Otters – A Wider Perspective

The otter below can be seen by appointment at Blakewell Fishery where they are working with the UK Wild Otter Trust.

I visited Blakewell Fishery recently where I met Dave Webb a founder of the UK Wild Otter Trust. It is fair to say that in recent years the otter situation has been contentious in some areas with anglers and otters with their natural predatory instincts causing concern. As an angler I always take delight in catching that rare glimpse of an otter and have some good memories of encounters beside the Rivers Taw and Torridge. The otter population in the South West is I believe far healthier than it was a few years ago but this cannot be said of fish populations in some of our rivers. The European eel population has plummeted in recent years and the eel was one of the otters prime sources of food.

The increase in otter populations has coincided with a decline in some natural habitats whilst at the same time there has been a growth in commercial fisheries providing recreational fishing for anglers. When an otter stumbles upon a well stocked pond it feasts on the expensive fish that are precious commodities for the owner and anglers that fish there. The sensible solution to this is to erect otter proof fences around the lakes. Costly but necessary to protect valuable stocks of prime fish. The more contentious area is on rivers where barbel and other coarse fish are present and otters are blamed for decimating stocks.

I do not have in depth knowledge of the issues or of the nature of otters and can see both the view points of conservationists and anglers and fishery owners who seek to control the otter population.

In my view otters and anglers require healthy rivers and habitats and every effort should be made to address the environmental issues that decimate our rivers. The rivers should maintain a healthy  enough stock of fish for both otter and angler.

I asked Dave if he could share information about wild otters to improve understanding of the issues. He kindly agreed and sent me the following informative and balanced article.

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August 2019

CAPTIVE BREEDING PROGRAM OF THE EURASIAN OTTER (Lutra lutra) & ITS EFFECTS

We have been engaging recently, sometimes quite fiercely but always emotively with the Barbel anglers. Agree or not, the rivers that hold Barbel amongst other fish species have been subject to many factors thus causing a decline in Barbel stocks primarily but also other fish & wildlife. The captive breeding program started by Phillip Wayre of the original Otter Trust in Norfolk did not exacerbate this issue as some believe

The original otter Trust was established in 1971 and during the 1950’s otters were presentthroughout Britain. Despite the banning of chemicals, by the late 70’s the only healthypopulations were to be found in Wales, Northern & South West England. Organochlorines were the main cause for decline as it affected the reproduction systems within the otters. A survey of almost 3,000 one time positive sites for otter presence was re-surveyed and only 170 positive sites were found. Whilst the spraint surveying method is only a geographical indication, it did indicate that otters could be dropping in numbers geographically, so whilst the project had some consultation missing, it did play an important part and helped to shape otter conservation for the future

Whilst there were relatively few actual releases made in the grander scale of things (thought to be 130 from the Otter Trust and a further 49 from the Vincent Wildlife Trust)

The first 3 captive bred otters were released in 1983 to the River Blackwater in Suffolk and by 1996 there had been captive bred releases to Suffolk, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Rutland, Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, and Cambridgeshire and to the Upper Thames area. The Otter Trust closed in 2006 as it was then proven to be a successful program in terms of otter conservation. One of the issues surrounding the captive releases is that as far as can be seen, there was no thought given to the sustainability of the rivers that they were being released into but this would have proved difficult to assess correctly. Unfortunately, where such rivers are NOT sustainable (and that is approximately 76% of the rivers in the UK at present) and then an apex predator like the otter is returned there, then that can have a devastating impact on the existing fish stocks. The problem, in particularwith Barbel stocks is that there are indeed plenty of large fish that have grown on … butthere is not the smaller fish coming in behind them and this is due to poor water quality, habitat, otters, cormorants and uncontrolled invasive species particularly mink and signal crayfish. Coupled with this, the eel population is known to have diminished by some 90% so UKWOT would most certainly support the banning of commercial eel harvesting as more

eels in rivers can only be good for otters as we are all aware that the Eurasian otter prefers the eel in preference to any other fish species due to its high protein content.

First and foremost, we are an Otter Trust ourselves and are not associated in any way to the original otter trust, but we recognise & acknowledge that there were some important and much needed input & thoughts not put into this program. We cannot say that the captive bred few that were released did not have any impact on fish stocks in rivers orStillwater’s because there was an impact albeit in our view a smaller impact than could have been. During the captive program, otters were still breeding and without doubt the captive program helped to secure that progress in areas that may otherwise have struggled. Was the captive program necessary? Hindsight is a wonderful thing but in our opinion andknowing what we know now I don’t think it would have been needed and that it would havebeen better to let the population regenerate naturally. Of course, they could have held some in captivity ready for a breeding program if at any time the wild population was categorically & scientifically proven to be at an all-time low and by monitoring the actual issue as opposed to the knee jerk reaction that was taken. One thing that irritates me personally, is the lack of importance shown by people in not worrying about how many we do have – how can we actively promote the protection of a species if we don’t know how many exist? Population estimates are done via spraint counting and recording but this tells us nothing apart from the geographical range of the otter, which in itself is important but it does not give us any idea as to numbers

How can we say that the captive breeding program was needed at that time because wedidn’t know numbers then and we don’t know now? Equally, how can we say that it was notneeded then? … it is without doubt that the Eurasian otter population have recolonised naturally, but even given the fact that the population did recover naturally after the banning of organochlorines, it may also have struggled so the captive program did have a place. We still rely on old data and number estimates of 12 – 15,000 …. That was then, and we know that they are now in every county so how can we still rely on that figure which personally I think is very inaccurate. It seems to me that some 40 years later, we are still in denial – that must stop. We are still making mistakes – that must stop. Otter groups AND angling groups need to present to the public as professional organisations to gain support to safeguard angling and otter conservation. Perhaps during the captive breeding program, the technology was not around but what I do firmly believe is that there was without any doubt a serious lack of consultation and impact studies carried out. There should have been full media coverage of the plans, there should have been full consultations with river keepers, beat keepers, and lake owners as their input would have been invaluable.

