Westcountry Fishing Byelaws - Environment Agency South West Region 2012

Please also see 2013 Fishing Rules Update for South West Environment Agency Region

The following contains all of the 2012 byelaws for the Environment Agency South West Region


[permitted baits] [size limits] [mandatory bag limits] [voluntary bag limits]  

[rod fishing seasons]
  [agency area map]   [environment agency areas]  

We are the Environment Agency. It’s our job to look after your environment and make it a better place for you, and for future generations. Your environment is the air you breathe, the water you drink and the ground you walk on. Working with business, Government and society as a whole, we are making the environment cleaner and healthier.

We tackle flood and pollution incidents, reduce industry’s impact on the environment, clean up rivers, coastal waters, and contaminated land and improve wildlife habitats.
Visit our website at:
www.environment-agency.gov.uk to find out more about our work and your local environment.
There are extensive fisheries pages on our website, which include interesting news stories about our work.
In the South West, fisheries play a very important role. Fish are one of the best indicators of the state of rivers and lakes. Healthy and abundant freshwater fish stocks will demonstrate our success.
Our work helps fisheries in many ways. Some good examples are pollution-prevention, dealing with low river flows and habitat improvements.
In partnership with many other dedicated organisations and individuals, our staff carry out a number of vital tasks. Among these we:

  • issue licences and make byelaws to control the pressure on fisheries;
  • enforce fishery laws to prevent damage to fish and stocks;
  • ensure the health and abundance of fish stocks through regular fisheries surveys;
  • rescue fish when pollution incidents occur and minimise damage to fish stocks;
  • carry out habitat improvements;
  • build and maintain fish passes;
  • monitor fish stocks using catch returns, juvenile surveys and fish counters;
  • carry out fisheries research to inform future improvements and developments;
  • stock fish to restore and improve fisheries.


Fisheries operations in the South West are organised by staff based in 4 offices.

They can be contacted as follows:

Environment Agency
Sir John Moore House
Victoria Square
Tel: 01208 265012
Fax: 01208 78321

Environment Agency
Exminster House
Miller Way
Tel: 01392 316032
Fax: 01392 316016

Wessex (North):
Environment Agency
Rivers House
East Quay
Tel: 01278 484786
Fax: 01278 452985

Wessex (South):
Environment Agency
Rivers House
Sunrise Business Park
Higher Shaftesbury Road
Tel: 01258 483454
Fax: 01258 455998


The Environment & Business staff, based at our regional Exeter office, co-ordinate our forward planning issues, telephone 01392 352439.

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National Rod Licences

Before you fish for salmon, sea trout, trout, freshwater fish or eels in any* water in England and Wales, you need to have a current Environment Agency rod fishing licence and permission to fish from the owner of the fishery.
*Except in waters where a general licence is in force - please check with the owner of the fishery in advance.

If you fish for salmon, sea trout, trout, freshwater fish or eels in an estuary or in the sea, up to six miles from shore, you will require a licence. In most cases in tidal waters, a rod licence is not required to fish for freshwater eels, although there are exceptions. Before fishing for eels in tidal waters, please check with your local area Environment Agency office.
The Environment Agency has a national rod fishing licence. This means that fishing in all regions, including Wales, is covered by one licence. It does not cover you to fish in Scotland.
Licences are available for coarse fish and non-migratory trout or for all-inclusive fishing, including the above species in addition to salmon and sea trout.
The licence structure is aimed at raising approximately £24 million for essential fisheries work. We reinvest your rod licence money back into maintaining, improving and developing fisheries.

Our dedicated staff carry out lots of ‘routine’ fisheries work such as fish rescues, anti-pollution work, restocking, anti-poaching patrols and fish health assessments. We protect the environment from unsuitable developments and monitor the abundance of fish stocks.

Part of the rod licence money is added to a small grant from the Government and dedicated to partnership projects to directly improve fisheries. We allocated around £4 million to this activity in 2010. We help to bring in other funding such as European grants and we work very closely with river trusts and with anyone who can help to improve fish stocks.

