Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Cormorants - new hope for our waters..?

There was fresh hope for Britain's cormorant-ravaged rivers and stillwaters tonight as the government announced a review of cormorant control.

Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon announced the move after lobbying by the Angling Trust and fishery owners.

The Trust said it would be pressing for "rapid progress" on the issue. It said the review should take account of:

Angling's £3.5bn contribution to the economy;

The impact of cormorant predation on endangered eel stocks, estimated by Defra to be up to 43 tonnes a year during the breeding season. Eels have declined in number by 95pc in the past two decades;

The impact of avian predation on already threatened salmon stocks – which on some rivers removes half of the juvenile fish leaving the river before going to sea as smolts;

The cost to taxpayers of the current licensing regime, which involves significant bureaucracy and expensive site visits from Natural England staff;

The fact that fisheries which are successful in applying for a licence are normally only allowed to shoot two or three cormorants; many have twenty times this number present on their fisheries;

The lack of accurate data on cormorant, goosander and merganser numbers and the impact of local controls on national populations;

The need for a review of the effectiveness of other methods of control – many of which are required to be tried before licences are granted – such as bird scarers, fish refuges and scarecrows and to consider providing funding to support their deployment by stillwater fisheries;

In a statement today, the Trust said it would be inviting members to provide examples of the impact of cormorants, mergansers and goosanders and how their angling and fish stocks have been damaged, and to report their experience of the current licensing regime by post or to

"The Angling Trust will continue to campaign for urgent action to tackle problems with fish populations caused by pollution, over-abstraction, habitat damage and barriers to migration," it said.

"Many of these problems make cormorant and other avian predation much worse by reducing natural fish population growth and making it harder for fish to escape predation.

"Weirs, for example, often force fish to move up and downstream through very narrow channels, which make them very vulnerable to being eaten at these points.

"Similarly, many flood defence works remove overhanging vegetation and other cover from rivers, under which fish would naturally hide."

As the apex predatory fish in most waters, pike have often suffered from the knock-on effects of cormorant predation - as have other fish-eating birds such as kingfishers and grey herons.

Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd said: “Anglers are conservationists at heart and do more than any other group to protect our rivers and lakes by providing funding and voluntary labour to conservation and restoration initiatives and by reporting pollution incidents.

"However, until our rivers and coastal fish populations are restored to good health, we must be allowed greater freedom to control local populations of cormorants, goosanders and mergansers where they are impacting on fish stocks."

While anglers from all walks of the sport will hope their voice will be heard, not everyone shares their enthusiasm.

The RSPB's conservation director Mark Avery claimed enough powers were already in place to control cormorants, in a blog post which accused some anglers of being "a bit bonkers".

"Fisheries and almost-everything-else Minister, Richard Benyon, is coming under pressure from fellow fishermen to allow culling of cormorants in their breeding season," he wrote.

"We work closely with fishermen on a range of issues such as the Severn Barrage, river pollution and the Water Framework Directive but some of them are a bit bonkers.

"No you don't need extra powers to cull cormorants - you have plenty of unnecessary scope already. We hope that in his busy job, Mr Benyon has time to be sensible on this issue."

Mr Benyon told the Express: “As a keen fisherman I understand the concerns of the angling community but these must be balanced with protecting the birds’ conservation status.”

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