There should have been ongoing impact studies and pre-release monitoring of the proposed release sites. There should also have been post release monitoring to establish that the welfare of the released otters and the existing populations would not be affected in any detrimental way. Its now easy to sit back and criticise how or what was or should have been done then but we are talking now – otters can, and do cause huge financial and emotional issues for many. We must now learn from the mistakes of the past and work together to improve that. If we are unable to work together, both anglers, fishery owners, Barbel

anglers and otter organisations then we should consider hanging up our otter boots and fishing rods for good because the sport of angling will be lost as would one of the most important species of the UK.

The EA often get blamed for this and as far as I am aware, they were not in favour of a captive program originally. The other thing that is very clear and rightly so, is that the Eurasian otter is here to stay – being one of our native species it rightfully, has a place amongst our wildlife and therefore it is important that anglers understand that a cull will never work and that energy should be channelled into riparian habitat restoration to give the UK back healthy, sustainable rivers that will happily hold plentiful fish stocks, predators and the facility for sport fishing.

REHABILITATIONS OF INJURED/ORPHANED OTTERS

Whilst we know that many would like to see the banning of otter rehabilitation centres, a cull or farmers right to shoot for angling we know realistically that those suggestions are absurd and will never happen and nor should they.

Rather than call for banning the actual rehabs we need to concentrate on regulating the ones that are released after rehabilitation periods. It would be impossible to ask the Government to ban the caring of one species and not the other.

  • Rehabilitations should be logged at point of collection and ongoing care should be recorded to include behavioural traits in that particular animal
  • Proposed release sites during rehab should be monitored and assessed for any potential issues that may impact or prevent the final release
  • There should be a second release site agreed in case the original one gets filled by a transient otter
  • Releases should be recorded and only done providing the area is vacant or to the best of the monitoring process will allow
  • All records and data should be made available to anyone with a vested interest in those releases
  • Any otters taken in for rehab that display any humanised traits, (and some do naturally) should be held in captivity to ensure their welfare (this does already happen but it needs to be regulated)
  • All aspects of collecting, caring and the eventual release program should only be carried out under licence
  • Importantly, any subsequent releases should involve full consultation with any fisheries or river keepers for that specific area. This need not be grid referencespecific but at the very least information given such as “a Female otter is being released on the River Otter within 5 miles of your fishery” This would enable thefishery to prepare should they not have suitable protection in place. This would be more difficult for the Rivers but it is as equally important that they also know of releasesSUMMARY INFORMATION

Some avenues believe that the otters are churning out many cubs …. In reality, otters arenot sexually mature until approximately 2 years of age. The average lifespan of a wild otter is 5 – 6 years old which has been discovered via post mortems carried out at Cardiff University by teeth analysis. As the cubs stay with the Female for approximately 12 to 18 months, it is likely that they only have one litter in their lifetime. Furthermore, they are capable of having 1 – 5 cubs, 3 being the norm of which it is probable that only 1 or 2 will survive.

There were once self-sustaining fish stocks in many of the rivers and it should be noted that it is recognised that this is no longer the case for many of our rivers. Combined with a 76% fiqure of rivers being environmentally unsustainable for fish stocks, other wildlife will suffer if we do not work on improvements. With the contact that UKWOT have with many angling groups and fishermen, it is clear that the success of the otter has not played a hand in this decline but we need to accept that fisheries and rivers will continue to suffer with or without them as an apex predator. We all know and understand that scientific data to support this is important however, it is real and it is happening and being reported by those on the banks. Otter groups need to be supporting this initiative as the otter, relies on fish stocks being sustainable and rivers being healthy – without that, the otter faces a very bleak future as the otter relies on fish stocks being good as part of its dietary requirements

It is further important for all otter groups and supporters to acknowledge that the otter does cause financial and emotional impacts and as such can provide social media sites with a contentious difference of opinions. We should not under any circumstances hide behind old data or denial as this will prove counterproductive for the species in the long run and we try to be transparent and open and supportive of those that suffer predation. Only then will we gain trust to progress and only then will we be able to work together for the future of otter conservation and angling

The UK Wild Otter Trust would not support any action towards a cull, farmers rights, reduction in numbers because the dynamics of otter control is not easy, nor would it be effective. This is why we need to concentrate on the river sustainability to ensure that they will hold all species and predators and then, otters will indeed find that natural balance that is very much required. This will ensure that we have healthy, sustainable rivers full of prime fish and apex predators such as the otter along with a varied list of other wildlife. It is clear to me that this is not just about otters or angling alone, but a bigger picture is paramount to success in the way in which we move forward and the way in which we change peoples perceptions of angling and anglers perception of otters by working together

UKWOT have invested huge amounts of time and effort to work with anglers and fishery owners to reduce predation at their waters. Fencing for stillwaters is still perceived to be an expensive option but it should be seen as part of the business plans. It can be very costly to have fencing installed to protect against otters in particular, but here at UKWOT, we can offer advice on installing fences, the costs, the labour, the best ways to protect and itneedn’t be as expensive as some think. We are happy and committed to visiting as many lakes as we can to provide support and advice and even labour to help where we can. We

make no charge for this as its important to us that both sides work together to make effective change

Dave Webb

UK Wild Otter Trust – Founder
IUCN Otter Specialist Group Member
Otter Predation & Fishery Advisory Group – Senior Board Member
Otter Welfare Advisory Group – Citizen Science/Board Member
IFAW International Fund for Animal Welfare – Conservation in Action Award Winner 2017 Otter Advisor to the Ornamental Aquatics Trade Association

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The views expressed within are solely that of the Author and do not represent the views of

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other organisations

ARTIFISHAL – A Thought Provoking Film

ARTIFISHAL is a thought provoking film that everyone should see that has concern for the natural world.Be Informed :-
Open net fish farms threaten the survival of wild fish including Atlantic salmon, sea trout and Arctic char but governments are not doing enough to address the problems. Instead the industry is set to expand exponentially in the pristine fjords of Iceland and continues to grow at alarming rates around Norway, Scotland and Ireland – using massive open net pens that allow the free flow of disease and pollution into the surrounding environment where wild salmon are struggling to survive. In the last 40 years, the population of Atlantic Salmon has dropped from 10 million to 3 million and if we fail to protect their habitat they could soon become an endangered species.