Junior licence – £5 SALMON LICENCE!!!
Children under 12 years of age do not require a licence. A full annual junior licence is available for salmon, sea trout, coarse fish and non-migratory trout priced only £5. Junior licences are available to anyone less than 17 years old.

Your licence has the following benefits:

  • You can use a rod and line anywhere in England and Wales.
  • You can use up to two rods per licence, subject to the national byelaws included in this guide and subject to any local rules.
  • Your rod licence will help the Environment Agency continue to improve the vital work it carries out, including:
    • Management of fish stocks.
    • Improvements in fisheries and the fish’s environment.
    • Protection of stocks through enforcement activities, including anti-poaching patrols.
    • Rescue of fish which would otherwise be lost through drought, pollution or other causes.
    • Surveys, essential for picking up changes and problems.
    • Advice on fishing and management issues.
    • Fish rearing and stocking of rivers.

Please note that:
1. The licence gives you the right to use a fishing rod and line but does not give you the right to fish. You should always check that you have the permission of the owner or tenant of the fishing rights before starting to fish.
2. Your licence is valuable - if it should be lost, a duplicate can be issued by phoning 08708 506 506 or write to: National Customer Contact Centre, PO Box 544, Rotherham S60 1BY.
We can now take payment by card over the telephone. The charge is £5 for a replacement adult licence or £1 for juniors.
Please make a note of the licence number before going fishing.
3. The licence is yours alone; it cannot be used by anyone else. Please make sure that you sign the licence before you go fishing.
4. Your licence must be produced on demand to an enforcement officer of the Environment Agency who produces his or her warrant, a police officer. Failure to do so is an offence and may make you liable to prosecution (maximum fine £2,500). The law has changed and, as a licence holder, you no longer have the right to demand to see the licence of anyone else fishing.
5. The licence is only valid if the correct details are shown without amendments, and the licence is signed by the holder.
6. A national rod licence is not required where a General Licence is in force. Please check with the owner in advance.
7. The catch return form enclosed with your new salmon and sea trout licence is very important. This information is required by law and you should send in the return form, even if you recorded a ‘nil’ catch. Please fill in and return the form in an envelope when your licence expires, using the FREEPOST address.
8. Details of local rod fishing byelaws and angling information can be obtained from Environment Agency offices. Fishery byelaws may vary between different Environment Agency regions - if in doubt, check first before going fishing.

Details of the main byelaws applying to the Environment Agency in the South West can be found on our website www.environment-agency.gov.uk

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Salmon and sea trout kelts
Salmon and sea trout which are about to spawn, or have recently spawned but have not recovered, are known as unclean. The law says that fish in either condition, if caught, must be returned to the water with as little damage as possible. Fish about to spawn are identifiable by the ease with which eggs or milt can be extruded from the vent.
Those having recently spawned are called kelts and can be identified from clean fish by using the comparison given below.

1. Line of back and belly parallel
2. Gill maggots almost invariably present (salmon only)
3. Distinct ‘corner’ or change of direction in profile of body at back of skull
4. Fins invariably frayed
5. Vent suffused red and easily extruded by pressure
6. Belly normally blackened

1. Back and belly convex in relation to each other
2. Gill maggots only present in previous spawners or fish which have been some time in the river
3. Head tapers into body without a break
4. Fins entire; rarely frayed
5. Vent firm and compact
6. Belly normally pale

Smolts and parr
Young salmon known as parr look very similar to brown trout and are often caught by trout anglers. These parr are destined to run the rivers in a few years as adult salmon after feeding at sea. It is an offence knowingly to take, kill or injure these parr, and any which are caught by mistake must be very carefully returned to the water.

Salmon parr can be identified from trout by using the comparison given below. In March, April and May, salmon and sea trout parr begin to migrate to the sea. The spots and finger marks disappear and the body becomes silvery in colour. They are then called smolts and must be returned to the water if caught.

