Another fish-eating bird blamed for the River Severn's demise!

I had a call to Fisherman’s Blues on Sunday from an old pal, who I haven’t seen for a very long time. Perry Delgarno was a top rod on the south-eastern circuit, fishing for top match team Defiant Mobile among others.

When he discovered the River Severn, he enjoyed it so much he upped sticks and moved and now lives around Shrewsbury.

He called to put me straight about my comments regarding the demise of sport on his local river, a demise that I had lain at the door of barbel. Perry said that barbel are still very scarce above Shrewsbury and goosanders were to blame.

I have seen with my own eyes the carnage wreaked by cormorants, but I have never seen goosanders in action. Perry said that a flock of 40 birds arrived and systematically and literally ate away the dace and roach stocks. He said they fished as a team and with their ‘sawbill’ beaks destroyed and damaged more fish than they consumed…and they consumed a lot.

Catches have declined to such an extent that Perry thinks the river in and around Shrewsbury is now all but finished, with 3lb winning an autumn match when the river was in perfect order. The ‘best’ swims also produced the best weights – true decline.

It has happened on the Thames and it took 15 to 18 years for the river to return to a level that made a decent day’s roach and dace sport possible. In that time anglers who caught those fish simply moved elsewhere, and that is what will happen in Shrewsbury, where commercial fisheries are reasonably available.

The big issue is what can be done? The birds are controlled, but even if they weren’t, what can be done on public-access rivers, shared by bank-walkers, boaters and so on? You can’t just stick one in the breech and let fly. Even the ‘Farmers’ Defence’ argument that I have been proposing for angling and fish-farming for the past 15 years wouldn’t help.

It is another nail in the coffin of a once-great stretch of river and a loss of the skills required to fish it well.