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Angling Times otter article

Chris Jones

Senior Member
otters are deemed to be 'native', whilst barbel/carp are not... well, what's the problem? It may be a cynical view but I believe the word 'native' is used here as not much more than a device to justify one (cute) species being given a free hand/paw to destroy another (non-cute) species. Cute and 'native' ... what's not to like eh.

I think people confuse "native" and "indigenous". Barbel are native to the country as a whole. However, they are not considered to be indigenous to rivers such as the Ribble, Severn, Wye and Southern chalk streams etc. The EA appear to have become largely indifferent to the barbel populations in such rivers. Where a barbel population is not indigenous to a particular river the EA seem to be unlikely to do much to support that barbel population. Only rivers emptying into the sea on our eastern shore seem to be considered to contain indigenous barbel populations. This may not make sense when you consider that EA predecessors often had a lot to do with some initial introductions on these rivers. However, policies change over time, such is the way of big government agencies. Similar policy changes have also impacted the stocking of other species. I know of waters that got licences to stock cats and sturgeon many years ago. If they were to try to stock more now, they'd be refused out of hand.

Carp are an oddball. They are not indigenous to this country at all. However, they have been here so long that they are considered to be native. Regardless of that, they'll never be indigenous. The same does not apply to more recent introductions such as zander and wels catfish, both of which are not indigenous yet are still considered to be invasive species despite being first introduced well over one hundred years ago. There does indeed appear to be a time scale applied. How that works is anyone's guess. It may also change with different people making the decisions. I doubt it is set in stone.

Whether we like it or not, otters as a species are both native and indigenous to UK waters. The fact that they were pretty much wiped out in many areas is utterly irrelevant.
 

Joe Winstanley

Senior Member
The accepted definition of native or indigenous species in relation to the ecology of the British Isles is one that was present at the end of the last glacial period (commonly termed the Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago) and before the formation of the English Channel. The terms native or indigenous are completely interchangeable. We also have species in the UK, that are classed as 'naturalised', with the brown hare being a good example, believed to have been introduced by the Romans. That does raise a question about whether carp should be regarded as a naturalised species. Currently they aren't, I guess on the basis that they didn't arrive until the middle ages, but that said I recently read that there is some evidence that the romans may have brought carp over..

Re barbel - it is my understanding that they are native to the eastern flowing river systems of the Trent and Thames and no archaeological evidence has been found that suggests they were found in river systems such as the Severn and Wye etc. So they are considered native to the British Isles but not native to certain rivers. But that is not to say they are classed as an 'invasive' non-native species like mink or signal crayfish.
 

Joe Winstanley

Senior Member
I don't think many anglers (less than 10% anyway) would disagree much with that Joe. I think that most anglers who are aware of the 'barbel situation' know that it's extremely unlikely that there will ever be a sanctioned cull. Furthermore, I guess that most anglers now take a mostly fatalistic view i.e. that 'the authorities' will do nothing about the 'barbel situation', or even recognise that there is a situation. And maybe that's the biggie : anglers' concerns are not recognised as valid. The 'powers that be' might realise that certain rivers are now virtually barbel-free but, as otters are deemed to be 'native', whilst barbel/carp are not... well, what's the problem? It may be a cynical view but I believe the word 'native' is used here as not much more than a device to justify one (cute) species being given a free hand/paw to destroy another (non-cute) species. Cute and 'native' ... what's not to like eh.
But what do you reckon will happen if our 'native otters' take a liking to the subject of one of EA etc. pet-projects ... the easement of movement of the present Holy Grail of fishes ... the Shad. If shad do get upstream this year in numbers (say, on the Teme) and the otters are there waiting for them, and eat most of them (well, just bits of each and every one they kill) ... what then? Maybe then a 'situation' will be recognised.
Then there's beaver kits ... what happens when most of the fish have gone, the birds have flown, the crayfish and eels eaten, but the beavers are thriving and producing potentially vulnerable kits.
I (sounds daft, yeah) do wish the shad well. But my overriding fervent wish is that, the powers that be are upfront and honest in recognising, publicly, that otters have had a massive negative impact on the population of certain species of fish, and will continue to do so.

I can't say that in over 25 years of working in nature conservation I have ever once heard the word cute used by an ecologist in relation to any species, ever. I do hear some anglers using it a lot though...it's an underhand attempt to paint those with an opposing view point as a fluffy, tree-hugging idealist with a flawed view of nature conservation.

If beavers are ever thriving in our river systems Terry, all the available evidence from northern Europe suggests other species will be doing the same. Those advocates of beaver reintroduction such as the inestimable Derek Gow would not bat an eyelid at thought of otters predating beaver kits. It's exactly what should be happening in a functioning ecosystem.
 

