At a meeting in Tewkesbury on Wednesday, the Angling Trust and the Environment Agency agreed a plan for managing the presence of a seal in the lower River Severn, acknowledging that the seal is causing a localised impact on specimen fish such as barbel and chub and is potentially impacting on salmon, shad and lamprey in the Rivers Severn and Teme.
Angling's representative body, the Angling Trust, has therefore agreed an action plan with the statutory agency to address the short term problem of the seal in the river and to identify longer-term solutions.
The plan comprises the following:
- The Environment Agency recognises the actions fishery owners can take to protect their fisheries. It has agreed to provide the necessary authorisations for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue to use a net in the river with the intention to remove the seal humanely and return it to the marine environment where it belongs. This approach will only be possible if a regular pattern of behaviour can be established, and even then involves substantial practical challenges.
- If this does not prove possible, then the Environment Agency has agreed to support the Angling Trust, working with its member clubs and riparian owners on the river, with trials of Audio Deterrent Devices (known as 'Scrammers'). This will occur if the seal is reported being present in a particular location where fish congregate for any length of time, such as below weirs and on spawning gravels, where it might be impacting on fisheries.
- The Environment Agency has also agreed to work with Natural England to seek the relevant permissions for the deployment of these devices by trained volunteers from local angling clubs.
- The Angling Trust and Environment Agency have agreed to carry out research into the feasibility of a permanent acoustic deterrent to prevent further seals entering freshwater in future. This technique has been deployed successfully in Sweden and Seattle on salmon rivers.
- Subject to such a deployment being found to be feasible on the River Severn, and the existing seal leaving or being removed from the river, the Environment Agency will seek to contribute funding and technical assistance to the deployment of a permanent solution.
- The Angling Trust will hold a Regional Forum meeting in the autumn to discuss this long term solution with its members and to launch any fundraising initiative that might be required.
Anglers and members of the public are urged to report all sightings of the seal to email@example.com to help identify patterns of behaviour. There have been no reports of the seal's movements for over a week.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust said: "Local anglers have been very concerned about the impact of the seal on fish stocks and fishing and we have received a large amount of correspondence from members on this issue. We welcome the Environment Agency's recognition of the impact on the specimen fishery and that its officers have agreed to work closely with the angling community to identify workable short and long term solutions."
Dafydd Evans, Area Manager for the Environment Agency said: "We recognise the concern by anglers of the impact on specimen fish and that fishery owners can take action to protect their fishery. We will work closely with the angling community to investigate practical solutions to deter predation by seals"