AnglingTrust The voice of Angling

Specimen Hunting to End Soon!

Hugh Miles with 2lb 14oz roachI just love going fishing...and the great thing about fishing is it can be enjoyed by all - boy or girl, young or old, beginner or expert, regardless of race and beliefs....and our dedication to the sport also comes in many forms - coarse, fly, sea, game, carp, match, pleasure or specimen hunting. I guess I'm a specimen hunter, particularly of big roach, but let's face it, everyone wants to catch a "bigger one" and all forms of angling are meant to be a pleasure! So with all this common ground between us, it shouldn't be a problem for us all to work together to try to save our sport - should it!

I really fear for the future of our rivers and their wildlife because it seems we now live in a world of global extremes - the coldest winters, the deepest floods, the driest droughts ....our local Hampshire Avon now the lowest in living memory. My pal Chris Yates has a well in his garden that is used to measure the river's groundwater supplies and this last year it was bone dry from August to November. Just before Christmas it had only two feet of water when it should have had twelve feet. Ten feet of missing water throughout the river's catchment is a lot of water. We are abstracting,  using and wasting far too much water and it is going to get worse, for without water our rivers will die, along with all the wildlife that depends on them. Put simply, no flow means no weed, no fly life, no food for fish, silt building up and suffocating fish eggs and eventually, no recruitment means no fish.

If we add to this very real scenario a serious imbalance between predator and prey and us "specimen hunters" face a bleak future. The recent colonization of lowland Britain by cormorants from Northern Europe is having a disastrous impact on our freshwater fish stocks. The first cormorants bred inland in 1981 and a British Trust for Ornithology survey in 2005 estimated the population minimum to be 2,096 breeding pairs. Each pair can lay up to six eggs so there's every chance that at least 6,000 young cormorants are added to the predator vs. prey equation each year. Cormorants probably require a pound of fish a day to survive so simple maths implies that as much as 10,000lbs of fish are eaten by cormorants every day! Even if they eat only half that amount, the figures are incredible ....and totally unsustainable.

Us specialist anglers probably feel this isn't an issue because our big fish are immune to cormorant predation, but when these old fish eventually die, there will be insufficient young fish to replace them. Big fish specialist Martin Bowler has already raised the alarm by saying that most of the "impossible" targets we achieved in our series "Catching the Impossible" are indeed now truly impossible. Predation, old age and lack of recruitment have seen to that. So what can we do?

Firstly, us mad keen anglers must applaud the Angling Trust for taking up the cormorant issue with Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, along with the authorities that should be protecting our rivers and lakes. Secondly, all us members of Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB can alert them to the crisis, for without fish there will be no fish eating birds and eventually that favourite of the public, the otters will die too.

However, I'm ever the optimist and believe that by helping each other we can avoid the day when there are no big fish left alive. So let's all fight the problem together and prove our dedication to the sport by joining the Angling Trust. It's a small price to pay for the best chance we've got.

Hugh Miles

4th January 2010

Inspired by his grand-dad, Hugh Miles started fishing at six and grew up in the watery Fens. Nine years in the BBC Film Unit, followed by five years making films for the RSPB, then over thirty years as a freelance, Hugh has made over one hundred films, including BBC 2's 'A Passion for Angling' and more recently CH 4's 'Catching the Impossible' (DVD and book available at He is now making films for angling and wildlife trusts...and trying to go fishing more often!

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