Last night’s AGM was reasonably attended but could have been better. An interesting evening ensued. There were the formalities of any AGM meeting, approving previous minutes etc before the Chairman gave his report and the audited accounts were examined. The levy charged to angling clubs and owners rose to £1 in the £1 this year and this was well discussed. There was clear concern that wherever possible the Board should aim to reduce this in the years to come and the the Board agreed that would look to reduce it to 90p in the £ if this was possible. Savings have to be made to achieve this and with the new bailiff vehicles allowing considerable reduction in fuel expenses to be achieved, this may well be possible.
The Wild Fisheries Review was discussed and the Board intends to issue their response before the closing date for submissions on the 15th July 2014. It is likely that within a year or two that all Boards will be dissolved and replaced by a two tier structure; A National Commissioner for Wild Fisheries and a Local Fishery Management Organisations consisting of elected members and a central organisation to collect data to meet Government requirements . The Board called for anyone with concerns that they wish considered for inclusion within the response, to submit them in adequate time for the Boards to prepare a response. In reality this means within the next day or so as the closing date for submissions is just a week away. Key points that are to be included in the Boards response are: no increased charges for angling, adequate funding for bailiffing and management, angler inclusion in the new Local Management Structure, and concerns over the poor consultation with the Ayr Board so far.
Questions were asked regarding what work was being carried out to achieve improvements on the river against a list of priorities that were produced by Ayrshire Rivers Trust back around 2004. The Trusts manager and lead biologist Stuart Brabbs pointed that currently the board failed to raise adequate funding to allow any direct improvements to be made on the river and that ART themselves were attempting to secure funds through their own efforts to allow improvements (such as installing baffles on the Greenock Water culvert) to go ahead. Progress was expected at Sorn Weir this year as the landowner has been advised by SEPA that they must complete a satisfactory fish pass whether their proposed hydro scheme development goes ahead or not. One of the main priorities for improvement has always been Catrine Dam and this is underway and the Trust has worked tirelessly over the last 7 or so years to drive the alterations in the right direction. This was welcomed by all in attendance although some felt the fish pass was and never could be improved satisfactorily and should have been replaced.
The bailiff co ordinator gave a round up of progress made to deter poaching in the last year and he informed the meeting that through the volunteer bailiff efforts, 12 cases had successfully reached the Courts and led to convictions. This was welcomed by most however there were concerns raised that these were relatively minor incidents and that the bailiffs weren’t policing all stretchers of the river. The bailiff cordinator informed everyone that if they are aware of any illegal activity underway that the should immediately inform the bailiffs or phone Scottish Police (or both) He also pointed out that the bailiffs were volunteers and couldn’t be in all places at the same time and neither could they be expected to put their own safety at risk and would assess each incident to ensure the best possible outcome for all can be achieved. The bailiff force acts as a deterrent and wherever safe to do so, will apprehend poachers but they will also work together with Scottish Police and have done so with great effect over the last year. The model used by the new Ayr Bailiff force has been praised by both the Police and the ASFB who held up as a model used on the Ayr as the future for bailiffing across the Country. 20 new bailiffs were successfully trained and passed the IFM bailiffs exam in Ayrshire last year and this is largely due to the training provided by the bailiff co ordinator, assisted by ART. There had been no convictions in the 10 years preceding the bailiff co ordinates appointment and those calling for more prosecutions are urged to be patient and to assist the bailiffs wherever possible. No poaching reports are ignored and every owner and Angling Club should note the bailiffs contact details (Tel 07407684582) (also provided on the new River Ayr web site pages).
The meeting was concluded by an update given by Catrine Community Trusts Hugh Hutchison on progress at Catrine Dam. There has been major developments at the dam over the last few months and despite a few problems, the works are now progressing smoothly and scheduled for completion towards the end of September /early October. The contractors are now working closely with ART and the Board to ensure fish passage is maintained and that fish welfare is a priority. Mr Hutchison outlined the remaining stages and the sequence of the works. The fish pass is operational but will rehire a brief shut down towards the end of the works to allow an extension to be added. A camera and counter will be installed within the fish pass towards the end of the job and a smelt trap has already been installed for monitoring purposes. ART welcomed these measures and pointed out that they would assist greatly with the future monitoring and management of the upper river.
The main concern that remains unresolved is that Catrine community Trust is unwilling to screen the fish pass to prevent access by poachers or others and the bailiff co ordinator and others expressed grave concerns for the safety of anyone falling into the fish pass. Mr Hutchison restated that CCT would continue to evaluate and explore options but currently have no plans to enclosed the fish pass.
Finally the board’s new web pages and blog is up and running and will be updated regularly by administrators. Contact details are included for the bailiffs and the Clerk to the board. The Board all thought this will be a valuable tool to keep those interested in the river up to date with what’s going on. Draft minutes from the AGM will be published on the site in a couple of months or so.