A ROW has broken out between anglers and the Environment Agency over how a North-East river should be restocked.

From 2015, the introduction of fertile fish to the River Wear will be banned.

The Environment Agency said the long-term survival of the natural fish populations, such as salmon and brown trout, would be harmed by genetic changes brought by introducing fish capable of breeding to the river.

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But the Wear Angler’s Association said introducing only infertile fish would lead to the death of the river affecting thousands of people’s hobbies and trade.

Paul Frear, fisheries technical officer at the Environment Agency, said: “Scientific research has shown that stocking with fertile fish can lead to substantial genetic changes in wild populations, which could pose a risk to the long-term viability of those populations.

"The Environment Agency is dedicated to protecting our native fish populations and their habitats, and this is reflected in our national policy on salmon and freshwater fisheries.

"From 2015, stocking with fertile fish will not be allowed.

“This will help to conserve the genetics of natural wild stocks so that they have the best chance of prospering in the future."

A spokesman for the Angler’s Association said: “The river is struggling, native brown trout have been in decline for years.

“These infertile fish can’t breed, they won’t swim down to the sea and return as sea trout, they are carnivorous and voracious and will eat everything in sight.

“They are cannibals and before long, there won’t be any native fish in the Wear, just these genetic examples.

“It will be disastrous for the Wear, the strategy will totally ruin the river.”

The anglers claimed the study the Environment Agency is using to justify its stance was completed on chalk bed stream, which the spokesman said was very different from the freestone River Wear.

After years of conservation work by the agency, anglers and other river groups to improve the quality of the water, which had been damaged by decades of mining in the area, last year saw a record number of salmon caught in the Wear.

And while 1,731 salmon were recorded, sea trout figures were also up to 1,523.