Last week saw Milton Keynes AA announce a reduction in the price of its Adam’s Mill season tickets from £350 to £250.
The price cut followed a slump in demand to fish the British record venue after otters were rumoured to have killed many of its big barbel.
In the same week, a crisis meeting was announced which will discuss the effect otters are having on fisheries and stocks of irreplaceable specimen fish.
With angling’s chiefs and conservation leaders preparing to sit down and discuss the species’ impact on the sport, anglers nationwide are hoping for a positive outcome in terms of much-needed research into otter predation and promises of funding for fisheries protection.
Investigations recently undertaken by Angling Times have revealed a worrying lack of research into the impact otters are having on fishing. One scientific expert we spoke to claimed the original reintroductions ‘were appallingly mismanaged and the consultation process very poor’.
But, whatever is decided at the forthcoming gathering, one thing is certain ¬ otters are here to stay.
“Licences to trap and remove otters can, in theory, be issued, but it’s extremely unlikely they’ll be granted because of natural predation,” explained Graham Scholey, chairman of the UK Otter Biodiversity Action Plan.
“There will, no doubt, be some adjustment in fish populations due to otter predation, but these will be within the bounds of natural relationships between predator and prey. However, we can no longer guarantee that any particular specimen or prized river fish will be there,” he admitted.
That scenario is already being confirmed by big-fish anglers nationwide who warn that stocks of such specimens are being decimated by the predators.
“Young anglers have nothing to look forward to today. We’re currently looking at the end of an era. I can’t imagine what will happen to big-fish angling if otters remain established. The picture is dismal,” is the warning issued by well-travelled specimen angler Phil Smith.
Many like-minded anglers are now facing an uncertain choice when it comes to deciding which season tickets and club books to purchase. They simply don’t know whether the specimens they want to target will survive to the end of another season, or be eaten by an otter next week.
“Why should anglers be helping to collect data and applying for control licences which will never be granted? Anglers defend fish, not otters. Why isn’t Natural England providing the data about their impact on fish stocks?” asked an outraged Martin Bowler.
“Wild fishing is finished. All that will be left in a few decades is fenced-in commercials. How has this been allowed to happen? Virtually no research was done before releasing the species nationwide. They don’t even have a clue how many otters are out there!” he added.
The wave of anger now sweeping the country is fully justified, according to some experts, one of whom, Chris Turnbull, has first-hand experience of trying to run a Wensum fishery suffering significant predation.
“Otter reintroductions were just meddling by conservationists who never did any proper scientific investigation into why our freshwater ecosystems were failing,” claimed Chris.
“Many of our environments are no longer capable of supporting this apex predator without them causing irreparable damage,” insisted Chris, who is set to make his case to the Environment Agency and Natural England at next month’s meeting.
According to many scientists, it is necessary to restore the balance of an ecosystem before reintroducing predators like the otter. But most of the UK’s rivers still face a whole host of serious problems, including over-abstraction, in-river habitat degradation, pollution, poor fish recruitment, barriers to migration, excessive predation by cormorants and mink, silt and sediment run-off, flood control-related damage and the collapse of eel stocks, the otters’ staple diet.
“It doesn’t take a genius to realise that releasing otters into such failing river ecosystems was a potential recipe for disaster yet conservationists are claiming it as a great success story, irrespective of the price being exacted on our fisheries,” said Chris.
“We have three choices. First, we let otters destroy our fisheries. Second, we constantly restock them to maintain them as viable fisheries. Third, we restore all our waterways back to their natural state which had allowed otters and fish to live alongside each other for 15 million years,” he claimed.