1. Body slightly built and torpedo-shaped
2. Tail distinctly forked
3. A perpendicular line from the back of the eye will not touch the maxillary bone
4. Eight to twelve finger marks, even in width, well-defined and regularly placed along the sides
5. No white line on leading edge of fins
6. No red colour on adipose fin

1. Body thicker and clumsier looking
2. Tail with shallow fork
3. A perpendicular line from the back of the eye will pass through or touch the maxillary bone
4. Finger marks less numerous, uneven in width, less defined, irregularly placed along the sides
5. Normally white line on leading edge of fins
6. Adipose fin generally coloured with orange or red.

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The ‘Open Seasons’, i.e. the periods when it is permitted to fish, are set out in the table below
There is no statutory close season for coarse fish and eels in stillwaters, but some clubs and fishery owners may impose their own close seasons.
There may also be a close season in place because of the status afforded to the area as a site of scientific interest. If in doubt check with your local office.


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NEW BYELAW!  Ban on use of a tailer as an auxiliary to angling
You may no longer use a tailer as an auxiliary to angling.

Anyone who uses a tailer as an auxiliary to angling or to take fish directly is committing an offence under Section 1(1) of the Salmon & Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1975 (SAFFA), as amended by the Marine & Coastal Access Act, 2009 (“the Marine Act”).

Landing fish using a tailer can cause damage to fish from either external impacts on the tail, skin and scales, or internal damage to organs from lifting the fish by its tail. At a time when catch and release is practised on most rivers, it is essential to reduce the risk to stocks through such damage. International good practice is that fish should, where possible, be released without leaving the water.

The gaff has been illegal as an auxiliary to angling since 1997.

You may use a landing net as an auxiliary to angling.

Ban on sale of rod-caught sea trout and salmon
No person shall sell, offer or expose for sale or have in possession for sale any salmon or migratory trout which has been taken by rod and line.

Other national byelaws to protect salmon and sea trout:
Artificial fly and artificial lure only (where not already limited by existing byelaws) before June 16 for salmon fishing.
Catch and release of salmon is mandatory to 16 June.
Anglers are still encouraged to fish catch and release after 16 June and especially to return any large red fish late in the season which may be ‘springers’. For many years there has been a byelaw on the Taw and Torridge providing mandatory release unharmed of all salmon over 70 cm between 1 August - 30 September.  
Permitted baits are restricted to artificial fly and artificial lure until 16 June. Exceptions where other restrictions remain include the Taw and Torridge (fly only from April 1) and North and South Wessex (fly only before 15 May).
These national byelaws are designed as a baseline and are considered to be the lowest common denominator across the country addressing the national problem of a decline in early-run large salmon.

Measures to address other local stock problems will continue to follow a river-by-river approach but aligned to the Water Framework Directive implementation process which is being managed by the Environment Agency with local fisheries interests.

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Wessex (North)
The bag limits set out in the table above are imposed by the byelaws, however, some riparian owners or angling associations obtain dispensation to increase their bag limits.
Anglers should familiarise themselves with bag limits before fishing. Once a bag limit has been taken, the angler may continue fishing for the same species, provided that any fish caught are returned without injury. Freshwater fish other than grayling and pike may not be permanently removed from the water.

Taw and Torridge
Since a Public Inquiry in 1997, byelaws have been in place on the Taw and Torridge for size and bag limits (see table). NOTE: Since 1 April 1999, with the introduction of national salmon byelaws, the bag limits apply after 16 June.


