AnglingTrust The voice of Angling

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Cormorants vs Roach This great video from the Avon Roach Project helps tell the story of our Cormorant Campaign.

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Area-Based Licensing - How it Works Click here to find out more about how the Area-Based Licensing system for cormorants functions in England.

George Eustice

Letter to Fisheries Minister - October 2017 Read our letter to the Fisheries Minister, demanding a doubling of the total number of cormorants licensed to be shot in England to at least 6,000.

Predation by Cormorants and Goosanders

Cormorant - credit Jake Davoile - 550px

Joint statement on the General Licence review: October 2019

The Angling Trust and the Avon Roach Project have campaigned jointly for more than seven years to have the cormorant placed on the ‘General Licence’ enabling the legal right to better protect our vulnerable inland fish populations.

We have pushed for a review of the current woefully inadequate, restrictive and inflexible licensing regime, and now, finally, we have the opportunity to achieve the changes we seek and to better protect our fisheries. The Wild Birds General Licence Survey runs until December 5th and we need as many people as possible to take part by following the link and guidance below.

The cormorant is an apex predator, unmatched in nature, and is unquestionably one of the biggest threats to the health of our inland fish populations, with there being hardly a country in the world that accepts it as an acceptable ecological coexistent without robust management.

Cormorant numbers in the UK have increased from 2,000 in the 1980’s to a current over-wintering population of more than 62,000, and with each bird requiring at least one pound of fish every day, the level of conflict is immense.

This burgeoning population, now over-wintering here in the UK, is mainly made up of the European sub-species Phalacrocorax Carbo-sinensis, which prefer living and hunting inland in the fresh water of our rivers, streams and lakes.

86% of all rivers here in the UK are failing good ecological status according to the Water Framework Directive, which is partly assessed on general fish assemblage.

The cormorant is widely recognised, even by the Government's own Moran Committee as causing an unsustainably high level of ecological conflict.

We are the current custodians and have a duty to leave our environment and our fisheries in as good, if not better, ecological state than when we inherited them, and so strongly urge everyone to do their bit.

We have produced a concise set of guidance notes for completing the online survey - download here

Comprehensive overviews of the impact of cormorants on our fisheries have been produced in two reports from the Angling Trust and the Avon Roach Project and we strongly urge you to take the time to read them:

The Angling Trust ‘Impact of Cormorants on Fish Populations of Economic Importance and Conservation Significance’ - download here

The Avon Roach Project evidence-based Challenge to Natural England / Defra Review of Fish-Eating Birds Policy, including history, facts and a short film - read it here

The Wild Birds General Licence Survey can be found here

We urge all anglers and angling clubs to take part. This may be our only chance.

Cormorant Watch 2: update

Thank you to everyone who reported sightings of cormorants and goosanders for our second Cormorant Watch initiative, which recently came to an end. This has provided us with useful information about the distribution of birds over the past winter and we’ll be using this information to press for more improvements in the management of fish eating birds in England and Wales. At one point, Cormorant Watch attracted the attention of wildlife groups and a few animal rights extremists, some of who suggested that it should be anglers, rather than cormorants, who should be shot! The issue flared up on Twitter, demonstrating the sensitive nature of discussions around predation and fisheries. We have to tread a very careful line.

The Angling Trust has campaigned very vigorously over many years to improve the protection of vulnerable fish stocks from predation by cormorants and goosanders. In that time, 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. For the past few years, the number of cormorants shot has risen from below 2,000 per year to around 3,000, but Natural England has made it very difficult for fishery managers to control goosander numbers.

We continue to fight for an increase in the national limit on the number of cormorants that can be shot each year and a reduction in the evidence requirements to control goosanders which often results in applications being flatly refused. We have raised the issue repeatedly in letters and meetings with the Environment and Fisheries Minister, the Chief Executive of Natural England and the Cabinet Secretary in Welsh Assembly Government.

We recently took the head of the Defra Wildlife Management team on a site visit to the River Exe, where salmon stocks are being depleted by cormorants and goosanders eating smolts as they try and navigate the many weirs on the river. We have presented scientific evidence, gathered by the Atlantic Salmon Trust, that shows between 40-60% of salmon smolts are lost to predation as they make their journey down river to the sea. We will soon be representing anglers at a meeting with Natural Resources Wales to discuss how greater controls might be introduced to protect declining stocks of Welsh fish.

Our position remains that cormorants are now so common that they should be added 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. We’re currently working with Natural England and the Environment Agency to try and carry out some pilot projects in three river catchments to see what impact this would have.

Most of the cormorants we see in this country fly over the North Sea from the Baltic region, where numbers have increased dramatically in recent years. As the Baltic region becomes colder after the summer they migrate southwards. If there is a cold winter in mainland Europe, we experience a significant influx of birds in the UK. As a member of the European Anglers’ Alliance, the Angling Trust is working with angling organisations in these countries on a Baltic cormorant management plan to monitor the impact of the birds and to manage their numbers at sustainable levels.

