Sunday, 17 April 2011

British Waterways pledges to stop killing pike

FOI: Part of the paper trail over the BW pike cull

British Waterways has promised to stop killing pike on the canals it controls in the Midlands.

It comes amid revelations more than 100 fish were killed, after fears that one waterway had been illegally stocked with pike sent officials into a panic.

Rumours of a pike cull on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal began circulating in January. More than 100 fish to 18lbs were said to have been removed from the Minworth stretch by electro-fishing.

Alerted by local anglers, we decided to take a look. Documents obtained by the PAC using Freedom of Information (FOI) laws confirmed nine electro fishing operations had been carried out since February 2010.

A spreadsheet supplied by British Waterways showed that in March 2010, 150 pike totalling 350kg in weight were removed from the Birimingham & Fazeley.

The same document showed that some 100 pike were removed from Chasewater and transferred to Tarddebigge Reservoir in April 2010, while a further 90 pike were removed from the Birmingham & Fazeley and relocated to Cudmore in January 2011.

FOI is a powerful tool when it comes to investigating the actions of the public bodies which control our waters. When requested, they are obliged to release internal correspondence and other papers.

Sometimes they are reluctant to do this. Documents released to the PAC showed local anglers who rightly wanted to know what was going on behind closed doors were fobbed off.

Senior officials tried to wriggle off the hook. First they didn't have the information to hand. Then it would cost "thousands" to collate it.

But when a complaint landed on the desk of the Waterways Ombudsman, British Waterways soon caved in.

In an e-mail dated February 24, 2011, Carl Nicholls, BW's fisheries and angling manager, confirmed the details of the cull carried out in March 2010.

"British Waterways was contacted by two angling clubs on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal between Minworth and Curdworth with reports of large numbers of pike suddenly appearing in this stretch of canal," he wrote.

"Both clubs are long-standing on this water and other waters beyond this length and had never reported problems with pike. A number of rumours were also going around at the same time of a significant number of pike being illegally dumped into a Birmingham canal.

"In March 2010 we carried out an electro fishing survey to see if there was any truth in these rumours and the angling club's concerns. It was immediately clear that there were significant numbers of pike present in this two mile pound [pound = stretch of canal....].

"Due to the problem these pike were causing to both the angling club members and present silver fish stocks we decided immediate action should be taken.

"Having no health check or Section 30, it would have been illegal to have moved them to another water. We removed 150 pike for 350kg which were taken to Billingsgate."

Mr Nicholls's note adds that last October, 30 pike were removed from the same stretch of canal for a health check, which came back clear. In January 2011, a further 90 pike were removed - but this time, the fish were transferred alive to another water.

Questioned over the possible source of the pike which had suddenly appeared in the canal, Mr Nicholls said: "We never found out where the water was from where these pike were supposed to have come from. It was all rumours and hear say, but what was certain was the total number and sizes of the pike were not natural for a canal.

"The fish were very pale in colour, stumpy and their markings were not typical of canal pike, but of fish that hunted more in open waters."

This story has a happy ending - as they sometimes do, when pike anglers stand up for their fishing and refuse to be fobbed off.

The complaint to the ombudsman found its way up the food chain to John Ellis, BW's national fisheries manager. In his response, he stated had officials known how many pike they were likely to find when they elctro-fished the canal, they would have carried out a health check so they could relocate the fish elsewhere.

"You will be pleased to know that since then, British Waterways have come to an arrangement with a private fishery whereby they are willing to accept any pike in the event of there being a need to relocate them," said Mr Ellis. "As a result please be assured that British Waterways will no longer have to kill any pike."

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