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With stocks of salmon under increasing pressure, we will seek to do everything possible to protect the species for the future. Catch and release is now becoming an established management technique for increasing spawning escapement, particularly where stocks are low. Salmon anglers are encouraged to consider this approach as a means of safeguarding salmon stocks in our rivers.
We prefer to trust anglers to return fish on rivers which are at risk of failing their conservation limit.  However, some rivers at risk still show unacceptable levels of fish being killed. Unless the rates of voluntary catch and release improve on these rivers, we will introduce byelaws to prevent this.
When you are carrying out catch and release, the following guidelines may be useful to give the fish the best chance of surviving after you have returned it to the river:

Hooks - single hooks inflict less damage than doubles or trebles. Barbless hooks are best.  Flatten the barbs on your hooks with pliers.  If worm-fishing, consider using circle hooks.

Playing fish - fish are best landed before complete exhaustion (of the fish!) and therefore all elements of tackle should be strong enough to allow them to be played firmly.

Landing fish - Fish should be netted and unhooked in the water, if possible. Use knotless nets - not a tailer or gaff.

Handling and unhooking - Make every effort to keep the fish in the water. Wet your hands. Carefully support the fish if you really must take it out of the water. Do not hold the fish up by the tail, this may cause kidney damage.  Remove the hook gently - if necessary, cut the line if deeply hooked. Take extra care with spring fish, as they are more susceptible to damage and fungal infection.
If a fish is to be returned, do not under any circumstances keep it out of the water for more than 30 seconds.  Changes in the fish’s body affect survival within one minute.

Reviving the fish - Support an exhausted fish underwater in an upright position facing the current. Estimate weight and length in the water. Avoid weighing. Handle the fish as little as possible. Be patient and give it time to recover and swim away on its own.

In 2011, only three out of our 20 salmon rivers (Fowey, Camel and Devon Avon), are predicted to be 'not at risk' of failing to meet their management objectives in 2014.  Wherever possible, PLEASE consider returning salmon to the water alive so that they can go on to spawn.

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The use of particular baits for fishing is regulated by byelaws and in some cases additional restrictions are imposed by the fishing association or riparian owner. The byelaw restrictions are shown in the table below:


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Length to be measured from tip of the snout to the fork or cleft of the tail.
The size limits, below which fish must be returned, imposed by byelaws are set out in the table below.


Riparian owners and fishing associations may impose further restrictions with which anglers should familiarise themselves before fishing.


See section on
National byelaws to protect salmon stocks.
Spring salmon - In addition to the national byelaws, the Environment Agency is encouraging salmon anglers to return any larger salmon, particularly red ones caught later in the season, as these are likely to be multi-sea-winter fish and valuable to the spawning stock. On many rivers a variety of voluntary measures have been adopted to protect fish stocks. All anglers should familiarise themselves with these rules before they fish.

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New coarse fishing byelaws

New national byelaws are in force. Anglers are now restricted in the number, species and size of freshwater fish they can remove. The byelaws apply differently on rivers and stillwaters.

On rivers, anglers may only remove each day:


  • Up to 15 small fish (up to 20cm) of barbel, chub, common bream, common carp, crucian carp, dace, perch, pike, roach, rudd, silver bream, smelt or tench;
  • Up to two grayling of 30-38cm;
  • A single pike of up to 65cm

Anglers who remove more or different fish than this, will be committing an offence and risk a substantial fine of up to £50,000.

Anglers can still remove;

  • ‘Tiddler’ species, such as gudgeon
  • Non-native species, such as zander
  • Ornamental varieties of native species, such as ghost or koi carp

Anglers will still need the owner or occupier’s permission to remove fish from private waters and fishery owners may also impose their own stricter rules.

On stillwaters, anglers may only remove fish if they have written permission from the fishery owner. Someone who takes fish without such permission will be committing a byelaw offence, as well as one of theft.

To protect threatened stocks, all rod-caught eel and shad must be returned to the water alive, including when they are taken from stillwaters, estuaries and coastal waters.

Environment Agency Fisheries Manager Adrian Taylor said: “These byelaws achieve the right balance – they allow anglers to remove some freshwater fish for the pot or for bait, while still protecting valuable coarse fisheries. Stillwater fisheries will also be protected, but fishery managers will have the flexibility to allow anglers to take away fish.

