Angling Trust and Salmon & Trout Association campaigners were joined by celebrities Chris Tarrant and Feargal Sharkey when they presented a 16,000 signature petition organised by the Avon Roach project to Richard Benyon MP on Wednesday (22nd Feb). The petition called for action to limit the devastating impact of the UK's rapidly increasing cormorant population and its effect on inland freshwater habitat and ecosystems.
Scientists have calculated that each cormorant needs at least a pound of fish a day to survive, and there are now an estimated 23,000 non-native invasive cormorants over-wintering in the UK from Holland, Denmark and other parts of Europe compared to a couple of thousand in the 1980s. This means that at least 23,000lbs of our freshwater fish get eaten EVERY DAY throughout the winter - a total and unsustainable loss of 2,760,000lbs of fish every winter causing damage to our native bio-diversity.
The petition has been organised by the Avon Roach Project headed by Trevor Harrop and Budgie Price and ably assisted and supported by internationally renowned wildlife film maker Hugh Miles who are working to try and re-establish healthy roach populations in their local river Avon after heavy cormorant predation contributed to numbers crashing to critical levels between Salisbury and Christchurch. Their efforts are strongly supported by the Angling Trust as the single representative body for angling in England and the Salmon and Trout Association.
DEFRA fisheries minister Richard Benyon has ordered a review into the current ineffective and bureaucratic licensing regime that allows for limited controls on the numbers of cormorants and other fish eating birds. The review group is expected to report in the summer.
Martin Salter, former parliamentary spokesman for angling and now National Campaigns Co-ordinator for the Angling Trust said:
"The Angling Trust was pleased to be able to take anglers concerns to the heart of government. Richard Benyon knows that we have a serious problem and hopefully this petition will strengthen his hand within government when it comes to introducing new control measures. Mr Benyon recognises that our rivers are suffering from over-abstraction, habitat loss and diffuse pollution. Freshwater fish stocks cannot withstand the rapid growth in numbers of cormorants that we have seen since they were given special protection under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act."
Avon Roach Project co-ordinator Trevor Harrop said:
"We've seen the numbers of cormorants increase at an unimaginable rate. We simply could not stand by and watch as the last of the small and fragile populations of roach was decimated in our local Hampshire Avon, one of the country's most iconic rivers. We are really grateful to everyone who signed our petition and feel that it is important to get our message to those who can make a difference."
TV host and lifelong angler Chris Tarrant says:
"It has taken an absurdly long time for people to realise the damage to fish populations, other wildlife and the whole environment that cormorants have been doing for too many years. Many of our finest, most beautiful and most famous waterways have been skinned by these predatory birds.
Some of the flocks are enormous and the current regulations are hopelessly inadequate to control them. Whole fisheries have been virtually wiped out, resulting either in jobs lost or thousands of pounds spent in restocking.
In other instances once thriving waters are now virtually devoid of fish, a situaton which threatens other bird populations like the kingfisher and the grebe. It is time to redress the balance before it becomes too late."
Wildlife Film maker Hugh Miles added:
"Non native cormorants have invaded our freshwater rivers and lakes from Denmark and Holland and threaten to wipe out our fish. Scientific estimates reckon that 23,000 visit here for the winter and that they each need one pound of fish a day to survive. That's 23,000 pounds of fish EVERY DAY. This adds up to a total of 1,200 tons of fish in four months, twice the total annual production of the largest trout farm in the UK. This level of predation is totally unsustainable and a direct threat to the survival of our precious bio-diversity".
The petition calls on the government to place cormorants on the general licence allowing fishery managers and angling clubs to better protect their fisheries from excessive and unsustainable predation. The campaigners will also be handing a letter to Mr Benyon and a report entitled 'Bio-Diversity in Danger' which demonstrates that there is no viable alternative other than to allow the legal right to defend our native fish populations against this non-native invasive predator.
The current Cormorant licensing regime is woefully inadequate as it stands. Therefore, we the undersigned call upon the Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries to change the licensing law and include the Cormorant on the 'General Licence', allowing the legal control of Cormorant numbers where they pose a threat to fish populations. In so doing, this will allow the vital link in the food chain to be maintained, and the protection of not only our freshwater fish species, but also species such as Kingfishers, Grebes, Bitterns, and more. We should have the right to protect our environment, but the current law does not allow this.
Chris Tarrant and Feargal Sharkey join the Avon Roach project petition handover
to Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon outside DEFRA offices