Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon MP announced yesterday a review of the current licensing regime for cormorant control at an Angling Summit, attended by 30 angling and fisheries organisations. This announcement followed a letter to the Minister from the Angling Trust last November, calling for action to be taken to protect stillwater and river fisheries which are suffering significant losses as a result of cormorant predation.
The impact of cormorant predation on endangered stocks of freshwater eels (estimated by Defra to be up to 43 tonnes a year during the breeding season), which have declined in number by some 95% in the past two decades;
The impact of avian predation on already threatened salmon stocks – which on some rivers removes about 50% of the juvenile fish leaving the river before going to sea as smolts;
The fact that more than 75% of water bodies are failing to meet the standards set out in the Water Framework Directive – many of these due to poor fish populations;
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;
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will invite the Angling Trust, as the representative body for all anglers, to contribute to the development of the scope, remit and delivery of the review, which have yet to be decided.
The Trust will be pressing for rapid progress on this issue, and for the review to take the following into account:
The contribution of angling to the local and national economy (estimated by the Environment Agency to be about £3.5billion each year);
The need to develop a UK-wide policy in synergy with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
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. 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.
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."
He continued: “We will be providing our member angling clubs and fisheries with practical guidance about how to apply for licences and other measures they can take to protect the fish on which their societies and businesses depend. We hope that this review will result in much greater freedom for anglers to manage the environment themselves, at less cost to the taxpayer.”
The Angling Trust, along with fisheries charities and angling industry groups, made representations to the Minister at the Angling Summit about:
the importance of managing marine fish stocks for sustainable recreational benefit which generates economic benefits rather than damaging commercial fishing which is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer;
proposals for delivery of fisheries and angling management by the voluntary and charitable sector rather than the Environment Agency;
the damaging impacts of hydropower on fisheries and its minimal contribution to renewable energy targets;
- the importance for all fish species – coarse and game – of the removals of barriers to migration;
- the vital need to implement the Water Framework Directive;
- the potential role of anglers in managing invasive non native species;
- the impact of predators on fish stocks in a managed environment.
A further day-long summit will be held in late March, with 150 invited attendees, which will consider the economic, social and environmental importance of angling and the contribution anglers and fisheries conservation bodies can make to delivering the big society agenda.