Otters could wipe out our river barbel

The next decade could spell the end of the country's barbel unless a solution to the rapidly growing otter problem is found, experts have warned this week.

Calls have come for meetings and discussion groups between angling and nature organisations as Angling Times unearthed evidence of yet more venues that are being wiped out by the country¹s biggest mammalian predator, including the upper River Thames and several of its tributaries.

Some anglers, including AT columnist Martin Bowler, have even suggested that otters are having the same impact on specimen river fish as cormorants had on roach. The otter threat has come to prominence in recent years with the decimation of the former British record barbel stretch of the Great Ouse at Adam¹s Mill, and the killing of several known double-figure fish on the Wensum.

"It¹s Armageddon. The Ouse has gone, the Wensum and the Thames are next, and the Loddon and Kennet will follow," warned Martin.

"Nobody is taking this seriously enough. On the rivers I target, I can find a fish carcass within five minutes of looking. Otters are on the increase and they're getting much bolder. A friend of Terry Lampard¹s recently had a tug of war with one after it grabbed his keep sack containing a 7lb Stour chub," he added.

Also leading the calls for talks is respected Thames big-fish angler John Everard. John has stopped fishing for barbel on the Upper Thames and its tributaries, such as the Windrush and the Cherwell, because it¹s now pointless.

"We need an open debate between angling organisations and conservation groups interested in otters on how bringing back one species is having a detrimental effect on another," insisted John.

"Anglers are conservationists. We want to see otters become re-established, but a workable solution must be found. Barbel are particularly vulnerable to otters during the spawning season when they make for easy pickings," he said.

But Barbel Society chairman Steve Pope warns that anglers must tread very carefully on the subject of otters.

"The public perception of angling is currently one of our strong points but if we give out the wrong impression, anglers could quickly become public enemy number one.

"Now¹s the time for the Angling Trust and the EA to sit around a table with organisations like English Nature to see what can be done. The Barbel Society will be quite happy to assist by collating data on problem areas," said Steve.

But the Environment Agency has described the suggestion that barbel fishing could die out within 10 years as far fetched.

"We have worked with the Specialist Anglers' Alliance to advise on methods of protecting fish from otters on stillwaters. But we have to accept that these methods can't be used to protect river fish from otters, a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act,² said EA policy manager Adrian Taylor.