“The Environment Agency wants to work with the angling community to make the most of these new powers. Fishery owners and clubs can help us focus our enforcement by providing prompt, accurate information on where and when people are removing fish illegally. We also want anglers to spread the word that mandatory catch and release is now generally the norm.”

The byelaws are available for download from the Environment Agency’s website at:


A national byelaw makes it illegal to use landing nets with knotted meshes or meshes of metallic material.

Similarly, keepnets should not be constructed of such materials or have holes in the mesh larger than 25mm internal circumference; or be less than 2.0 metres in length. Supporting rings or frames should not be greater than 40cm apart (excluding the distance from the top frame to the first supporting ring or frame) or less than 120cm in circumference.

Keepsacks should be constructed of a soft, dark coloured, non-abrasive, water permeable fabric and should not have dimensions less than 120cm by 90cm if rectangular, or 150cm by 30cm by 40cm if used with a frame or designed with the intention that a frame be used. It is an offence to retain more than one fish in a single keepsack at any time.

The retention of salmonids (adults or juveniles) in keepnets is illegal except when specially approved by the Environment Agency for collecting broodstock.


A number of national byelaws are now in place, summarised below.

1. The annual close season for fishing for rainbow trout by rod and line in all reservoirs, lakes and ponds has been dispensed with.
2. O
n fully enclosed stillwaters, the brown trout annual close season shall be dispensed with.
3. Use of the gaff and tailer is prohibited at all times when fishing for salmon, trout and freshwater fish or freshwater eels.
4. The number of rods that may be used at any time is as follows:
a. One rod when fishing for salmonids in rivers, streams, drains and canals.
b. Two rods when fishing for salmonids in reservoirs, lakes and ponds (subject to local rules).
c. Up to four rods when fishing for coarse fish and eels (subject to local rules).
When fishing with multiple rods and lines, rods shall not be left unattended and shall be placed such that the distance between the butts of the end rods does not exceed three metres.
5. Catch returns for salmon and migratory trout should be submitted no later than 1 January in the following year.
6. See separate section on landing nets, keepnets and keepsacks.
7. Crayfish of any species whether alive or dead, or parts thereof may not be used as bait for salmon, trout, freshwater fish or eels.
8. Livebait may only be retained and used at the water they were taken from.
9. All salmon, migratory trout or trout, hooked other than inside the mouth or throat, shall be returned immediately to any river, stream, drain or canal.
10. A rod and line with its bait or hook in the water must not be left unattended or left so that the licence holder is unable at any time to take or exercise sufficient control over the rod and line.

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There is no close season for coarse fish on canals within the region, with the exception of the Glastonbury Canal which is an open system with the South Drain.


Various new regulations are in the pipeline to help us all to manage our precious fish stocks and to ensure we fish in a sustainable way.
Please watch the Environment Agency website or contact your local office for the latest byelaws.



You may catch a salmon or sea trout from which the adipose fin has been completely removed.
These fish may carry a micro tag implanted within their nose, invisible to you. Before 16 June, any salmon caught without an adipose fin should be returned to the water and reported to your local fisheries office.

* Tell us your name, address and telephone number.
* Record details of your catch (where, when, size and species of fish).
* If the fish is caught after 16 June and you decide to retain it, keep the fish (or just the head) frozen if necessary, and we will contact you to make arrangements for it to be inspected.

We will give you a financial reward if it carries a microtag and, of course, you keep the fish. Details should be sent to the appropriate area fisheries office.

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Stocking fish - buyer beware.

Stocking and removing fish can be valuable tools to help you manage your fishery. However, they also carry significant and irreversible risks from transferring non-native fish species and diseases. Rules are in place to help reduce these risk. To find out what you need to do before you stock or remove fish, and for expert advice on fishery management, contact your local Environment Agency Fisheries Team or go to www.efishbusiness.co.uk.

