THE one thing that the majority of people who use the river for recreation have in common is a sense of responsibility – a desire to preserve the Thames and to safeguard its beauty for future generations.
Not everyone, however, exhibits that laudable attitude.
Take the case noted by Surrey County Councillor Denise Turner-Stewart as she was driving along beside the river at Laleham recently.
“I saw these two guys fishing beside the river and I was struck by the fact that they had a large fish on the bank beside them and were just sitting there looking at it,” she tells me.
Denise stopped her car and walked over to the two men and saw the fish was a large pike, a hook still embedded in its mouth with the line cut off, gasping for breath and obviously in considerable distress.
“The men were eastern European – one spoke English, the other didn’t – and I noticed they had a pile of pork steaks next to them and a barbecue ready to go and it quickly became apparent they were intending to add this fish to the grill,” she said.
I challenged them about the fish’s condition and the one who could speak English said they were intending to put it back in the water. So I asked them why they hadn’t got the hook out of its mouth and why the delay?
“They had no tools to remove the hook efficiently and ended up ripping a chunk out of the fish’s mouth before reluctantly putting it back in the water where it stayed on the surface for some time before slowing disappearing,” Denise added.
The younger man, who spoke no English, was quite aggressive towards her throughout the exchange.
Denise was understandably upset by their attitude and apparent complete lack of concern for the fish and the whole episode highlights the fact that unless we take collective responsibility for looking after our river, a few selfish and mindless individuals can spoil it for the majority.
Two points emerge from this – firstly, I think Cllr Turner-Stewart deserves great credit for intervening to try to prevent the animal suffering unnecessarily and secondly, I’d urge all responsible river users to keep their eyes peeled for people behaving poorly and to report them to the Environment Agency as soon as possible. The EA have a duty to ensure that anglers adhere to proper standards.
Having talked to several anglers, I gather this is not an uncommon problem and stocks of fish in several lakes have been badly hit by unlicensed anglers over fishing. I’ve even heard one story from a friend in Sunbury who saw a Polish gentleman grab a swan with the intention of barbecuing it, for Heaven’s sake.
Of course, people coming to this country to live may not understand all the rules – but if they have them explained and still decide to behave irresponsibly we need to act.
I’d be interested to hear whether any Herald and News readers have similar experiences.