Thousands of fish have been killed in a pollution incident on the tidal Thames in West London after nearly half a million tonnes of sewage poured into the river over the weekend. Anglers were out on Monday evening trying to rescue dying fish stranded on the river’s beaches. The fish included roach, dace, bream, eels, perch, pike, sea bass and flounder. The tidal Thames is an important coarse fishery as well as being a vital nursery area for marine fish species for the whole of the South East of England.

pollution incident on the tidal Thames in West LondonHeavy rain over the weekend led to London’s sewerage system overflowing into the river. Because the spill followed a long dry spell, the sewage was particularly noxious. More than 250,000 tonnes of storm sewage entered the river from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and at least 200,000 tonnes from the Mogden Sewage Treatment Works in Isleworth, which is currently being upgraded.

The Environment Agency is monitoring oxygen levels in the river and Thames Water has dosed the polluted water with hydrogen peroxide to add oxygen to the water. The company’s oxygenation vessels have also been deployed to the area.

Anglers and environmental campaigners have been calling for decades for improvements to the capital’s sewerage network because of a series of similar incidents in recent years (notably in 2004 and 2009). Plans are now at last in place for a new ‘Super Sewer’ under the Thames which would prevent these spills happening, but completion of these works is still years away and could be threatened if funds are not made available or planning authorities stand in the way.

Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd said:

“It is heartbreaking to see so many young fish being repeatedly poisoned in sewage. We hope that incidents such as this will convince policy makers and London local authorities of the need for the Thames Tunnels scheme, which is vital for the future of the capital’s river.”

Angling Trust fishing newsThames Anglers’ Conservancy Chairman James Page said:

“Our rapid response crew were down on the beach as soon as this happened but they felt helpless to save the countless fish they could see gasping in the water’s edge.  Anglers and water bill payers alike need to see action to stop this happening in the future.”

Source: Angling Trust Fishing News

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Water companies have always been reluctant to supply anglers with information about pollution – but a Tribunal which deals with appeals on information issues has now concluded that water and sewage companies in England and Wales are not covered by laws on freedom of information.

Angling Trust fishing newsThis is a huge blow to the Angling Trust’s campaigns and legal action to make water companies accountable for the damage they cause routinely to fisheries up and down the country.

The decision means that water companies will not be compelled to reveal when, where and how often they pollute our rivers, lakes and coastal waters. Instead anglers will have to rely on the good-will of these profit-driven utilities to expose their activities voluntarily.

The decision comes at a time when the Environment Agency (EA) is depending on the water companies to monitor their own discharges into streams, lakes, rivers and coastal waters through the new policy of ‘Operator Self Monitoring’. This means that even the Government’s regulator may not know much about what these companies are getting up to. This particularly concerns the Angling Trust’s legal arm, Fish Legal, as its lawyers currently need access to this information to fight numerous legal cases arising from sewage pollution incidents on behalf of Fish Legal members which the EA has not properly investigated.

The Tribunal’s decision agreed with the view of the Information Commissioner that the water companies are not “public authorities” for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs). Several organisations had appealed the decision of the Information Commissioner, including Fish Legal, which in 2009 had asked for data from United Utilities and Yorkshire Water on the performance of their combined sewage overflows (CSOs) which allow faeces, urine and washing detergents to pass untreated into fisheries when treatment works and sewers are overwhelmed by rain. The water companies argued that they were not covered by the EIRs as they regarded themselves as commercial companies only. Fish Legal’s case was then put on hold pending the outcome of a lead case brought by SmartSource to settle the legal issues – which were then decided in the water companies’ favour. Fish Legal is now looking at its legal options. Its lawyers have already written to the Aarhus Compliance Committee in Geneva and to DEFRA urging them to intervene following the ruling and to direct the Information Commissioner to agree that water companies are covered by the provisions of the international Aarhus Convention on Access to Environmental information, to which the UK is a signatory.

Explaining the significance of the ruling, Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said:

“Our lawyers have been trying to force several of the water companies to reveal just how much sewage they spew into rivers and coastal waters through combined sewage overflows (CSOs), which are used when the sewers get overloaded.  I think we anglers – and everyone else with an interest in clean water – need to ask why these companies are so desperate to keep their dirty secrets hidden away from public scrutiny.  Given the scale of their activities, which affect everyone who uses the water environment and drinks from a tap, I think the public should have the right to freedom of information about what they get up to.  Thanks to the support of our members, we will continue to fight for this right.”

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Yorkshire Water has paid over £20,000 in compensation to two Yorkshire fishing clubs following a series of sewage pollutions in 2006.

Fish Legal Fishing NewsPoorly-treated trade effluent was released from the Tadcaster sewage treatment works into the River Wharfe near Ulleskelf causing the death of thousands of fish including eels, roach, perch, chub, dace, pike, barbel, bream, carp and flounder.

The river at this point is tidal and usually holds a wide variety of species but has for years suffered from discharges from the works.
Fish Legal, the legal arm of the Angling Trust in England, made a claim on behalf of the Tadcaster Angling & Preservation Association and the Leeds & District Amalgamated Society of Anglers, whose fishing was severely affected by the pollution.

