Today (11th August), an item was posted on guardian.co.uk titled ‘Anglers vs “the Black Death”: cormorants have the edge in battle of the riverbanks’.
‘… Fishing groups lobby to cull birds blamed for killing river fish, while naturalists argue for the use of non-lethal tactics -
Walk the four-mile stretch of the river Lea from Hackney Wick up to Tottenham Hale, and it is easy to forget that you are in London’s East End. It may be August but tangles of wild flowers can still be seen in the river’s surrounding fields. On the river, moorhens attend to chicks marooned on islands assiduously constructed out of twigs.
The many narrowboat owners who live on the Lea take advantage of the summer to repair their craft while rowers, urged on by their bicycle-riding coaches, guide single sculls through algae blooms and haughty swans. But something is missing from this English riverbank scene: anglers. There are almost none to be found, even on a sunny afternoon last Wednesday when throngs of fishing enthusiasts were out in force on London’s canals.
Chris, who appeared to be the lone angler on the Lea, was close to calling it a day. “I came last Sunday and got nothing and I’ve come back today for my second visit, but I’m just killing time,” he said in a soft Irish lilt. “It’s a nice spot, but there’s no fish. I don’t think I’ll stay much longer.”
He removed his sunglasses and flexed a well-tattooed bicep. “My friend told me not to come here because of the cormorants. I didn’t know what they were until last week. I know they’re not meant to be here: they’re seabirds, like gulls.”
Known to anglers as the Black Death, the cormorant is a killing machine that can swim two minutes underwater and diving 80ft. In China, fishermen hunt with trained cormorants, but in Europe the protected species is a hated rival, blamed for emptying rivers of fish.
Anglers have been petitioning the government to do something about the birds for more than a decade. But a perception that cormorant numbers are now out of control has resulted in a clamour for unprecedented action. Eleven groups, including the Angling Trust and the Salmon and Trout Association, are lobbying to influence a review by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) into the control of piscivorours (fish-eating birds) to be published at the end of the year.
The groups want the law changed so that cormorants can be killed under a general licence, similar to those issued for the control of crows or wood pigeons. They complain that current licences allow holders to kill only a handful of birds a year – not nearly enough when cormorant numbers over winter have increased from around 2,000 in the early 1980s to nearly 25,000 now.
Even this number appears conservative to some. The Angling Trust’s new Cormorant Watch website has logged close to 100,000 sightings of the birds. Anglers in Walthamstow Marshes close to the Lea say they often see 200-300 fly past them in just an hour.
But allowing cormorants to be culled like crows has alarmed naturalists. “This would be a new departure,” said Grahame Madge of the RSPB. “It would be the first time a provision had been made [to cull a species] for sport. The population of cormorants is far lower than wood pigeons, which are almost in their millions. If it were introduced, it would be difficult to monitor how many were being killed and it could result in the population being reduced.”
The RSPB is instead calling for anglers and fisheries owners to use non-lethal tactics to protect fish stocks.
“We tried scare tactics such as firing off a pistol, but that didn’t work,” said Dennis Meadhurst, secretary of Lee Anglers Consortium, which represents fishing clubs along the Lea. The consortium built reed beds and underwater cages to protect the fish from the birds, but with no success. Meadhurst said it had given up restocking the river because the cormorants, which alert each other to good prey, will simply descend on the new schools and devour them.
“We used to have lots of roach and dace and see gudgeon after gudgeon, but you hardly see any now,” Meadhurst said. “We used to take around £60,000 a year [in fishing permits] but then in 1996 the cormorants came in and that was that. We are down to around £15,000 now.”
Similar problems have been reported in the Lake District, Yorkshire, Kent and Scotland. Meadhurst, a birdwatcher, has no doubt what is responsible for the seabirds moving inland. “Commercial fishing has depleted the sea of fish stocks, because boats have been trawling too close to the shore. At the same time you’ve got farmers diversifying into fish farms for trout, offering cormorants free dinners all over the place.”
The migration inland has affected the birds’ diet. A cormorant needs around 300g of sea fish a day. But river fish are less fatty, meaning a bird will need to consume around double this amount.
The previous government increased the number of cormorants that could be killed a year from 500 to 3,000, a level that troubles the RSPB, which disputes claims the birds are responsible for a significant decline in river fish. “If there are cormorants at a site, most naturalists would say that means there are fish there,” Madge said. “If they were eating all the fish, they would decline in numbers. There is no science to back up claims the situation is getting worse, but anglers want to reach for the shotgun.”
Even the anglers think it unlikely the government will sanction a major cull. Meadhurst is gloomy about the prospects for the next generation of anglers. “You can’t teach them to fish when they know the float isn’t going to go under,” he said. “They just won’t be interested.” …’
Read the item and add your comment online at www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/aug/11/anglers-cormorants-cull