Anglers and fishery managers have today welcomed the decision by the Natural Environment and Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon to replace the current bureaucratic and wholly inadequate system of licensing the control of cormorants with a new catchment-based approach which will allow for predator control based on local needs rather than arbitrary national limits. The Angling Trust’s Action on Cormorants campaign received high profile political and celebrity backing including from TV presenter Chris Tarrant.
The Angling Trust has invested a huge amount of time and energy over the past three years campaigning for angling clubs and fishery managers to have the right to protect fish stocks from predation by cormorants.
Bird numbers have exploded out of control since the 1980s to the point where the survival of many fish stocks was being dangerously threatened. For example, on the once famous Hampshire Avon Environment Agency surveys have shown a virtual collapse of roach in the middle reaches of the river where cormorant predation is the highest. Salmon smolts attempting to return to the sea have been dangerously depleted in many rivers endangering successful recruitment in future years and rural fishery businesses have seen their livelihoods threatened as a result of unsustainable predation.
Although details are yet to be fully clarified, the main features of the catchment-based system look set to include:
* an end to arbitrary national limits on numbers of birds to be shot * three regional advisors to be appointed to support fishery managers, funded by Defra * cormorant numbers to be assessed annually by catchment * as long as the conservation status of the birds are not threatened, the scheme will continue annually
In his letter to the members of the Defra review group Richard Benyon made clear his determination to protect fish stocks saying: ‘We must balance how inland fisheries and aquatic bio-diversity can be protected from fish eating birds in an effective, proportionate and timely way.’ During the review process the Angling Trust published a 10,000 word ‘Dossier of Destruction’ illustrating the impact that the increase from 2,000 to nearly 30,000 of over-wintering cormorants has had on fisheries, angling clubs and rural businesses. There were 80,000 hits on the Trust’s special Cormorant Watch website recording sightings of the birds.
Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd said:
‘Back in 2010 the Angling Trust persuaded Richard Benyon to review the hugely-bureaucratic rules which have completely failed to protect fisheries and wild fish stocks from the dreadful affects of a near 15-fold increase in cormorant numbers in the UK over the last 25 years. Time after time we had reports of angling clubs and fisheries whose stocks were in real trouble only being allowed to shoot a couple of birds a year when literally hundreds of these lethal predators were wreaking havoc on the local fish stocks.
‘We’re delighted that we have won a major decision from the government this week to announce sensible predator management measures and will work with them to find a sensible balance between birds and fish in each and every catchment. The current situation had got completely out of control and real action on cormorants has been long overdue.’
Angling Trust Campaigns Chief Martin Salter added: 'This is looks like being really good news for both angling and fisheries and is a tribute to years of hard work by many people who were not prepared to stand idly by and watch our fish stocks being decimated by squadrons of cormorants, many of which are European birds not native to the UK. At long last, those of us who care for the nation's fisheries will be given a chance to deliver a safer environment for young fish and threatened species.
‘We are particularly grateful to Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon MP, his Labour predecessor Ben Bradshaw and all the other MPs from right across the political divide, including our colleagues in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling, who have supported this campaign. Thanks must also go to everyone who sent off one of the 100,000 postcards produced by the Angling Trust to lobby their MPs and to our friends in the angling and countryside media for regularly highlighting this important issue. Now the challenge is to make Mr Benyon’s new scheme work so that our fish get a fighting chance to survive and breed.’
George Hollingbery MP, Chair of the APPG on Angling said:
‘I particularly welcome Richard Benyon’s insistence that it was perfectly possible to produce a scheme that allows for greater and more effective control of cormorants without endangering the conservation status of either birds or fish. I hope everyone will now get behind what is an entirely sensible approach based on the needs and challenges in individual catchments.’
The declining roach stocks of the Hampshire Avon became a centrepiece of the Action on Cormorants campaign with a 16,000 petition from the Avon Roach Project being presented to Richard Benyon in February 2012 by a delegation that included celebrity anglers Chris Tarrant and Feargal Sharkey and wildlife film maker Hugh Miles.
TV presenter Chris Tarrant said:
‘At last we seem to have a government minister who is prepared to take action to enable angling clubs and fishery managers to protect our vulnerable fish stocks from unsustainable predation by squadrons of these lethal predators whose numbers have expanded incredibly over the last 20 years'.
Trevor Harrop from the Avon Roach Project welcomed the news saying:
‘We are delighted by this announcement, and see it as a victory for common sense. Now, we look like having the right to protect our vulnerable and endangered fish populations, the work we do through the Avon Roach Project to restore the river’s natural fish population stands a far greater chance of succeeding.’
RSPB member and award winning wildlife film maker Hugh Miles added:
‘At long last we are seeing some sensible concessions to save our valuable fish life from the tragedy of unsustainable predation by cormorants. This follows years of hard and dedicated work by the Angling Trust and many others and represents a real triumph for all those who have contributed to the campaign.’
Environment Agency data shows that angling in England & Wales is worth in excess of £3.5 billion to the economy and generates nearly 40,000 jobs. Rural businesses have warmly welcomed the Government announcement on greater controls of fish-eating birds.
Adam Fox-Edwards from the Arundell Arms in Lifton, Devon, the premier game fishing hotel in the South West said:
‘It is important that both the public and politicians realise the huge economic value of both our fish and fisheries. Cormorant numbers have spiralled out of control in recent years and it is vital for businesses such as ours that a sensible balance is restored.’