The film will be introduced by Wayne Thomas and screening will start at 7.45pm the film will be followed by an interactive discussion. Wayne will also give details of his new book on angling in North Devon with the opportunity to purchase signed copies.
Note 50% of profits will be donated to the River Torridge Fishery Association. Tickets £5.00 on the door.

Hinkley Threat to Fish Stocks in the Bristol Channel

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The building of Hinkley Point Power Station will undoubtedly have an adverse effect upon the Environment but as with all things there is a bigger picture and I am not qualified to know whether nuclear power is better overall than alternative sources of energy production. The financial cost is undoubtedly enormous. I read in The Times on Saturday how it is predicted that the cooling water intake could kill many thousands of fish each day potentially decimating fish stocks. This is obviously extremely worrying not only from an angling perspective but also from a conservation angle.

In addition to the many species of sea fish within the area there are also migratory fish that pass this point including threatened species including, salmon, shad, lamprey and eels. I am sure that measures can be put in place to minimise the impact on fish but it would seem that cost cutting could sacrifice these measures. The Short term savings could lead to the long term extinction of some species with irreparable damage to the marine eco-system.

Below are links to the EA consultation documents. I urge those who care to take a look and respond.

https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/psc/ta5-1ud-nnb-generation-company-hpc-limited-2/supporting_documents/Application%20Variation%20Additional%20Document%20Item%205%20%20TR493%20The%20Effect%20Of%20Not%20Fitting%20An%20AFD%20System%20At%20HPC.pdf?dm_i=3O4M,NBZP,D3ITS,2HHQM,1

https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/psc/ta5-1ud-nnb-generation-company-hpc-limited-2/?dm_i=3O4M,NBZP,D3ITS,2HHQM,1

ARTIFISHAL – The Road to Extinction is Paved with good intentions

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On August 31st I will be introducing the acclaimed film ARTIFISHAL at the Plough Arts Centre. For details see link below. Profits from the showing will be donated to the River Torridge Fishery Association to promote conservation work on the River Torridge. The event is supported by River Reads specialists in Angling Books and signed editions.

https://www.theploughartscentre.org.uk/event/artifishal

PATAGONIA RELEASES DOCUMENTARY AND LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO HIGHLIGHT THE HIGH COST OF FISH HATCHERIES, FISH FARMS AND HUMAN IGNORANCE.

Patagonia has released ARTIFISHAL – an illuminating 80-minute documentary film by Liars & Thieves! that explores the high cost – ecological, financial and cultural – of our mistaken belief that engineered solutions can make up for habitat destruction. The film traces the impact of fish hatcheries and farms, an industry that hinders wild fish recovery, pollutes our rivers and contributes to the problem it claims to solve.

Executive produced by Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard and directed/produced by Josh “Bones” Murphy,ARTIFISHAL brings into sharp focus the plight of wild fish due to hatcheries and fish farms. The film takes us inside hatcheries in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, where we witness the conditions of factory fish farms as well as the genetically inferior, dumbed-down salmon they churn out in massive numbers. At a wrecked net-pen farm outside of Cyprus Island, WA, nets swing in the tide after more than 240,000 diseased, drugged factory fish escaped into the wild population. In a beautiful fjord near Alta, Norway, the underwater destruction and disease caused by an open-water fish farm are seen firsthand as activists record the devastation. And along the Elwha River in northwest Washington State, we track the return of wild fish after the largest dam removal project in the United States, later learning that after spending 320 million dollars to remove dams and restore wild fish, the river is once again home to hatcheries.

“Humans have always thought of themselves as superior to nature and it’s got us into a lot of trouble. We think we can control nature; we can’t,” notes Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia founder. “Fish farms and open netpens only treat the symptoms and not the causes of the problem. If we value wild salmon, we need to do something now. A life without wild nature and a life without these great, iconic species is an impoverishedlife. If we lose all wild species, we’re going to lose ourselves.”

The European campaign, which runs alongside the launch of the film, Artifishal, is focused on the fish farm industries in Iceland, Norway and Scotland.

The majority of European salmon farms are in Norway and Scotland where they have been wreaking havoc on coastal ecosystems. The planned expansion of the industry into Iceland’s pristine fjords using open netpens is extremely concerning. Governments are not doing enough to ensure that wild salmon and their habitat are protected from the devastating impacts of these farms.

From March 28th, Patagonia is teaming up with NGOs in these key countries to call for a moratorium on new open net salmon farms and a phase out of existing ones as soon as possible.

Open-water fish farms are driving wild fish to extinction around the world. Protect wild fish and the species and communities that depend on them.

Conserving grey mullet

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A fellow Combe Martin Sea Angling Club member contacted me recently asking me to write a few words about grey mullet and why they should be given more respect.

I have put a link below to the National Mullet Clubs page that gives plenty of scientific data explaining why the grey mullet is so vulnerable so I suggest you read through that after reading my personal comment.

I started fishing for grey mullet during the early 1970’s whilst on holiday with my parents in Looe on the South Cornish coast. As a teenager who also coarse fished I found the grey mullet that haunted the harbour a great challenge and relished the hard fight they gave on the light tackle used. When I returned home to Combe Martin I was amongst a small number of anglers who targeted the species from many marks around Combe Martin landing numerous fish to over 4lb. Even back then I only kept the occasional fish for the table as fresh mullet from the sea do make good eating. I am ashamed to admit that I also killed fish to weigh in at competitions something I have not done now for at least ten years.

Whilst I believe anglers should have the right to take the occasional fish for the table I no longer do so. I value the fact that mullet provide exciting sport and whilst they can be  very frustrating to catch at times they are also one of the most satisfying fish to catch.

I have seen a dramatic decline in numbers of mullet in some areas and know that the fish are very vulnerable to overfishing. I visited Alderney in the Channel Islands on several occasions when mullet where prolific and grew to a large size. From what I hear there has been a dramatic decline on this Island and on the nearby Island of Sark that we fished over several seasons catching several specimen mullet and glimpsing fish far larger.

James Thomas with a Sark mullet

In the past grey mullet were often overlooked by commercial fishing but dwindling stocks of other species due to overfishing has increased interest in these fish. Grey mullet are very slow growing fish not maturing to breeding size until close to ten years old. The fish also return to the same haunts year on year making them extremely vulnerable.