Terry Simner

Senior Member
Joe, not for a moment did I think that ecologists regularly referred to otters as "cute", but I think it somewhat disingenuous to imply that 'cuteness' doesn't play a part in the popularity, and by extraction success, of otters. Joe public tends to give to causes that preserve animals that are seen as attractive. Pandas are a good case in point... you don't get millions of $/£ gifted every year to save the pied sea slug, or the lesser spotted hyena, and no 'civilian' travels hundreds of miles in the hope of seeing one.
 

Joe Winstanley

Senior Member
Joe, not for a moment did I think that ecologists regularly referred to otters as "cute", but I think it somewhat disingenuous to imply that 'cuteness' doesn't play a part in the popularity, and by extraction success, of otters. Joe public tends to give to causes that preserve animals that are seen as attractive. Pandas are a good case in point... you don't get millions of $/£ gifted every year to save the pied sea slug, or the lesser spotted hyena, and no 'civilian' travels hundreds of miles in the hope of seeing one.
Fair enough Terry, but those members of the public that obsess about 'flagship' species aren't in charge of policy, hence the badger cull and the need for thousands of deer to be culled to preserve our native woodlands.

But back to your point about shad. If it were evident that predation from one native species was about to cause another native species to become extinct or beyond recovery, and that was backed up by hard empirical data and it was clear that a controlled cull was an efficacious means of assisting population recovery then clearly that would be on table. And I don't think anybody of standing in the conservation sector would shy away from it. But, and others will obviously disagree but I don't ever foresee a situation when otters will ever drive the UK barbel population to near extinction, it is an inconceivable relationship between two species which co-evolved over a millenia in the same river systems.
 

Andrew Burt

Senior Member
I find the attitude of some writing on this thread quite unobjective. Determining what they say as fact and rubbishing anyone that dares question their opinion, mostly though because they will not state what they want done or will do to rectify the problem as they see it of otters.

I have fished for barbel on the W Avon, Severn and Wye for over 30 years. In that time I have seen numbers of barbel rise whilst numbers of other species such as dace, roach, eels and chub dramatically declined. Now some of those species appear to be more prolific again although not in anything like the numbers in the 80’s and early 90’s.

I noticed a decline in barbel numbers on the W Avon and Wye (I stopped fishing the Severn in Summer), over the last 20 years; yes, even the Wye. I first saw an otter in the wild about 25 years ago on the Thames at Lechlade and did not see another until about 10 years ago on the Wye, although I saw evidence about 5 years ago, I did not actually see an otter until late last year on the W Avon. I spend a lot of time on the banks of the W Avon, in fact I lived on the side of the river from 1997 until 2008 in Evesham, I did not see one otter in that time.

Have they had an impact? Of course – they eat fish and I have found carcasses of big fish as well as piles of scales from smaller fish. I disturbed one eating a moorhen not long ago. How big is that impact? I don’t know and nor does anyone else. I can only assume by the lack of ideas coming from many who are simply complaining they want a cull. I will tell you one fact, until they start eating babies it won’t happen, otters are here to stay. Having been in many meetings with the EA and DEFRA even when confronted with actual facts they will still find reasons to ignore them.

In my opinion what needs to happen is that anglers concentrate upon working together to fix what we can. I have no evidence of actual numbers and impact however, I have seen the stomach contents of cormorants with barbel up to about 3lb in them it’s not just fry as suggested earlier, often more than one barbel as well. Now, cormorants have been around in numbers for some years in considerable numbers. It was largely angler apathy that stopped them getting added to the general license but that is a battle we can win that will make an impact.

Goosanders are a growing problem and will definitely have an impact on juvenile barbel, pressure must be applied to various authorities to look at control. Mink, I see more mink than otters, another fish-eating mammal that can legally be culled. Then of course water quality and environment. There are now discussions in government with respect to riparian areas and protection of gravel beds and habitat that can offer protection and refuge, it is a must, it is a pity as much effort is not spent on these issues that are winnable if we campaign hard enough than is spent going around in circles moaning and doing nothing.

Barbel fishing will likely never return to what it once was, neither will or has my chub, roach or mullet fishing, we just need to accept that and move on doing what we can. If we do all of the above barbel just may stand a chance in many rivers, other fish species definitely will, I do not see an alternative.
 

Terry Simner

Senior Member
Fair enough Terry, but those members of the public that obsess about 'flagship' species aren't in charge of policy, hence the badger cull and the need for thousands of deer to be culled to preserve our native woodlands.

