'Fisheries' refer to fish, their habitats, and to the fishing activities they support.
They are part of the lifeblood of our natural environment and vital assets for both society and the natural world. Not only do clean rivers, streams and lakes give pleasure in themselves, but a lot also depends on their health.
Moreover, four million anglers spend around £3 billion a year on their sport, supporting many jobs in both rural and urban areas.
From the large lowland rivers of Eastern England to small streams in upland Wales, and from Cumbrian Lakes to the West Midlands canals, safeguarding the health of our fisheries is essential.
So, how are our fish stocks?
The overall picture is reasonably encouraging, with some tremendously encouraging success stories but some very serious concerns too.
Coarse fish numbers are increasing in many of our rivers. In the most recent survey, fish were present at over 98% of sites, and 50% contained eight or more species. This is a big improvement on a decade ago.
Salmon stocks are seriously depleted, and stocks of multi-sea-winter fish particularly so. However, stocks on some previously polluted rivers including the Tyne, the Tees and rivers of the South Wales valleys have recovered dramatically.
Sea trout stocks appear to have been declining in recent years, with the declared rod catch in 2007 (29,398) showing a decrease of 25% compared with the mean of the previous five years (39,117) although care should be taken when relating catch to run size.
Eel stocks are critically low. The number of juvenile eels returning to our rivers has collapsed to just 1% of historic levels. The reasons for this decline are unclear, but changes in the marine environment may be particularly significant.
What factors are affecting these stocks?
Run-off from fields, including silt, pesticides and fertilisers, is causing serious damage to aquatic habitats, fish and other wildlife. The Environment Agency is committed to working with the farming community and others to get greater protection for freshwater habitats and the fish populations that depend on them.
Domestic and industrial effluents and water abstraction can also degrade habitats and water quality, seriously affecting fish and the creatures on which they feed. We need to focus more attention on potentially harmfull substances such as endocrine disrupting chemicals that can enter waterbodies.