Feedback suggests that this is one of the most important issues that nearly all of our members want us to get the authorities to resolve. We are aware that not all of our members feel the same way, and a small minority feel that we should concentrate instead on campaigning and legal action to tackle pollution, water levels and habitat damage. Our ultimate objective is of course to address all of the environmental threats to our fisheries, and we have won many battles in recent years at a local and national level. However, there is a long way to go, and we believe that in our heavily-modified natural environment there is a very good case for managing predation by fish eating birds at sustainable levels, so we will keep fighting for sensible, proportionate action to protect fish populations, many of which are under severe threat.

Our Cormorant Campaign – from 2009 to present
Since its conception in 2009, the Angling Trust has been campaigning to make it easier for fishery managers to protect their precious fish stocks from cormorant predation and for greater control of these extremely damaging fish-eating predators. We continue to believe that the best outcome would be for cormorants to be included on the general licence as long as the conservation status of the birds is not threatened. However, we have not been able to persuade ministers to adopt this approach which is why we are pressing for the best possible outcomes within the licensing framework.

Pressure from angling organisations and angling-related businesses initially saw a previous government introduce a limit on the number of cormorants licensed to be shot of 2,000, with a temporary increase to 3,000. Since then, the work of the Angling Trust since then has led to fishery managers applying for a far greater number of cormorant licences.

In 2012 we launched Cormorant Watch – a data-gathering website where anglers could log sightings of cormorants, in addition to goosanders and red-breasted mergansers – other highly damaging fish-eating birds. Thousands of anglers took part and registered over 120,000 sightings, which gave us a much better understanding of the abundance and distribution of cormorants in England.

The Angling Trust used the information generated from Cormorant Watch to convince the government to change the way cormorant licences work in England. This reform saw the introduction of the Area-Based Licence system, which have reduced bureaucracy and costs for hard-pressed fishery managers and angling clubs. Furthermore, our campaign resulted in the government funding two full-time Fishery Management Advisors to be employed by the Angling Trust to help fisheries and clubs nationally with licence applications and with non-lethal control of predators. The introduction of Area-Based Licences has been welcomed by those participating in these schemes.

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Cormorant damaged carp - 275px

Two examples of fish badly damaged by goosanders and cormorants, respectively. Neither game nor coarse fish are safe from avian predation.

The next steps
While some tremendous progress has been made, the Angling Trust recognises that cormorants are still causing huge damage to fish stocks throughout England, and also in Scotland and Wales. Cormorant populations in the UK have continued to grow and consequently we feel that the time has arrived for the number of cormorants licenced to be shot in England alone to be at least doubled to 6,000 birds annually. In his letter to the Angling Trust in 2013, the Fisheries Minister George Eustice MP promised to review the upper limit licensed to be shot if evidence of demand could be demonstrated. 2016/2017 represents the second consecutive winter of licences exceeding 3,000 birds, and consequently the Angling Trust believes that this condition has now been met.

The Angling Trust is very concerned about the damage being done to fish stocks by goosanders, particularly to declining salmon and sea trout stocks. The licence application procedure for goosanders is much more bureaucratic that the current regime for cormorants – evidence of damage must be shown before a licence to shoot can be granted, and this is near-impossible to prove with only 283 birds being licensed to be shot in 2016 despite many more applications. We believe that a far simpler process for licensing the control of goosanders is now required.

Cormorant Watch 2
The Angling Trust has written to the current Fisheries Minister, George Eustice MP, to demand a doubling of the number of cormorants licensed to be shot in England annually to 6,000 and for the removal of requirements for evidence that goosanders are damaging fisheries before a licence will be issued. This letter was sent to coincide with the launch of Cormorant Watch 2, which we used to gather new data about the abundance and distribution of cormorants and goosanders in England, Scotland and Wales.

The Cormorant Watch website is now closed! Thank you to everyone who took part and recorded their sightings.

The Avon Roach Project
The Angling Trust's cormorant campaign has been run in close collaboration with the award-winning Avon Roach Project. Trevor Harrop, who started the project, explained: "It’s hard to believe it’s six years since we started the call to have the cormorant licensing law changed to a more reasonable, acceptable and effective policy. We have worked extremely hard and unremittingly and have achieved an element of progress, but we need much more movement on the current woefully inadequate licensing regime.

The over-wintering numbers of cormorants in the UK continues to be one of the greatest threats to the wellbeing of our inland fish populations and indeed to the very balance of our wildlife diversity. They are unacceptably impacting on not only the general fish assemblage throughout the UK, but also on our designated species such as the salmon and eel, two of the most protected fish species in Europe, and that’s aside from my beloved roach, and we must continue to push hard to be given the right to protect our vulnerable fish populations, which, at the moment, we do not have.

Despite arguments about actual bird-count numbers, it is recognised that the very presence of cormorants is acceptable evidence of potential danger, so the relaunch of ‘Cormorant Watch’ will be the perfect data gathering accompaniment to our next stage of the ongoing campaign.
Now with the increased advantage of ‘Smartphone’ film and photo technology, it will be hard to ignore.

We continue to strive for further positive change, and will not give up. The fight must go on…"

The Angling Trust’s Cormorant Campaign is proudly supported by the Avon Roach Project, the Predation Action Group, the Carp Society and Fishing Megastore/Glasgow Angling Centre. We’re very grateful to them for their support. Further donations to help pay for the costs of political lobbying and this major campaign would be very welcome.

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