Carping over the Kurds' capers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 September, 1996, 12:00am

There is a new threat to the Kurdish people and it is nothing to do with Saddam Hussein, Iran, Turkey or even Stealth bombers and Cruise missiles.

No, this a story of cultural differences. East London has put up with immigrants from all over the world in the past 100 years but the Kurds are really breaking a taboo - the right of the Englishman to go fishing and then throw his catch back.

It concerns the River Lea, a murky river which runs through the East End of London pouring out, probably, through some leaky canal gates somewhere into the Thames estuary.

The problem is that Kurdish refugees who live not very far away from the river have discovered that they have a plentiful supply of very cheap, indeed free, food on their doorstep.

It was the same when some Vietnamese Chinese arrived in the area a few years ago. They weren't long in discovering that the Lea is teeming with fish.

The only problem is that the Lea is an industrial river, as they say, and is 80 per cent sewage effluent.

The fish don't mind but its not good for humans. Point taken? Well, the Vietnamese who came to the UK, perhaps from Hong Kong camps some years ago, used nets to clean out parts of the river for a while until they were told this was not the done thing.

Locals used to describe the river then as London's biggest takeaway food centre.

The Vietnamese survived, though, even though they were fishing in what some might describe as the British equivalent of the Kai Tak nullah.

The anglers were none too pleased at another culture clash either - hundreds of Chinese mitten crabs which were discharged from the bilges of ships from the East into the Thames in the 1930s. They, too, made their way to the River Lea where they are still constantly being caught.

The Kurds are landing prime perch with little more than sticks, pieces of string and bent pins.

Some have used wooden spears to catch the fish, others sport the more hi-tech divers' spear guns.

They finish off their work with a barbecue on the banks and not unnaturally upset local fishermen who use the quaint English tradition of throwing their catch back in at the end of the day.

Fortunately, local anglers have been tolerant so far. Terry Mansbridge, of the Lea Anglers' Consortium, which spends GBP12,000 (HK$144,120) a year stocking the river commented: 'Part of this is down to a clash of cultures. The Kurds, like most people in the world, catch fish to eat - it's called survival and is perfectly understandable.

'We sit on the bank for hours on end trying to catch fish and, when we do, we throw them back.

'It seems daft but it's the British way.' The big fear now is that the Kurds will soon start tucking into the real fish of the river, the 4.6-kilogram bream and big carp which inhabit its waters.

Some fish can survive quite well in dirty water. Others require it to be pristine. Take the salmon, for instance. There are so many being found in the upper reaches of the Thames now that local anglers are worried.

It is not that they mind the actual presence of this great indicator of how clean the waters of the river have actually become.

It is just that they are concerned that the faster tributaries of the Thames, flowing through the wealthy south of England, may soon be bought up for game fishing rights and price local anglers - who have enjoyed their sport, hunting chub and barbel for next to nothing - out of the game.

Maybe they should invite a few Kurds to a salmon barbecue.