If you value the sport that mullet provide then please return them carefully to the water. If you don’t value them don’t fish for them.

I have memory’s of sad days in the past when I witnessed the despicable act of snatching mullet using large treble hooks. To see these fine sporting fish impaled on hooks dripping blood was a sad sight and gave genuine anglers a bad name.

When fishing for mullet handle the fish with care. Unhook carefully use a weigh sling or plastic bag to weigh the fish and don’t let the fish flap about on the rocks where they can dislodge scales increasing the risk of infection.

Talking mullet

http://www.thenationalmulletclub.org/Vulnerability_and_Over-Exploitation_of_Grey_Mullet_in_UK_Waters_v2.pdf

Summary

The current need for management measures as the consequence to the gross overfishing for bass can be argued in exactly the same way for grey mullet – the factors which make the bass population

vulnerable are not only applicable to grey mullet but arguably apply in even greater measure to them:

  • Mullet aggregate to spawn in areas that make them very easy to find and exploit.
  • Grey mullet have a very slow growth rate and mature at a relatively old age.
  • A proportion of the mullet population may only spawn every two years.
  • They are very easy to net in harbours and estuaries especially with monofilament gill nets.
  • They have high site fidelity resulting in fished-out areas being slow to recover.
  • Minimum landing sizes are either non-existent or inadequate.
  • No other management measures exist as they have always been considered to be of limited

commercial value.

  • Commercial fishing is increasing due to the restrictions on bass fishing and that they are

targeted as a means to justify a high bycatch of bass.

  • As commercial fishing increases, the stock decreases leading to increased value which further

increases fishing pressure.

The available data on the populations of the three native UK grey mullet species (Chelon labrosus, Liza aurata and L. ramada) is limited compared with that for more southerly populations (which tend to be faster growing and earlier maturation). However, enough is known to conclude that their slow growth and late maturation will not support high levels of commercial activity, as is evident from the large decline in catches, both commercial and recreational, and other evidence. Tulkani (2017) argues that there are no quotas set and there are no management plans currently in force to regulate either fishery. Clearly future research work should focus on providing the biological data required for the development of sustainable exploitation plans. As research takes time, which grey mullet arguably have not got, then the precautionary principle should be that rigorous measures are taken now to severely curtail, if not eliminate, commercial activity.

Statement from the mullet club

We at the NMC believe these are special fish. As a recreational species they are enigmatic, a challenge worthy of any angler’s attention and fully deserving their reputation as the ‘British bonefish’. Mullet take over ten years to mature, live over twenty-five years, and migrate hundreds even thousands of miles returning to their previous haunts year after year. Their lifecycle makes them extremely vulnerable to overfishing; evidence shows this is already happening as commercial and recreational landings shrink as commercial effort increases.

Thin Lipped grey mullet

RIVER TAW FISHERIES ASSOCIATION AGM

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The River Taw Fisheries Association held their Annual General Meeting at High Bullen Hotel on Friday March 23rd. Chairman Alex Gibson reported on the 2017 season when approximately 286 salmon were landed and 214 sea trout. The statistic that immediately raised concern was the dramatic drop in sea trout numbers. It is to be hoped that this is one of nature’s cyclical fluctuations and not something more sinister. The good news was a healthy number of brown trout reported by anglers from the Taw catchment.

RTFA – Chairman Alex Gibson

High Impact Enforcement Officer Paul Carter gave an update on the latest news regarding netting bye laws and proposed regulations to safeguard future salmon stocks. He emphasized the importance of anglers reporting any potential pollution’s or illegal fishing via the Environment Agency’s hotline: – 0800 807060.

Anglers are encouraged to respond to the latest consultation regarding the proposals. Via the following link:-

https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/fisheries/proposed-national-salmon-byelaws/

There was some encouraging news in that redd counts on the Upper Taw had been encouraging compared to recent seasons. South Molton & District Angling Club gave valuable help to carry out observation on the River Bray under guidance from Paul Carter and plan to carry out an annual redd count from now on.

Bill Beaumont, Senior Fisheries Scientist, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, gave an enlightening talk entitled;
“Salmon and Silt-A Recipe for Disaster”. Whilst much of the data presented was from the River Frome in Dorset it had a great deal of relevance to our own local rivers. There is an acknowledgement that marine survival is a major factor that we have little control over. For this reason the focus needs to be on ensuring the salmon and sea trout have a healthy habitat in which to breed. Farming practices are a key concern with silt run off, insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers all ingredients that can cause significant damage to  the river environment. Education is a major factor in this area with retaining what is put on the land beneficial economically. What is the point in spending thousands of pounds on treatments to see it all wash off into the river?

There are numerous ways that farming practice can be modified to protect the waterways. Including catch crops to bind the soil and keep it in place, ploughing across slopes and fencing to reduce cattle access to the river.

The basic message is that we need to clean up our act. Find the problems, identify the causes and discover the solutions. To do this we need political will power to provide finance. Education combined with financial reward for good practice. This has to be backed up by enforcement ensuring that there is a significant cost to breaking the rules.

Bill Beaumont’s in depth presentation highlighted many issues that can impact upon salmon and sea trout. Mapping the migration of adult salmon and sea trout and parr and smolts is vital in understanding where losses are highest. With this knowledge targeted effort can bring success stemming the decline in these iconic migratory fish.

A few issues highlighted included; Marine – By catches of smolts, Over-fishing of food fish, Competition for food from herrings etc, Marine temperature change. Freshwater – Variable spawning success, Predation from birds, fish, mink and otters, Water abstraction, less flushing of gravels, Land-use (as previously mentioned),

http://www.gwct.org.uk /fishing/research/

Chairman Alex Gibson highlighted widespread concern amongst members regarding the potential breaches of compliance at many of the areas sewage treatment works. With increasing housing development within the region there is undoubtedly a need for significant investment to ensure that wastewater is adequately treated. Once again if any potential pollution’s are observed then the E-A hotline 0800 807060 should be used.

