Labour’s angling spokesman Martin Salter, who is standing down at the General Election, has made a final call for better controls on numbers of otters and cormorants to ensure “a sustainable balance between predators and prey”.
In a letter to Fisheries Minister Huw Irranca-Davies, Mr Salter asked for a review of the current licensing agreements for cormorant controls so that “a higher number of birds can be shot”. On otters, Mr Salter pointed out the devastating affect that increased numbers of otters were having on smaller rivers such as the Bristol Avon and the Windrush in Oxfordshire, where barbel numbers have been hit hard.
“I note that the European Habitats Directive which provides legal protection for the otter does contain a derogation through which a licence can be granted “for the purpose of preventing serious damage to fisheries”. I understand that there are strict criteria in place but that Natural England is empowered to grant a licence to remove otters in certain circumstances. I am writing to ask whether or not the current legislation enables you to issue stronger guidance to Natural England so that where clear and unsustainable damage to fisheries is occuring as a result of otter predation then the derogation to control numbers will be activated.
It is, in my view, irresponsible in the extreme to maintain populations of apex predators such as otters where there are insufficient food sources available in their natural environment. We need to have sensible approach to whole ecosystem management with a sustainable balance between predator and prey. I look forward to your comments and to receiving clarification on the use of the existing derogation where a strong environmental case can be made”.
In reply Huw Irranca-Davies agreed to consider further review of the numbers of cormorants that could be shot in any one year and clarified the arrangements to obtain a license to prevent serious damage to fisheries by otters. He confirmed that no applications have been submitted in the last 5 years. He also agreed to meet with the Angling Trust to discuss the concerns of anglers over damage to fish stocks caused by both cormorants and otters.
Mr Salter said:-
“There’s been too much pussyfooting around on the issue of predation of inland fisheries by both cormorants and otters. I want to see proper control mechanisms introduced that deliver a sustainable environment with a healthy balance between predator and prey. It is irresponsible and unfair to allow certain species to wreak havoc on fish stocks due to an unsustainable lack of natural food sources. More Marine Reserves should mean more fish in our inshore waters and less need for the cormorants to come inland. A healthy eel and silver fish population is also vital if we are to sustain otters at sensible numbers. The current EU derogation must be explored as an option, after all it’s there for a purpose”.