish entering water intake channels.

We intend to bring in this fish passage legislation in 2014.

Net Limitation Orders

Some commercial fishing involves licensed fishermen using nets to catch salmon and sea trout.

The Environment Agency has powers to make Net Limitation Orders under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 (as amended). These orders are confirmed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

All salmon and sea trout net fisheries in England are regulated by Net Limitation Orders. Each order limits the number of licences for fishing with nets that may be issued in any specific fishery for up to 10 years. Fishery byelaws regulate when, where and how fishing can take place.

We’ll continue to use Net Limitation Orders to manage fisheries effectively, prevent over fishing and protect stocks.

Net and trap fishing

The Environment Agency authorises anglers who fish with nets or traps for eel (or elver), lamprey, smelt or crayfish. They can place conditions on authorisations that set out where, how and when the fishing can take place. The Environment Agency can also refuse or revoke authorisations.

Mixed stock fisheries

Some net fisheries take salmon from a number of different rivers. These ‘mixed stock fisheries’ make protecting individual river stocks harder, as they catch fish from several different rivers at once.

In 1992 we decided that the north east coast fishery should be phased out, and we’ve extended this approach to other mixed stock fisheries. The drift net fishery, which is part of the north east coast fishery, will close in September 2022.

Byelaws to protect fish stocks

The Environment Agency has powers to introduce byelaws to protect fish stocks under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 (as amended) and the Water Resources Act 1991. These byelaws are confirmed by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Some of these byelaws:

  • require the release of caught salmon at certain times and on certain rivers where numbers of salmon are particularly low
  • control the use of keepnets
  • prohibit the use of dead or live crayfish as bait
  • restrict the times when angling is allowed during the year by imposing close seasons

You can find out about byelaws in any area by contacting the local Environment Agency office.


We fund scientific research on freshwater and migratory fisheries, particularly on salmon to make sure our policies are based on good evidence.

Appendix 4: new laws on moving live fish

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The Environment Agency regulates the movement of live fish between inland waters. This helps prevent the transfer of damaging fish diseases and parasites and of invasive non-native fish species.

The new Keeping and Introduction of Fish Regulation 2015 introduces a risk based permitting scheme for the stocking of fish into our lakes, canals and rivers.

We have modernised the law to make it easier to move some fish in some ‘safer’ situations. See permission to move live fish to or from a fishery.

Fish from the same source can be moved to the same location an unlimited number of times on the same licence. This should help to cut costs for fish farms and other fish businesses.

We publish advice for businesses on aquaculture and aquatic animal health.