Anglers are at the forefront of conservation on rivers and are in a position to spot indications of issues unlikely to be detected by general members of the public. Guests at the meeting included members of the River Torridge Fishery Association who work hand in hand with the Taw fishers on many issues common to both rivers that share the same estuary mouth. An area of grave concern is the Northam Landfill site where coastal erosion is threatening to release many tons of potentially toxic material into the lower estuary

The AGM was closely followed by the associations annual auction that is a significant fund raising event in the calendar. All monies received help fund vital work on the river system including surveys and improvement work by the West Country Rivers Trust.

The evenings events and coming season are always debated in great depth during the delicious meal that follows.

Angling Practices questioned?

I occasionally receive emails from members of the public in relation to my weekly angling column and always try to answer in a polite and informative matter. I recently received the below email from Robert Durrant a non-angler who has undoubtedly taken an interest in my weekly column. His inquiry relates directly to sea angling and the killing of fish. I will let you read through the exchange of emails below and I will add a few comments at the end.

Wayne,
Every week in the Journal you write about vast numbers of fine fish, targeted for sport and brought to weigh-ins.
Many are species of shark which are endangered and protected.
Are all of these fish bought dead to the scales, or have these anglers moved into the 21st century and found ways to weigh specimens at point of catch without harming them and then releasing them live and unhurt back to the sea?
I wish you’d write more about such practices.
Best wishes,
Rob

Hi Rob,
Thank you for inquiry and prompting me to give more coverage on angling practices in relation to catch and release. Angling has progressed a long way in recent years and catch and release has become the predominate practice for all angling disciplines. In relation to shark the larger species are all returned alive to the water and in some instances are tagged to enable scientific research to track migration routes. Sadly many of the blue shark tagged are recaptured by long-liners in foreign countries where the fish are targeted for making sharks fin soup. Spurdog numbers have  increased dramatically in recent seasons as a result of a commercial ban on the species and all of those caught by boat anglers are returned alive.
Fortunately the practice of bringing dead fish to the scales is becoming a thing of the past with most anglers happy to weigh and return fish after a quick photo. You will notice that the vast majority of pictures I use for the Journal are on location and the fish returned alive. There are sadly a few clubs that have weigh ins where fish are brought to the scales due to a lack of trust amongst members. I do not think this will continue for many more years.
Salmon anglers now return over 90% of salmon caught, with no fish retained before June 16th. Bass are now catch and release only for recreational anglers, though this may be reviewed later in the year if scientific data determines it is possible.

I have no problem with anglers retaining the occasional fish for the table if stocks are healthy. But I have no time for killing fish for competition purposes.

I will write about the changing practices in a future Journal column and on my website. I do not know if you are an angler or have ever fished but I would point out that angling does engage people with the countryside and many anglers are keen conservationists who have a deep love of nature.

Best Regards,
Wayne

Hi Wayne,

Thanks so much for your courteous, informative, and encouraging reply, greatly appreciated.

It would be great if you could give more coverage to the enlightened practices followed by ethical anglers these days, as so much emphasis is given to weights and trophy specimens that it often seems that conservation of species and fish welfare comes a very long way behind.

I’m delighted that we see eye to eye about avoiding killing fish except for table use where the stocks are healthy.

I’m not an angler, though of course I’ve enjoyed a little sea fishing in my earlier years; but my interest stems from a particular awareness of marine conservation issues, where I have some involvement, from recording marine species found from the shore, and from diving. I’m very much aware of tag and release practices involving sharks, but little is ever mentioned about this in the media regarding local practices, or indeed in the publicity put out by local sea fishing operators. Maybe it’s just taken for granted; but it would be good to see greater emphasis on conservation and environmental issues.

Yes, I have noticed that most of the photos you use in the Journal do show the fish displayed apparently close to place of capture, but without confirmation that these specimens are not later hauled away to the scales elsewhere, it was difficult to be confident. Certainly friends of mine who have been involved with sea fishing clubs in the past have been nauseated at the pointless waste and indeed cruelty involved in these inland weigh-ins which used to be standard practice. I’m so pleased that in recent years things have moved on.

I hope that an emphasis on decent practices will help make those benighted clubs which still insist on weighing dead fish at the club’s scales realise that they have become social pariahs, whatever happened in the past and too often still happens overseas.

I look forward to reading your comments in the Journal, and your website too.

Thanks again for your very positive response.

All the best,
Rob

Hi again, Wayne,

Just been looking on the North Devon Angling News site. Lots of pics there of sea catches displayed on the beach or in the boat, but too many not good – one on top of the harbour wall at Clovelly, eg – particularly lots of sharks being dangled by their tails. Shark Trust handling guide very strongly emphasis that sharks must never be held up by their tails alone, and abdomen must always be supported. Otherwise, though the shark may be able to swim away after return it may very well die out of sight from internal injuries.

Maybe you could put out a warning that you will cease publishing pics showing bad practices? Would be a brilliant idea if boat skippers showed a bit more responsibility in guiding their clients correctly!!

All the best,
Rob

Hi Robert,
Thank you for your reply. Following on from our exchange of letters would it be possible for me to post the letters on my website followed by a brief article on conservation practices and changing times. I think using the exchange of emails would give a good introduction to the feature and demonstrate to anglers how non anglers view what appears in the media, It might also make people think a little more deeply. This will have more impact than me simply stating my views.
Best Regards,
Wayne

Hi Wayne,

Certainly very happy for you to do that, sounds a good plan.

I look forward to it.

Cheers,
Rob

I am an all round angler and fish for species in all disciplines of angling and I can understand Rob’s concerns to an extent as sea angling is to some degree less focused on fish welfare than Coarse  and carp anglers. To some extent this is due to the fact that Coarse Fish and Carp are valuable commodities stocked into lakes that cost the fishery owners considerable sums of money. For this reason fisheries have strict rules to safeguard the welfare of the stocks. The use of unhooking mats, antiseptic solution to prevent infection, safe rigs, barb-less hooks and the sterilization of equipment prior to fishing is common practice.

Anglers also embrace good handling practice because they value the fish and have a respect for their quarry. I fish for pike and know a good number of pike anglers who are very passionate about the pikes welfare preaching the use of correct tackle and the care needed to safely remove hooks.