Justin Neal, Head Solicitor at Fish Legal, commented, “Yorkshire Water was finally prosecuted several years after the pollution, and we had to wait to see the case file from the Environment Agency to begin our civil action against the polluter. I am pleased to see that, despite the wait, the fishing clubs have now been compensated for the damage which was caused to their fishery. Whereas the prosecution by the Environment Agency might have been important on a punitive level, it was only through civil action that the clubs were able to recoup the cost of returning this fishery to its pre-pollution state. It highlights the importance of the ability of Fish Legal to act on behalf of fishing clubs to restore and improve the aquatic environment.”

Chris Burton, the Honorary Secretary of the Tadcaster Angling & Preservation Association, welcomed the settlement. “I have lived in Tadcaster all my life and fished the River Wharfe for 56 years. I have fished all the sections of water from Tadcaster Weir to Ulleskelf and have seen many changes on the river. But, in this 56 year period, I have never seen a fish-kill on the scale that I witnessed in 2006. This has been devastating for the club but we hope now that we will be able to put the compensation money towards habitat work in conjunction with Leeds & District Amalgamated Society of Anglers and the Environment Agency to enable the river to recover naturally. We would like to thank the staff at Fish Legal for all their help and guidance throughout the claims procedure. I’m sure that without their representation, we would not have had a successful outcome to the case.”

Graham Park, the General Secretary of the Leeds & District Amalgamated Society of Anglers added, “the pollution in 2006 was devastating and the catches became non-existent afterwards. I think the river was hit harder because it was tidal – which means the plug of sewage kept moving up and down the river with the tide when the flows were low. The money we get from the claim will be really important for us to put into improving the habitat. We can work with the Tadcasters and the Environment Agency to create ways of encouraging the fish populations to recover. However, we believe that there has been another recent pollution from the sewage works and until extensive work is carried out by Yorkshire Water, the threat to the river remains. We convey our thanks and support to Fish Legal and the Angling Trust for their efforts in securing this compensation.”

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Published in Latest UK fishing news

Fish Legal, the legal arm of the Angling Trust, has reacted with dismay to the news that six water companies have won their appeal against the decision of Environment Agency (EA) to provide proper regulation for the thousands of unregulated Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs) in England and Wales.

Fish Legal Fishing NewsOver twenty years ago, in 1989, at the time of water privatisation, the water companies were granted temporary consents for many thousands of discharges carrying storm sewage into English and Welsh rivers. This followed the discovery, immediately pre-privatisation, that vast numbers of these discharges had no legal consent.

At the time, it was quite clear that the granting of temporary consents was a quick fix designed to enable the Government of the day to sell the companies into private hands with no potential criminal liabilities. Under pressure from Fish Legal, the EA eventually decided, in April 2009, to impose a set of standard conditions on all those discharges in order to bring them into proper regulation.

However, the companies – which include United Utilities Water PLC, Severn Trent Water Ltd, Anglian Water Services Ltd, Yorkshire Water Services Ltd, Thames Water Utilities Ltd and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water – appealed the decision by the EA.

They argued at the appeal hearing that the new discharge consents were unlawful and would require expensive works to be carried out, putting them in a position where they might be prosecuted if there were any future breaches.

The arguments between the companies and the EA centred on a set of conditions which would make it an offence, for instance, to cause a deterioration in the quality of water in rivers and lakes. Such conditions have now been omitted, leaving a consent which permits the lawful use of the CSOs except in the narrowest of circumstances.

Fish Legal – which had been invited to take part as an interested party at the hearing in support of the EA – argued that it had investigated pollutions in England caused by discharging CSOs and that the very basic terms of deemed consents had meant that the Agency had been unable to regulate or enforce despite the scale of the damage caused to the environment.

However, the Inspector has now decided in favour of the water companies, and has re-written the conditions to addresses the companies’ concerns. In the view of Fish Legal, the new wording allows the companies to pollute without fear of enforcement except in the most limited of circumstances.
Justin Neal, Head Solicitor at Fish Legal, commented:

“After several years of campaigning, the Fish Legal team were jubilant that the Agency had decided to do something about the thousands of deemed consents in England and Wales. Our view is that reasonable conditions in carefully worded consents could provide a solution. However, the water companies seem to see this as an issue where the environment takes second place. The consents resulting from the appeal make little difference to the present situation and it may be that we will be facing devastating pollutions in the future where the Agency will not be able to enforce.”

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said:

“Anglers are fed up with fishing in rivers where the trees are festooned with sanitary products and invertebrates and fish are killed or weakened by sewage pollution. This decision delays the restoration of rivers to good condition for the benefit of all wildlife and fisheries unacceptably. The appeal by the water companies is an outrageous dodge of their responsibilities to take care of our rivers and an unacceptable failure to honour the spirit of these consents, which were only intended as a temporary measure. We will continue to fight for clean waters.”

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