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REACTION TO OUR VICTORY ON CORMORANTS

WE’VE been flooded with e-mails and letters from members after our announcement last week that three years of campaigning had succeeded in making it easier for fishery managers and angling clubs to control cormorants. 

Most have been very supportive, and many have said that this achievement confirms their decision to join us.  Reaction in other sectors has been remarkably muted; there was no press release from the RSPB or other wildlife organisations, possibly because the details of the announcement are not yet completely clear.  Martin Harper, the RSPB’s Director of Conservation, did write a blog about the announcement  though, and it’s so riddled with inaccuracies that I feel I have to respond.

Martin is being thoroughly misleading by suggesting that cormorant numbers are in serious decline, as anyone who spends time around fisheries would be able to tell him.  Numbers have in fact increased by a factor of 15 since the early 90s.  It’s true that there have been a few minor year on year fluctuations, but these are not statistically significant due to the techniques used to monitor numbers (which are based on surveys of a sample of sites, making up a national estimate of numbers).  Although they apparently go down slightly in the past couple of years, it might be that they have actually gone up.

Whatever the details, what is absolutely clear is that many fisheries and rivers are swamped with cormorants and they need control to protect fish. To suggest that the conservation status of these birds is ever likely to be at risk, given their numbers, from an increase in lethal control is absolutely laughable.  The French shoot around 70,000 cormorants a year, without damaging populations.  The new scheme is anyway subject to an annual check on numbers and if there is any suggestion that their conservation status is threatened, the management of numbers can be adapted accordingly.

He trots out the standard argument that lakes and rivers can be protected by creating refuge habitat.  It’s true that this can help, and creating reguges will certainly be part of the new management strategy, but on its own it is not effective and merely slows down the rate at which cormorants consume the fish so that numbers are decimated in two years rather than one.  There needs to be an integrated approach to managing predation, which involves prevention, scarers, and also shooting where necessary.  It will be the job of the Fisheries Management Advisors to help fisheries manage this balance sensibly, but that must include increased shooting. We are not calling for a cull, but we do think that rural businesses should be able to protect their fish so that they can continue to employ staff and contribute to the local economy without jumping through lots of bureaucratic hoops.

On rivers and lakes, we will of course continue to campaign on issues where we share the same view as the RSPB such as over-abstraction, pollution, hydropower, damage to habitat and control of invasive non-native species such as crayfish and mink.  When we have tackled these issues, fish populations will be more resilient and able to withstand predation better.  Until that time, we need to manage predation to protect fish stocks.

Does that seem reasonable to you?!

 

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