Game Fishers who fish for salmon and sea trout now return the majority of fish caught and get very involved in protection of river habitat and even run hatchery projects to attempt to halt the decline in stocks of wild salmon and sea trout. When I first fished for salmon over thirty years ago the majority of salmon were kept for the table and I delighted in feasting on a wild salmon caught from a local river. I always felt a tinge of sadness though after administering the last rites and seeing the vivid colours of life drain from the vibrant flanks. Today I take far greater pleasure in seeing the occasional salmon I manage to tempt swim strongly away to hopefully complete their Journey to the spawning grounds.

Sea angling  I concede has been slower to move towards catch and release practice in part I suspect down to the vast and wild nature of the sea and the once misguided perception that fish stocks are not impacted upon by angling. There is only one reason to  kill fish and that is to eat it. At this point I will confess that I used to fish in local angling competitions and dispatch fish to bring back to the weigh in. I also killed fish to submit for specimen trophies. As time passed I and many other anglers grew concerned at this unnecessary slaughter. The Sea Angling Club that I have fished with over the past forty years now practices catch and release for all competitions. In modern times with quality scales and modern digital cameras and phones there is no reason to kill fish except for the table. Images of live fish at the waters edge are far more rewarding than a dead corpse held aloft in the garden or in a club house.

A quick photo of a smiling angler and this bass is released back to the estuary

As a child I gazed in wonder at the corpses of dead blue shark at Looe in Cornwall brought ashore by members of the Shark Angling Club of Great Britain. This club is now 100% catch and release promoting responsible angling practice that minimizes mortality of these magnificent fish. I have fished for shark on numerous occasions and thrilled at the power of these fish on the line. I have enjoyed the privilege of interacting with the shark and delighted in seeing them swim away. In some instances shark are tagged and this has proved valuable in scientific research tracking the vast migration taken by sharks. Sadly many shark are recaptured by commercial long liners who target the fish for use in shark fin soup.

Wasted carcasses on the quay – Looe in the 1960’s

Whilst sea angling has moved towards conservation there is room for increased awareness of good handling practice. Thought can be given to tackle used with circle hooks sometimes beneficial in reducing deep hooking. Tackle used should always be strong enough to give a good chance of landing the fish hooked. Fish should be weighed in a suitable bag or weigh sling and not hung up by the gills. When holding the fish for a picture it should be handled firmly and supported to reduce risk of damage to internal organs.

Kevin Legge returns a British record tope to the water.

As anglers we have a responsibility to show respect for the fish we seek to catch and to always show the pastime in a positive light. We should not judge past generations by today’s standards. Perceptions change and as we realise the fragility of the natural world we adopt more enlightened practices. I have always been a passionate angler and believe interaction with nature via angling has given me a deep bond with the natural world and an appreciation of the great outdoors. Angling in general is a healthy sport, good for both mental and physical health and an important social pastime that also bring huge financial rewards to local business via angling tourism.

Footnote –

Hi Wayne,

Thanks for the reference in your article this week, linking to the great article in your blog, which I found very helpful; and I most grateful to you for the very positive way you have responded to my approach to you. I am sure that many readers will be encouraged by what you have written; and I hope that it will nudge angling practices a bit further in the right direction.

Very many thanks, and best wishes,
Rob

Angling Trust Wyvern Region Fisheries and Conservation Report

Angling Trust Wyvern Region Fisheries and Conservation Report

by David Rowe.

The report has been compiled from information obtained where I have a personal involvement and from the various information issued by DEFRA, the Devon & Severn IFCA and the Angling Trust

Devon & Severn IFCA: – The Netting Byelaw Review has been completed and the proposed Byelaw is now in the hands of DEFRA and the Minister for a final decision. The time this part of the process has taken is unacceptable and to date, over nine months has passed between the submission of the completed review and a decision on its introduction. We understand that the lack of DEFRA staff and the Brexit negotiations have been cited as the cause for the delay it does not encourage the IFCA Staff and the voluntary members of the IFCA, who have worked very hard over eighteen months to get to this point.

The next activity to be reviewed is to be hand gathering, which covers some very diverse methods, from removing cockles, mussels etc, and spear fishing to bait gathering. The Marine Bill dictated that we have a fully managed fishery where it is inappropriate to remove large quantities of any species from the sea shore, such as the huge effort placed on the mussel beds in the Exe some years ago without consideration of its effects, we have, to consider every activity within and outside the Protected Areas.

Please do not run away with the idea that the sea anglers or the general public will have draconian measures to contend with, for that is not the aim, but rather to examine the need to introduce measures to protect the whole marine environment from large scale exploitation.

Sea Angling Zones: The three angling zones, two local to us, the Skerries Bank, and the Emerson Wreck in Torbay and in the Bristol Channel at Burnham, Berrow and Brean Beaches continue to be monitored. Since their introduction over two and a half years ago, many checks have been made and anglers interviewed by the IFCA Officers and a review is underway and we await the report which should be available middle 2018. It is expected that the report will show positive results for the angling community and I encourage all who use these areas to cooperate with the IFCA Officers and provide useful information to enable them to record a true picture of the activity within those areas.

You will be aware that the Angling Zones are operated under Codes of Conduct and whilst some have been sceptical about such codes, it is a DEFRA dictate to use codes of conduct wherever possible when management issues are being considered. However, when Codes of Conduct are unsuccessful or unsuitable, for managing an area or fishery, then further legislation may be necessary.

This could happen when the conditions of the codes are not being met, and as I have mentioned in earlier reports, pictures in the press or on social media of huge numbers of plaice caught by anglers from the Skerries Angling Zone, which includes the shoreline, when there is 10 place bag limit per angler per day will invite tougher legislation.

Emerging Live Wrasse Fishery:

At the last Wyvern meeting I reported on the Emerging Wrasse Fishery and the proposals to change the potting permit conditions passed by the IFCA in April, well! the measures are now in place. The wrasse is a very important species for the sea angler and up to now has had little or no value to the commercial sector other than for pot bait in some areas.

