Angling clubs on the Bristol Avon are calling for the Environment Agency to survey and restock their river after claiming otters have wiped out virtually all its barbel stocks.
Those who have fished the river for decades are reporting a significant decline in sport, with numerous carp and barbel carcasses being found on the banks, fewer anglers returning each season and the repeated recapture of small numbers of heavily-scarred fish.
The situation has culminated in the worst ever start to a river campaign and now the alarm bells are being rung.
“Ten years ago, the Bristol Avon was up there in the top 10 of UK barbel rivers, but I’ve failed to catch a single fish so far this season despite fishing three times a week,” said 74-year-old Bathampton AA bailiff Richard Patrick.
“I’ve fished the river for over 50 years and the sport is what has kept me going since I recently lost my wife. Now I have to travel upriver to the Chippenham stretches in an attempt to find some fish. I doubt the fishing will return to normal in my lifetime,” he added.
Richard’s club is growing increasingly concerned with the rapidly emerging crisis, with the declining sport beginning to drive some of the members elsewhere.
“Otters have regularly been spotted on our stretches for the past three years. There appear to be very few medium-sized fish left. We’d like the EA to carry out fish surveys to pave the way for the restocking of some grown-on fish to replace all those we have lost,” said Bathampton secretary Dave Crooks.
Local tackle shop owners are also growing increasingly concerned about the decline in catches, and indeed anglers.
“I’ve never experienced such a poor start to a river season,” claimed keen angler Nick Davidson, owner of Keynsham Angling Centre.
“A decade ago, you could expect to catch anywhere between five and 10 barbel a night on the Avon. Now you’d be lucky to get one. The Agency needs to survey the river and prove it’s capable of supporting all these otters without having a detrimental impact on anglers’ sport,” he said.
And Colin Gittins, owner of Chippenham tackle shop Premier Angling, is equally worried.
“There are fewer anglers fishing, fewer barbel being caught and the frequent recapture of marked and scarred fish. We can’t be certain it’s because of otter predation, but it seems logical,” said Colin.