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Amongst the many challenges faced by fisheries today, predation has increasingly arisen to the forefront of popular discussions. It was only last weekend whilst watching Countryfile that I viewed a short piece discussing the relationship between angling and predation being broadcasted to the nation. The discussion of the factors were brief, but any coverage of the matter can only be positive. Encounters with species such as Otters and Cormorants are a modern day reality; the anglers’ pursuit of fish is unequivocally shared with these predatory species.
As anglers, it can be all to tempting to point the finger of blame at the species in question. However to do so we provide opponents of fishing with a plentiful supply of ammunition against our pursuit. As a fishery manager, I see my role as a caretaker of the environment I am responsible for. This includes all aspects of the ecosystem. Predation is a component of a much wider system, and we must all take responsibility for its stewardship.
What would you rather eat, an all you can eat buffet or a single leaf of lettuce? Predators will consume the most plentiful prey. Fisheries are increasingly stocked well beyond their natural carrying capacity to meet the expectation of paying customers. This is not to suggest that anglers are solely responsible, fisheries are equally involved. Fish welfare is all to often sacrificed at the expense of a pound note, something I’m firmly against. There are numerous means at our dispersal to find a balanced answer to the question.
All to often we see images in the angling press or on social media showing the stark reality of fish predation. An ‘Ottered’ Carp is an all to familiar sight, or a flock of Cormorants roosting beside our favored fishing spot are both clearly upsetting prospects. The history of a thirty or forty pound Carp can all to easily be destroyed in a single mouthful, or a prized match fishery decimated over a single winter. In isolation these events are upsetting, but when considered on a wider scale the damage occurring is colossal. We’ve experienced first hand the devastation of Cormorant predation on our own match lake. It was only this winter whilst surveying the stocks that it became apparent that stock below four pounds had been severely predated. Financial costs aside, this is not an experience we ever wish to repeat. Protection must hence be central to future efforts.
All parties engaged in fishing need to be mindful of the risks. There are to many documented cases to simply ignore the matter, the cat is already out of the bag. By utilising non-lethal measures, fisheries can protect their stocks. Simply killing an animal doesn't solve the problem, you've simply created a gap in the ecosystem which will be fulfilled by the next predator. By protecting a fishery utilising a multitude of measures, you can prevent predation before it has even occurred. It is for this reason why we have invested in a multitude of bird scaring measures including gas guns, kites and scarecrows. We have also purchased fish refuges which will be installed over the winter months to provide sanctuary for juvenile stocks. We are not suggesting that this will erradicate predation across the complex, but it will provide a sustainable solution to the problem.
Personally, I would prefer to see greater collaboration between organisations, charities and private enterprises to find sustainable solutions. Individuals can only solve the issue of predation at a local level, it would be far more effective to create regional and national solutions to the increasing issue of predation.