Medieval methods of fishing for salmon in the Severn estuary may well become a thing of the past after an Appeal Court ruling.
However, Nigel Mott, one of last surviving proponents of the “putcher rank” technique, is now at least in line for compensation for the end of his way of life.
Top judges ruled that the Environment Agency’s decision to cut his permitted catch from 600 to just 30 fish a year violated his human rights.
Fisherman have been using picturesque ranks of “putchers”, a type of basket, to trap adult salmon in the estuary for hundreds of years.
Mr Mott has a 20-year lease on fishing rights in Lydney, in the forest of Dean, and he and fellow fisherman, David Merrett, made about £60,000-a-year from selling the fish they caught.
But the Agency said their catch had to be slashed to protect salmon fisheries in the neighbouring River Wye, which is a special conservation area under European law.
Experts said there was a threat of salmon stocks in the Wye – which welcomes 10-15,000 spawning fish annually – becoming unsustainable.
Mr Mott’s putchers are 15 kilometres upstream from the mouth of the Wye, and further from the sea, and he insists his small operation poses no threat to the viability of Wye salmon.
But the EA took a hard line and, in 2012, ordered him and Mr Merrett to cut their catch to just 30 fish a year.
Mr Mott said that made putcher fishing “wholly uneconomic” and his lease, for which he pays £180 a year in rent, “worthless”.
Today, Appeal Court judges ruled that there was a rational basis for the Agency’s tough restrictions on putcher fishing in the estuary.
There was no challenge to the Agency’s stance that “the salmon fishery in the Wye is in danger of becoming unsustainable”, said Lord Justice Beatson.
But the judge said there was no evidence that the Agency had even considered the devastating impact on Mr Mott and his livelihood.
At least 95% of his business had been “eliminated” by the Agency’s decision and his fishing rights were rendered unsaleable to anyone else.
Just because the catch limits were imposed on “environmental grounds” did not mean that Mr Mott’s rights could be ignored, the judge ruled.
The Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, and Lord Justice McFarlane agreed that the fisherman’s human rights to freely enjoy his private property had been breached.
And the court ruled that the only way to put that right was to pay Mr Mott proper compensation for the loss of his livelihood.
Mr Mott, now in his 70s and who lives in Stroat, has been fishing with putchers for over 40 years and harvests the waters near Lydney Harbour.
He has always denied that his activities pose any threat to salmon stocks and has attacked the Agency for destroying an ancient way of life.