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Crayfish plague now has an extensive hold in the south of the country although it is also spreading northwards. In the whole of the south west, native crayfish are now only known to occur in the catchments of the Bristol Avon, the Piddle and Allen in Dorset, the Fonthill Brook in Wiltshire and the Creedy in Devon. Meanwhile, signal crayfish are widespread on many other rivers in the south west region.
The plague can be accidentally spread on damp equipment such as fishing tackle, farm machinery etc.
Do not move between river catchments without either disinfecting or drying completely any equipment that has been in contact with river or lake water.

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Several people have died and others have been seriously injured whilst using fishing rods and poles near overhead electric power lines. The following advice is designed to prevent these events recurring:

i Because rods and poles conduct electricity, they are particularly dangerous when used near overhead electric power lines. Remember that electricity can jump gaps and a rod does not even have to touch an electric line to cause a lethal current to flow.
ii Many overhead electric power lines are supported by wood poles which can be and are mistaken for telegraph poles. These overhead lines may carry electricity up to 132,000 volts, and have been involved in many of the accidents that have occurred.
iii The height of high voltage overhead electric power lines can be as low as 5.2 metres and they are therefore within easy reach of a rod or pole. Remember that overhead lines may not be readily visible from the ground. They may be concealed by hedges or by a dark background. Make sure you ‘Look Out’ and ‘Look Up’ to check for overhead lines before you tackle up and begin fishing.
iv In general, the minimum safe fishing distance from an overhead electric power line is 30 metres from the overhead line (measured along the ground).
v When pegging out for matches or competitions, organisers and competitors should, in general, ensure that no peg is nearer to an overhead electric power line than 30 metres (measured along the ground).
vi For further advice on safe fishing at specific locations, contact your local Electricity Company.
vii Finally, remember that it is dangerous for any object to get too close to overhead electric power lines, particularly if the object is an electrical conductor, e.g. lead cored fishing line, damp fishing line, rod or pole.

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We are seeing some bad effects from anglers who dump large quantities of pellets and groundbait into lakes and rivers.  It can also happen by lake owners feeding their fish.

One danger is that pellets have a limited life and go off if stored at too high a temperature or if they get damp.  They can then be an organic pollutant or, at worst, get a covering of mould and actually be toxic to fish.  Also, adding large quantities of organic matter, such as groundbait and pellets, to a lake can cause water quality problems which then stress the fish and ruin the fishing.

We want to warn anglers and fishery owners about this risk.

  • Don’t buy old pellets - please find out how old they are before you buy them.  
  • Don’t buy more than you’re going to use in the short term.
  • Don’t store pellets for a long time (several months). 
  • Don’t use damp or mouldy pellets - throw them away - not into water!
  • Do look after your fishery and your environment.


Devon and Cornwall Area
Fishery Districts (Rivers in brackets):
Avon (Avon, Erme); Axe (Axe, Sid, Otter); Dart (Dart); Exe (Exe); Taw and Torridge (Taw, Torridge, Lyn); Teign (Teign). The River Lim is included in the Devon Area. Camel (Camel, other streams flowing into the sea on the North coast between Marsland Mouth and Lands End); Fowey (Fowey, East and West Looe, Seaton, Tresillian, other streams flowing into the sea on the South coast between Lands End and Rame Head); Tamar and Plym (Tamar, Lynher, Plym, Tavy and Yealm).

Wessex Area
River Catchments:
Bristol Avon (including all tributaries), Axe (Somerset), Brue, Parrett, Tone, Yeo and all other rivers, drains and streams flowing into the Bristol Channel between Avonmouth and Foreland Point. River Catchments: Hampshire Avon (including all tributaries), Stour (including all tributaries), Dorset Frome, Piddle, Wey, Brit and Char and all other streams flowing into the sea between Christchurch Harbour and Charmouth.

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* Except in waters where a General Licence is in force - please check with the owner of the fishery in advance.

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