The Angling Trust faces its biggest challenge to date following an otter crisis meeting between itself, the Environment Agency and Natural England last week.
Although important ground was covered and concessions gained from the two Government agencies which lead the UK Otter Biodiversity Action Plan, some are questioning whether angling’s new governing body did enough to protect anglers’ interests.
The EA fisheries department has committed itself to carrying out much-needed research into the predator’s impacts on fish stocks and delivered a promise to boost stocks in the worst-hit fisheries, a positive result for angling’s new governing body.
And yet specimen anglers, clubs and fishery managers are questioning whether it has gone far enough, particularly when it comes to getting the EA and NE to accept the scale of the predator’s impacts on specimen fish stocks and how much the otter reintroduction programme contributed to the problem.
“I’m disappointed the Angling Trust hasn’t pushed the Agency and Natural England harder and I suspect many other coarse anglers will be, too,” said AT columnist Martin Bowler.
“The Trust should be representing anglers and fish, not getting into bed with the EA and NE. Catches of specimen fish have plummeted in most river catchments from the Bristol Avon to the Wensum. Why is this happening if it isn’t as a result of otter predation?” asked Martin.
But Angling Trust boss Mark Lloyd doesn’t believe the otter problem is as widespread as has been claimed and felt the meeting was a positive first step in tackling the issue.
“It is clear that otters can generally co-exist with anglers without causing significant problems. It is also clear that on a few rivers otters have had a very significant impact,” said Mr Lloyd.
“This is because, historically, some otter releases were misguided. But those rivers worst affected are those which are suffering from over-abstraction, diffuse pollution, endocrine disrupters, damaged spawning and nursery habitat, a lack of cover and a host of other problems. Angling needs to focus its political muscle on dealing with these issues and we will find many allies in the conservation movement if we do,” he said.
Others were also optimistic about the meeting, arguing that the key partners in the Otter BAP now recognise there is a problem, even if they don’t agree with anglers’ claims as to its scale.
“This meeting was a massive step in the right direction. We need help for clubs which can’t afford to fence their stillwaters and research into identifying the underlying problems on those river fisheries that have been hit hard by otters,” said Wensum campaigner Chris Turnbull.