FISHERIES and angling officials are likely to be in for tough questioning about the state of barbel stocks, and their future.
Barbel Society members are disgruntled by the perceived lack of action by the Environment Agency in addressing the continued decline in barbel numbers in most of the country’s rivers.
The annual Barbel Society show will be attended by staff from the EA including Calverton Fish Farm, and a talk will be delivered by Mark Lloyd, the outgoing chief executive of the Angling Trust.
Barbel Society committee member Lawrence Breakspear (pictured) explained: “The time has come to demand answers to the question of what has happened to our barbel rivers and why?
“Both the east-facing rivers where they are indigenous and others where they were artificially introduced, are suffering in the same way, with few exceptions.
“Yes some huge boilie-fed barbel are being caught on rivers like the Thames, but the back-up smaller fish aren’t there, and Thames tributaries like the Kennet and the Cherwell have been devoid of the species.
“Big bags and large fish might be present on the tidal Trent but higher upstream the situation is bleak.
“Match anglers on the River Severn at Bewdley used to not even get in the frame with 90 lb but are now lucky if they even catch one.
“Bransford AA, a once thriving club in Worcestershire on the River Teme which I know well, had to close last year because of the huge drop in membership following the total decline in barbel fishing.”
Barbel Society look to Environment Agency
Lawrence continued: “In 2017 only 3 per cent of fish stocked from Calverton were barbel.
“It’s all very well re-stocking with new fish but there isn’t a lot of point if the factors which caused the problem in the first place are still present – its more of a PR exercise.
“It’s fair to say that we are disappointed by the EA’s inadequate intervention, not properly investigating and researching the cause of the decline so proper corrective action can be taken.
“On the continent the barbel is revered as a species on which the health of rivers is judged.
“If a similar problem happened in somewhere like Germany then a full scientific investigation would have been launched.
“We know there might be a number of factors involved but to us the biggest and most obvious cause and arguably the easiest to tackle is the growth in predators, particularly otters.
“Barbel eggs are taken by crayfish, then the fry and smaller fish fall prey to cormorants and then big breeding barbel, usually females, are destroyed by otters.
“A female barbel can live 20 years and lay 20,000 eggs per annum and their death at the hands of otters can therefore impact on many future generations to come.
“Maybe now the risk otters present to rare birds is being highlighted by the RSPB, some action will be taken about the damage they cause.
“I’ve also seen recently on social media pictures of large salmon which have been ottered, and maybe attacks on this valuable and threatened species might help persuade the authorities that more action is needed to tackle the otter menace on our rivers.
“It’s worth considering that one river that seems to have bucked the trend is the Hampshire Avon where there is salmon fishing and country estates where they have river keepers who make sure predation is kept to a minimum,” Lawrence concluded.
The Barbel Society Show is being held at Telford Centre Hotel, Telford, Shropshire, on Sunday, May 26.
Entry to the day costs £10 for members and £15 for non members.
As well as Mark Lloyd, speakers include Angler’s Mail columnist John Bailey, Wye barbel expert Bob James and a scientific overview from Dr Paul Garner.
Tickets are available in advance via the Barbel Society website: www.thebarbelsociety.co.uk
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