Tuesday, 2 August 2011

New hope or a cosmetic exercise..?

Are they finally going to let angling clubs and fishery managers protect their waters..? That's the question many pike anglers will be asking tonight, after Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon announced a review of the impact of cormorants, mergansers and goosanders and the effectiveness of current control measures.

Research out late last year showed that despite limited culling, cormorant numbers were on the increase.

More than 2,000 were culled in 2010, according to Swansea University. But overall numbers have increased from 18,000 in the mid-1990s, to a current estimate of 21,000.

Dr. Dan Forman, the academic who led the study, said cormorants can destroy a fishery. He said eight birds can kill 100 fish in one session, while the birds will return three or four times a day to a water and gorge themselves until stocks are exhausted.

The introduction to the latest review (full copy here) says: "It has been established, and broadly accepted across the EU, that cormorants can cause significant damage to fisheries and fish farms."

It goes on: "The review will also look at the current licensing system to see how this might be better tailored to customers' needs and consideration will also be given to the level of licensed lethal control currently available to fishery managers and landowners to manage fish eating birds. "

Anyone wishing to cull fish-eating birds currently has to apply for a licence from Natural England. Despite a complex form to fill in and the need to be able to prove that birds are having an adverse effect and other non-lethal methods have failed, officials estimate around 10pc of the cormorant population is culled annually.

But Natural England allow 2,000 cormorants a year to be culled because this number will not impact on the sustainability of the birds' overall population - this rationale echoes the EU Wild Bird Directive, whose interpretation in UK law states any cull must not threaten the "conservation status" of the species.

Factor this in, and it's clear the latest review might not have much scope to increase the numbers of birds being culled. Cynics might even see it as a cosmetic exercise unlikely to result in anything more than minor tweaks to the licensing procedure, such as a shorter form to fill in.

Buried in the Defra document announcing the review are a number of exclusions - options which have already been ruled out. The first states: "A national cull is not being considered for any of the three species as this would likely result in a long term decline in their population and would be inconsistent with the Birds Directive."

On the other hand, you might see the data gathering exercise which has been going on for some months as a sign that there could at least be some change in the wind. The Angling Trust has clearly had a steer that it needs to back its claims up with evidence - hence the website where anglers can report coromorant sightings. Click here to visit Cormorant Watch.

Another encouraging sign is Bruno Broughton - a senior fellow of the PAC - is one of three stakeholder advisors, along with Mark Owen from the Angling Trust. The other is Sarah Eaton, from the RSPB.

US State of Michigan agrees increased control measures - click here.

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