Legal culls need to happen or angling will pay the price

I read with interest last week’s feature on what the stars of the sport hoped to see in 2011. Nearly every single one of the 10 questioned had cormorants in their sites.

Now it might be fairly obvious that most anglers, regardless of profile, don’t like this fish-eating plague, but for so many big names to single them out without prompting is surely telling.

The Angling Trust tells us that it has written to Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon in a bid to make it easier for affected venue owners to apply and receive licences enabling them to legally cull this ludicrously protected bird. While that might be considered by some to be a step in the right direction, we – and by that I mean the entire angling world – must keep up the pressure.

Cormorants have been a menace to the sport since they began moving inland in numbers in the 1970s. The problem has been hugely exacerbated by the fact they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which means those fisheries being decimated by creatures that eat upwards of 25 7cm-sized fish a day must apply for a licence to safeguard their livelihoods.

The trouble is, getting your hands on said licence is a slow and cumbersome process, complicated by ribbons and ribbons of red tape. Essentially, thanks to lobbying from the immensely powerful and clearly anti-angling RSPB, government don’t make it easy to get hold of.

The upshot is many fishery bosses take the law into their own hands. Armed with a powerful rifle, they head out before the punters turn up to blast birds that if left unchecked cost them thousands of pounds every year.

And who can blame them? But while this unsatisfactory, not to mention illegal, activity is fine on managed stillwaters, what about the miles and miles of unpoliced river bank? As we’ve seen this week, with lakes iced over, these already vulnerable venues have been further raped by legions of hungry birds.

Britain’s fisheries are under attack from a growing number of predators, with cormorants right at the top of the pile.

The Angling Trust was absolutely right to begin to put pressure on the coalition and Benyon in particular. This is a man, remember, who in the run up to the General Election told us all that he was a keen angler who wanted to fight for the sport. Well, here you go Richard. Get fighting.

The Trust would also be well advised to use the profile of all those stars who put on record that 2011 must be the year when fishing says ‘enough is enough’. Nothing, in my experience, moves governments more than the thought of a cheap, and popular, vote-winner.

The bottom line is that cormorants need controlling properly before there’s nothing worth protecting left.

The consequence of not doing so is perilous. Very, very perilous.