Environment Agency stock River Wensum with barbel

Efforts to restore the otter-ravaged River Wensum to its former glory took a step closer last week with an Environment Agency barbel stocking, the first for nine years.

Local anglers, led by the influential Norfolk Anglers’ Conservation Association (NACA), finally managed to persuade the EA and Natural England that otter predation was significantly devaluing their fishery, and that restockings were the only short-term solution.

A total of 850, two-year-old, radio-tagged barbel were introduced to four sections of the river, a former British record venue which is also home to the largest known barbel in the country ¬ a fish named The Beast which tipped the scales at 21lb 2oz when caught by Chris Mack in November 2008.

The introductions are part of plans to monitor the survival, movement and growth of all the fish while further in-river habitat improvement works are carried out.

Further supplementary introductions will be carried out over future seasons until such time as monitoring proves the fish populations have become self-sustaining.

“It was an exciting day for the association, its members and other local anglers - we’ve been crying out for these fish for years,” said NACA chairman Chris Oakley.

“We’ve finally convinced the authorities that otter predation is destroying our fishery. We appreciate that they have listened to us and are working with us to find a long-term solution.

“Anglers don’t want rivers stuffed full of barbel, we simply want balanced fisheries that include small, self-sustaining populations of the species,” he added.

Local clubs have had to fight long and hard to get Natural England to allow stockings into the river, which is designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Their victory is proof that other clubs could benefit from ‘remedial stockings’ if they can present convincing cases that predation is damaging their fishery’s socio-economic value.

The EA is currently working with the Angling Trust to draw up a list of rivers thought to have been adversely affected by otters, with a view to ‘kick-starting’ fish populations while they address the other reasons for declines, such as habitat degradation, pollution and poor recruitment.

“Anglers need to organise themselves, collate as much evidence as possible in terms of declining catch returns and present a convincing case which fisheries officers can’t ignore,” explained Chris.

“If fisheries fail, then clubs and local businesses fail and people will find themselves without jobs,” he added.