Fishing Lines: Why the purists are carping about Alien 4

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MARK my words, the fat Chinaman who has just arrived over here is going to cause chaos to decades of angling tradition. For the overweight foreigner, a snail-eating carp, will be the first from a shoal of extra-large immigrants that are set to destroy our quaint old record fish lists.

The carp, imported by a Surrey company, weighs about 130lb, making it nearly 80lb larger than anything captured in the British Isles. Though Star Fisheries, its importer, has no plans to sell the fish to anglers, unscrupulous fishermen have already showed interest in buying the monster and putting it into their own waters.

An import licence granted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food only allows Star, a koi-importing company, to sell the fish to the ornamental trade. A special licence would be required if such a carp was to be released into an angling water. The ministry has said

that it is not keen to grant such licences to these aliens - but a Norfolk fishery owner has already secured permission from that self- same ministry to bring in massive carp from Holland. Later this year, carp to 72lb will be swimming in his water, he hopes.

The Chinese fish may not be much of a problem (except in the cost of feeding it). Grown to tabletop size by Buddhist monks, it is said to be mylopharyngodon pisces, the blue or snail-eating carp, whereas the British native is cyprinus carpio, or common carp. No doubt such a specimen, the largest fish in British freshwater, will prove a huge attraction down on the farm, where it will probably reveal an unexpected bonus: the ability to scare the life out of marauding herons.

However, if released in a water holding our native fish, it probably won't be long before common blue carp are swimming around. Such hybrids would be immensely attractive to aquarists, and to fishermen too. And they would possess the potential to grow far larger than our own variety.

Imported carp from Holland, Spain and elsewhere on the Continent pose a very different threat. They are the same species as the British carp, but grow larger simply because it's warmer there. This allows fish to feed (and put on weight) throughout the year rather than just in the summer months. Carp to 90lb have been caught in France, and thousands of keen carpers travel there every year, because fish up to 60lb are possible on many waters. The British record, which has stood for 12 years, is a mere 51lb 8oz.

With the Channel Tunnel and less strict immigration curbs, it's almost certain that some fruitcake will smuggle in one of these huge fish. How can you prove it's not a homegrown carp? The pond is made even muddier by a Hampshire fish farmer, who claims he has discovered how to grow any fish to record size within a couple of years. Already, one fishery owner has shown interest in establishing a water holding a record of every species.

Artificial records have already caused a headache for the Salmon and Trout Association, which oversees claims for game fish. There are now separate lists for 'cultivated' and 'natural' trout. Fishery owners put huge, artificially reared, spotted barrels with fins into small ponds and wait for them to be caught. (Such trout, accustomed to being fed daily, have no natural caution so they are not overly difficult to trick.) The chance of a 25-pounder is good for business. Unfortunately, those who run a water without oversized trout often find that nobody wants to fish there. Even those with large fish find their clients straying to waters offering extra-large ones. So the trout are getting bigger and bigger.

Even the lordly salmon is not immune. A couple of years ago, two trout-fishery owners attracted enormous publicity with their plans to dump a 90lb salmon from a Scottish fish farm into their waters. Such a fish would have erased the oldest record on the lists, a 64lb salmon caught in 1922 from the river Tay by Georgina Ballantine. The purists (and a lot of others too) were furious. It didn't happen, but it could.

Where will all this tail-chasing end? Don't ask me. I just know that my plans to visit France in May on the off-chance of a 40lb carp look pretty silly now.