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Otters, cormorants, mink, crayfish ... what the Angling Trust has done to tackle predation

13.07.18

predation

There has been a great deal of comment in the press and online about predation of fish. Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish legal, has written an article setting out the actions that the Trust has taken on predation over the past few years to deliver the Predation Action Plan it produced in partnership with the Predation Action Group, and summarising its policy. This summary sets out the key points briefly:

Otters

Otter numbers have increased in recent decades as a result of the ban of certain pesticides. Captive-bred otters were released in a small number of locations until the 1990s but there is no evidence of any releases of captive-bred otters since then. In some areas they may be at their maximum population; in others they are still recovering to this level.

There has been a serious impact from the return of otters on a number of specimen river fisheries and many still water fisheries and fish farms which has had an economic impact on businesses and has changed the nature of fishing on many venues. This will continue as numbers grow to their maximum level and we need to find ways of managing this change.

The Angling Trust has secured grants from the Environment Agency’s rod licence revenue to fund fencing around still waters and it gives expert advice to hundreds of clubs and fisheries about how to apply for funding and how to manage fisheries to protect them better from otters. It has secured licences to trap otters inside fenced fisheries for release outside the fence. The Trust is investigating other ways fisheries and clubs can legally deter otters from entering their fisheries.

We believe that the best way to protect river fish populations from otter predation is to restore the natural habitat by tackling the many problems on our rivers from the destruction of fish refuge and spawning habitat, pollution, barriers to migration, over-abstraction of water and invasive species like signal crayfish and mink. The Angling Trust & Fish Legal have a wide range of campaigns and legal action to address these issues.

The Angling Trust does not believe that there is any likelihood at all of politicians agreeing to a cull, or any lethal control of otters, and to call for such measures will only endanger the reputation of anglers as conservationists and guardians of our water environment in the public eye. This could lead to a loss of good will from the general public and decision-makers, and ultimately to angling being banned altogether.

There are a wide range of views on this subject in the angling community and the Angling Trust has to have a policy which is respectful of that diversity, responsible, practical and pragmatic.

Many people believe that injured and orphaned otters which have been rehabilitated are less wary of humans and more likely to predate on fisheries. The Angling Trust has called for these facilities to be legally prohibited from releasing otters or, at the very least, regulated and required to consult with fisheries and angling clubs.

Mink, Cormorants and Crayfish

Mink can have a severe impact on fisheries and as they are a non-native invasive species the Angling Trust believes that efforts need to be stepped up to control and if possible eradicate them. The Trust provides support and advice to clubs and fisheries and will press government to provide more funding to help with this.

The Angling Trust has campaigned very vigorously over many years to improve the protection of vulnerable fish stocks from predation by cormorants and goosanders. We have had some success, securing funding for two fisheries management advisors (FMAs), who have been employed by the Angling Trust since April 2014 to help angling clubs and fishery owners reduce predation, to co-ordinate applications for the new area-based cormorant licences we secured and to gather better evidence about the number of birds in each catchment. We continue to fight for an increase in the national limit on the number of cormorants that can be shot each year and a simplification of the licence application form to control goosanders.

Our ultimate objective is to add cormorants to the general shooting licence (along with pigeons, crows, magpies etc.), subject to an annual review to ensure the conservation status of the birds is not threatened, but the Government has so far resisted this. We will keep trying.

Signal crayfish are an invasive non-native species which burrows into banks and predates on invertebrates, fish eggs, fish and vegetation, which limits fish recruitment so we get fewer juvenile fish and they damage invertebrate populations on which our fish rely for food.

The Angling Trust and CEFAS (the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science) have joined forces through a Defra-funded project to trial a number of methods to find the most effective way of reducing signal crayfish numbers and their impacts on our aquatic wildlife. When the results are available, we will work with our member clubs and fisheries to implement the findings and to try and reduce the impact of these pests.

Conclusion – We’re Stronger Together

Fisheries have co-existed with predators for thousands of years and will go on co-existing with them. Our job as I see it is to manage that relationship in a way that gives the maximum protection possible for fish and fishing, while recognising that otters, cormorants and goosanders are all highly protected species by law and that politicians pay attention to public opinion.

Changing government policy is very difficult, time-consuming and expensive. It requires compelling, evidence-based campaigns and the clear support of very large groups of target constituencies of voters. We believe that the best opportunity to protect fish stocks in rivers is to fight for greater protection of the water environment which will enable fish to reproduce more successfully and generate stocks that are more resilient to predation. On still waters, we believe that a combination of fencing, fish refuges and deterrents is the best combination of actions we can currently achieve to protect our fish. The full recovery of the otter population will inevitably mean that fishing will have to adapt to survive but it absolutely does not mean the end of all fishing as we know it as some would have you believe.

We’d love to be able to do more, and we could do if more anglers joined us. You might think we should be more – or less – aggressive in our approach to predation, but if that’s the only reason you have not been supporting us, please think again. Fish and fishing need a strong, unified representative body that is supported by a large proportion of anglers to tackle the wide range of threats facing us and to promote angling participation. We need your support if we are to protect your fishing, and that of your children, now and into the future.


Contact: Angling Trust Eastwood House, 6 Rainbow Street, Leominster, Herefordshire HR6 8DQ
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