Fishery managers and anglers have praised the decision by Richard Benyon, the minister of Natural Environment and Fisheries, to replace the existing bureaucratic and completely inadequate process of licensing the control of cormorants with a catchment-based approach, which allows for the control of predators based on local needs, as opposed to the current inconsistent national limits. The Angling Trust’s Action on Cormorants campaign benefited from high profile celebrity and political backing. Among those backing the campaign was TV presenter Chris Tarrant.
Over the past three years the Angling Trust has invested a large amount of time and energy campaigning for fishery managers and angling clubs to have the ability to protect their fish stocks from attacks by cormorants.
Cormorant numbers have grown so massively since the 1980s that the survival of many fish stocks was being severely threatened. An example of this could be found on the Hampshire Avon, a river once highly regarded for its stocks of specimen sized roach. Surveys conducted by the Environment Agency have noted a virtual disappearance of these fish in the central reaches of the river where predation by cormorants is at its highest. Salmon smolts, whilst attempting to make their return to the sea have been alarmingly depleted across many rivers endangering the successful recruitment of new fish in future years. Fishery businesses in rural locations have found their livelihoods attacked as a result of unsustainable predation.
Whilst full details have not yet been made clear the main elements of the area-based system will include:
* no more arbitrary national limits on the amount of birds to be shot
* the appointment of three regionally based advisers whose role it is to support fishery managers. These roles will be funded by Defra
* cormorant populations to be assessed yearly, by catchment
* the scheme will continue for as long as the conservation status of the cormorants are not threatened.
In his letter to the Defra review group Richard Benyon made his determination to protect fish stocks obvious, 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.’
The Angling Trust published a 10,000 word ‘Dossier of Destruction’ during the review process, illustrating the damage that the increase from an original figure of 2,000 over-wintering cormorants to nearly 30,000 has had on angling clubs, fisheries and rural businesses. On the Angling Trust’s ‘Cormorant Watch’ website there has been over 80,000 recorded sightings of the birds by members of the public.
Mark Lloyd, the Angling Trusts Chief Executive explained in their press release that over the last 25 years cormorant levels have seen a 15–fold increase and that fishery managers and angling clubs found that they were losing fish stocks on an unprecedented scale. These businesses had become increasingly frustrated with the exiting legislation stating they were only allowed to shoot a handful of the predatory birds each year. It was then that the Angling Trust pushed for the review of the rules.
‘We’re delighted that we have won a major decision from the government…to announce realistic predator management measures,’ Mark is quoted as saying, ‘and will work with them to find a sensible balance between birds and fish in each and every catchment.’
Martin Salter, Angling Trust’s Campaigns went on to say that these new rules meant that fisheries within the UK were now able to provide a safe environment for both young fish and threatened species.
Mr Salter went on to express his gratitude to not just Richard Benyon, but all the other MP’s, from all parties, who lent their support to the campaign. Special thanks were also given to numerous members of the public who lobbied their local MP by sending in a special postcard produced by the Angling Trust. Mr Salter then went on to explain that the challenge ahead was for everybody to carry on working together to help make the scheme a success.
The decreasing roach stocks in the Hampshire Avon river became focal point of the Action on Cormorants campaign with 16,000 people signing the Avon Roach Project petition. This petition was presented to Richard Benyon in February 2012 by a delegation of high profile angling enthusiasts including Chris Tarrant, Feargal Sharkey and the wildlife film maker Hugh Miles who said ‘At long last we are seeing some sensible concessions to save our valuable fish life from the tragedy of unsustainable predation by cormorants.’
According to the Environment Agency angling in England & Wales is worth over £3.5 billion to the economy annually and has generated almost 40,000 jobs. Rural businesses have welcomed the news from the Government regarding increased controls of fish-eating birds.
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