The changes to the potting permits to regulate the fishery are: –

A Fully Documented Fishery has been introduced whereby those potting permit holders who wish to engage in the live wrasse pot fishery are required to provide relevant fishery information to the Authority. This information must be provided in two formats and permit holders have to provide fisheries data through daily logbooks, to include the following information:

  1. Date and time of deployment and recovery of each string
  2. Start and end latitude and longitude of each string of pots hauled c. Number of strings fished d. Number of pots per string e. Number of times per day pots are hauled f. Number of each species of wrasse retained on board g. Number of live wrasse supplied direct to Salmon Farm Industry/Agent

This information from each fisherman has already enabled the IFCA to understand the location and level of effort and to provide more detail on the removal of the different species of wrasse and numbers retained. The D&S IFCA officers are undertaking on board catch surveys on a regular basis to observe the total catches and the fishermen are assisting to collect this data collection by allowing D&S IFCA officer on board their vessels.

  1. Pot Limitations A limit on the number of pots per vessel should is set at 120 pots, per permit holder, this would allow a viable fishery to continue at this level and provide greater opportunity for diversification amongst members of the fishing industry.
  2. Marking of Gear: Every pot used for the capture of live wrasse must be marked with a tag, that is issued by D&S IFCA, to allow for identification of the wrasse pots and aid compliance of the effort restrictions.

All strings of wrasse pots to be used to capture live wrasse must be marked with a buoy or dahn, and each buoy or dahn must be marked the letter ‘W’ together with the vessels PLN. To enable the wrasse pots to be identified. And the c. the Strings of pots used for the capture of live wrasse must be used solely for that purpose.

  1. Closed Season:

The period between 1st April and 31st June is closed to the live wrasse pot fishery because the Authority believes that a closed season will protect the spawning stock of each species of wrasse and allow for the sustainability of the stock of each species. A closed season, as a measure of management of the fishery, has been introduced in other live wrasse pot fisheries. From previous studies and research, the dates proposed reflect the main part of the spawning season for all five species and will support the continued sustainability of the fishery.

  1. Minimum and Maximum Conservation Reference Sizes

From information gathered on the biology of the five-wrasse species found in our district and to meet the demands of the Salmon farms, the Authority has introduced the following minimum and maximum conservation reference sizes for each species.

Min and Maximum Conservation Reference Size Rock Cook 120 230mm Goldsinney 120 230mm Corkwing 120 230mm Ballan 150 230mm Cuckoo 150 230mm

The fishery is being fully documented, and the 2017 fishery is well under way and comprises of four boats, all based in Plymouth all small boats some under 25ft, who are prosecuting the fishery catching the smaller wrasse. The Ballan wrasse is being supplied by the Weymouth and Cornish Boats although I suspect some of the Plymouth Sound Ballan’s may be landed in Cornwall, but to date there is no evidence of this. The monitoring is ongoing and in the Spring of next year the IFCA will consider the findings of the officers via their report and decide whether further controls are necessary to manage this new wrasse fishery.

The AT Marine Conservation Group and Devon Wildlife Trust have both launched a campaign to stop all commercial exploitation of the Wrasse, and this may be an admirable ambition supported no doubt by all. However how admirable these incentives are, and however popular with members, a total ban cannot be possible without consideration of the whole available evidence and that is exactly what the D&S IFCA has set out to obtain. If that evidence is strong enough it may well be possible that a total ban could be introduced.

Why introduce a Byelaw and not code of conduct for the management of the Emerging Wrasse Fishery?  I have been asked why the Devon and Severn IFCA decided to go down the road of a byelaw when other IFCA’s elected to introduce a Code of Conduct for the Wrasse fishery. I can answer this by saying that the “Southern IFCA who manage the Weymouth Wrasse Fishery and the Cornish IFCA, both who have had a wrasse fishery within their Districts for at least two years, have not felt it necessary to introduce stronger measures. They do not have the flexible legislative powers to do so because they prefer full byelaws to manage their fisheries.

They could bring in an emergency byelaw, but that only lasts, for I believe six months, when adequate evidence must be produced to warrant such action and collecting evidence of the impact on the fish stocks and the eco system would take time and much longer than 6 months to establish.

The Devon and Severn IFCA, very early in their Byelaw Review which was a direction of the Marine Bill on the creation the IFCAS’s, elected to go down the Permitting Byelaw route to manage fisheries within its District. It was felt that a single byelaw based on each activity, Trawling, Potting, Netting, etc, managed by permit conditions was a flexible, innovative and more effective way of managing its fisheries. The benefits are that whilst it takes forever to introduce a byelaw, ie. it must go through many processes before it is signed off by the Minister as experienced by the netting bylaw mentioned earlier, permit conditions do not. They can be varied provided that pre- laid down conditions are met which include a Risk Assessment of the consequences and full and inclusive consultations with interested parties. Once this has been done as with the case of the Emerging Wrasse Fishery, the permit conditions can be changed and the measures introduced within two months, three as a maximum.

Bass:- In December the EU will consider the BASS management measures for 2018 and already there are calls by the scientists for further measures, and here I am pleased to report that the AT Marine Conservation Committee along with the BASS Society have been very proactive taking the argument to DEFRA and the EU through the European angles Alliance, for tougher controls on the commercial sector whilst insisting that the recreational sector has a fair access to the Bass fishery. However, it is likely that the one bass per angler per day will continue to be a measure used to manage the recreational sector.

 

Sea Angling 2017

I again encourage sea anglers within the Region to take time to participate in the online study at

www.seaangling.org which runs for the rest of the year and to continue to cooperate with the studies, because if not our lack of participation will be interpreted as being that we are not interested and therefore unimportant. The old saying, you should be in it to win it, comes to mind and if what we have been saying for 25 years and more is correct, “that the recreational Sector deserves better recognition in the management of fisheries”, we must continue to cooperate.

Riverfly monitoring

The River Fly Partnership

 

“Riverfly Partnership tutors deliver one-day workshops to fishing clubs and other organisations committed to establishing a group to monitor the biological water quality of their local waters.

