In January 2003 our long campaign for Government funding for fisheries protection measures from otter predation culminated in an approach to Government on the effects of otter kills on UK carp fisheries. This bid has been spearheaded by the Specialist Anglers Alliance on behalf of the NAA, and called for £ 250,000 pa on a ten year programme, to part fund the fencing materials we so badly need to guard against the incursions of otters. We centred on the fact that whilst the otter enjoyed full protection under EU and UK law, anglers had no means to prevent the damage they can cause.
Our approach has the backing of English Nature, The Wildlife Trusts, and the Environment Agency. Furthermore the EA are funding research to properly define the most cost effective methods of fencing, ready to advise fisheries on the best methods of preventing fish deaths.
The means to fund such fishery protection measures however is beyond the vast majority of water controllers.
The impact of otter predation continues to grow in prominence, as so graphically illustrated in the Angling Times on 9th and 16th March. The damage to the fishery concerned (Bigwood) received full publicity, with carp to over 40lb killed, but we can offer no means of preventing a reoccurrence at this or any other water across the UK. The situation will inevitably get worse as otters continue their recolonisation across the country.
Most otter kills do not of course get any publicity whatsoever, so at The Carp Show of 20th and 21st March we took a sampling of angler’s views. The main thrust was with a “petition” asking if anglers “supported our approach to Government for funding the fencing we so desperately need, in order to protect our fisheries from otter predation”. Not surprisingly one can guess the answer was an overwhelming “yes”. What was telling however was that we only intended to sample opinion, there were only two of us asking anglers each day to contribute to this over the two days of the exhibition, yet over 1,000 anglers signed up over the 7 hours or so of the show each day. Petition numbers can be misleading, but for this number to go along with us so easily is highly indicative of the strong feelings now prevalent within the sport that we are not getting fair treatment, and no-one argued against us.
Also, at the same time we conducted a straw poll asking if their waters had been hit by otters. We learnt of no less than 19 waters which have suffered significant fish losses, waters we had never heard of, over and above those named waters already in the public domain. Many, many large fish to 38lb have been killed. It graphically demonstrates that the publicised losses to otters are only a tiny proportion of the actual fatalities that are occurring. Fish of this size have a market value of £ 2/3000 each, and are also very difficult to replace.
Other mainstream sports can no doubt bring more political pressure to bear than we can, and other areas of public interest such as the Arts also capture enormous funding from the public purse, perhaps for a relatively small minority. That does not however change the fact that the impact of otter predation on anglers is an unfair and heavy burden, which will only increase over the coming years.
We would stress that anglers fully support the reintroduction of the otter, and welcome its return, but it is unfair to reintroduce a top flight predator into the managed environment that is Britain today and not anticipate the consequences. Fisheries should not be decimated in the process! Government funding for fisheries protection measures is imperative, and the NAA is calling on DEFRA for action.
Chris Burt, Vice President SAA (Specialist Anglers Alliance)
On behalf of the NAA