Anglers are natural guardians of the river environment, and are in an ideal position to monitor the health of the watercourses they fish, by using the riverflies they aim to imitate with their artificial flies. Many angling and other interested groups expressed an interest to be able to carry out health checks on their waters. The Riverfly Partnership spearheads an initiative to allow interested groups to take action that  will help conserve the river environment. This initiative provides a simple monitoring technique which groups can use to detect any severe perturbations in river water quality and puts them in direct communication with the local Ecological Contact of the Environment Agency (EA) / Scottish Environment Protection Agency – participating areas (SEPA) / National Resources Wales (NRW) / Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). “

            I joined a group of enthusiastic volunteers for a days training on the River Fly Initiative at The Fox and Hounds Country Hotel near Eggesford. The course was run in conjunction with the North Devon Biosphere and our tutor’s for the day were Matthew Edworthy from the North Devon Biospere and Izzy Moser from the Devon Wildlife Trust.

            The group of volunteers was a mix of anglers and members of the community with a passion for Devon’s wildlife. All understood the importance of a healthy river and how the river fly population can act as a natural barometer to its health. Fly Fishers of course have a long established link to a rivers fly life as it is these creatures that the anglers mimic when trying to tempt the trout that live within the river.

            It was observations by anglers that had helped to establish the vital link between the abundance of fly life and the richness of the river habitat. Observations over many decades revealed an alarming decline in fly populations. It was this that had lead to the River Fly Initiative.

            The sampling of a section of river and careful gathering of data relating to fly life populations is a proven way of detecting any decline in the river health. This can show up problems long before any fish kill or visible signs of an issue.

            The first part of the day was spent in the classroom where we were given a thought provoking briefing on health and safety and the risks we may encounter at the waters edge including the ever-present threat of Leptospirosis/Weils disease and lyme disease. We were then briefed on the identification of the fly groups we would be looking for within the river.

Caddisfly (sedge) larvae – Cased Caddis Caseless caddis

Up-wing fly larvae – Mayfly Ephemeridae  , Blue-winged olive, Flat-bodied Heptageniidae, olive Baetidae

Stonefly Larvae Stone Flies

Freshwater Shrimp Gammarus

 

The life cycle of these river dwellers proved to be a fascinating insight into the rich variety of the life within our rivers and as an angler for close to fifty years I was somewhat dismayed at my lack of knowledge. Though this was one of the reasons I had enrolled on the course as knowledge of the river life enhances each day spent by the waters edge fishing.

The previous night had seen heavy rain fall over much of North Devon resulting in a brown and swollen River Taw. It seemed that our all-important practical session would be impacted upon but fortunately one of our party owned a delightful property with a small stream running through its meadow. After lunch we all tramped down to the river with our nets and buckets. Along the way we were delighted to see numerous rare snakehead fritillary flowers in the meadow.

It was refreshing to share in the joy of messing around in the river with a group of like-minded people. Whilst the exercise had a valuable purpose I could not help but remember childhood days spent exploring a babbling brook. My angling life began with this fascination for rivers and the life within.

Izzy Moser, Devon Wildlife Trust and Matt Edworthy

The sampling method involves 3 minutes of intense riverbed kicking and a minute of rock turning. This resulted in several buckets full of river life and detritus to take away and analyze.

To our delight it soon became apparent that we had struck upon  a rich vein of river life with all our target species present in good numbers. Sorting the fly larvae into their respective groups proved a fascinating exercise and there were plenty of enthusiastic exclamations as various larvae were revealed.

We returned to the Fox and Hounds for a briefing on logging our data and how this vital information would be used by the Environment Agency to monitor river health. There is of course a political background to this citizen science for a significant reduction in funding means that those that care about the environment have to get out there and work for the protection of the riverside habitat. It is my belief that the rivers are the arteries of our green and pleasant land. As an angler I of course have an additional link to the river in that I cast my line into it in the hope of connecting with its fish.

 

http://www.riverflies.org/rp-riverfly-monitoring-initiative

 

           

 

SAVE OUR SEA BASS

posted in: Sea Angling, Sidebar | 0

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Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

An appeal to all anglers from the Angling Trust

Readers of North Devon sea Angling News
Please act now to to stop bass netting and get a fairer deal for sea anglers. Sign the petition and share on your Facebook page.

The Angling Trust is pressing hard to secure a better outcome for threatened bass stocks at the crucial forthcoming meeting of EU fisheries ministers on December 12th.
Across Northern Europe, sea bass stocks are in deep trouble because of commercial overfishing and the repeated failure of politicians and fishery managers to follow scientific advice and introduce the necessary conservation measures. The Angling Trust and Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S.) have pressed hard for a ban on bass netting and we fully support the EU Commission’s proposals for 2017 for a sustainable and well managed recreational and commercial hook and line only bass fishery.
Last year’s disproportionate restrictions on anglers and increased commercial catch limits were bad for bass, bad for coastal businesses, bad for the tackle trade and damaging to our sport. The Commission’s proposals would not only see the removal of the damaging bass nets, which also kill sea birds, porpoises, dolphins and seals, but the introduction of a more flexible monthly bag limit for anglers. This would be good news for the struggling charter boat fleet and for the fishing tackle trade as more anglers would once again go bass fishing.
But there’s a real danger that the proposals will be watered down in the face of political pressure from commercial fishermen and so we need to stand up and be counted as anglers.
The campaign seems to be going well and we already have over 6,000 signatures on our national petition. Lots of people have gone on to the campaign page to either sign or to send an email to their MP. However, we need to keep the pressure up and this is where YOU can help.
It would be great if you could sign the petition and share on YOUR Facebook and Twitter. And don’t forget to send on to friends and family, too!
Click here to sign the petition
If you use Facebook and/or Twitter, then please post a message along these lines (you can use the image at the top of this email):
“Let’s support our fellow anglers by signing the national petition to get rid of the damaging bass nets and give these wonderful fish a future. The decision will be made on December 12th so we’ve not got long. Click here to sign. It only takes a minute so…PLEASE SIGN AND SHARE NOW.”
Should you wish to know any further information, click here for our full briefing.
We have a wonderful opportunity to save our bass and move to a net free fishery as, for once, the EU Commission have adopted what we anglers have been demanding for years. Your help in making this happen would be greatly appreciated.
Best wishes and many thanks for your support on this and other issues.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive
Angling Trust & Fish Legal