But back to your point about shad. If it were evident that predation from one native species was about to cause another native species to become extinct or beyond recovery, and that was backed up by hard empirical data and it was clear that a controlled cull was an efficacious means of assisting population recovery then clearly that would be on table. And I don't think anybody of standing in the conservation sector would shy away from it. But, and others will obviously disagree but I don't ever foresee a situation when otters will ever drive the UK barbel population to near extinction, it is an inconceivable relationship between two species which co-evolved over a millenia in the same river systems.
I agree Joe, I think the 'end point' will be that barbel will persist in the UK, but only as a large river species. You'll be as likely to see a barbel on a small river as you are a salmon. Otters will self-regulate their numbers on small/medium sized rivers by what food source is available, from said river, or by what they can 'poach' from nearby (e.g. carp puddles, garden ponds etc)
 

Chris Guy

Senior Member
From my point of view, knowing my local rivers, as I do, extremely well, it's the impact that otters are now having on the swans, ducks, moorhens, coots and so on, that will gain the attention to the general public, and only maybe then will there be action taken to do something about this imbalance.
When the rivers were full of eels, there was little impact on the birdlife that shared the same river, but now I never see ducklings, moorhen chicks, coot chicks and the majority of signets never make it to adulthood.
 

Peter Dawson

Active Member
The head of natural england(sorry i dont know his name) when questioned about otters and their impact on angling said: anglers will have to get used to catching smaller and fewer fish. That says it all to me.
 

Terry Harman

Senior Member
Great post Chris. I think that otters would pose a minimal threat to a large and deep gravel pit, especially when it's located next to a river. But if the river is eventually wiped out then maybe some otters will take advantage of easy meals to be had at spawning times on the pit. Otters will always go for the easy option (IMO).
already happened on the ivel terry ... otters decimated the ivel in a few short months (fact damian) then moved on to the surrounding carp waters a hell of a lot of carp fell victim to the otter ... the only carp waters that survived unscathed were the pits that were fenced or the super busy venues like manor farm
 

Terry Harman

Senior Member
Fair enough Terry, but those members of the public that obsess about 'flagship' species aren't in charge of policy, hence the badger cull and the need for thousands of deer to be culled to preserve our native woodlands.

But back to your point about shad. If it were evident that predation from one native species was about to cause another native species to become extinct or beyond recovery, and that was backed up by hard empirical data and it was clear that a controlled cull was an efficacious means of assisting population recovery then clearly that would be on table. And I don't think anybody of standing in the conservation sector would shy away from it. But, and others will obviously disagree but I don't ever foresee a situation when otters will ever drive the UK barbel population to near extinction, it is an inconceivable relationship between two species which co-evolved over a millenia in the same river systems.
they are having a bloody good try though joe
 

Terry Harman

Senior Member
I find the attitude of some writing on this thread quite unobjective. Determining what they say as fact and rubbishing anyone that dares question their opinion, mostly though because they will not state what they want done or will do to rectify the problem as they see it of otters.

I have fished for barbel on the W Avon, Severn and Wye for over 30 years. In that time I have seen numbers of barbel rise whilst numbers of other species such as dace, roach, eels and chub dramatically declined. Now some of those species appear to be more prolific again although not in anything like the numbers in the 80’s and early 90’s.

I noticed a decline in barbel numbers on the W Avon and Wye (I stopped fishing the Severn in Summer), over the last 20 years; yes, even the Wye. I first saw an otter in the wild about 25 years ago on the Thames at Lechlade and did not see another until about 10 years ago on the Wye, although I saw evidence about 5 years ago, I did not actually see an otter until late last year on the W Avon. I spend a lot of time on the banks of the W Avon, in fact I lived on the side of the river from 1997 until 2008 in Evesham, I did not see one otter in that time.

Have they had an impact? Of course – they eat fish and I have found carcasses of big fish as well as piles of scales from smaller fish. I disturbed one eating a moorhen not long ago. How big is that impact? I don’t know and nor does anyone else. I can only assume by the lack of ideas coming from many who are simply complaining they want a cull. I will tell you one fact, until they start eating babies it won’t happen, otters are here to stay. Having been in many meetings with the EA and DEFRA even when confronted with actual facts they will still find reasons to ignore them.

In my opinion what needs to happen is that anglers concentrate upon working together to fix what we can. I have no evidence of actual numbers and impact however, I have seen the stomach contents of cormorants with barbel up to about 3lb in them it’s not just fry as suggested earlier, often more than one barbel as well. Now, cormorants have been around in numbers for some years in considerable numbers. It was largely angler apathy that stopped them getting added to the general license but that is a battle we can win that will make an impact.

Goosanders are a growing problem and will definitely have an impact on juvenile barbel, pressure must be applied to various authorities to look at control. Mink, I see more mink than otters, another fish-eating mammal that can legally be culled. Then of course water quality and environment. There are now discussions in government with respect to riparian areas and protection of gravel beds and habitat that can offer protection and refuge, it is a must, it is a pity as much effort is not spent on these issues that are winnable if we campaign hard enough than is spent going around in circles moaning and doing nothing.

Barbel fishing will likely never return to what it once was, neither will or has my chub, roach or mullet fishing, we just need to accept that and move on doing what we can. If we do all of the above barbel just may stand a chance in many rivers, other fish species definitely will, I do not see an alternative.
agree on the cormorant issue... they must sit up in the trees licking their lips when they spot an EA truck full of more calverton snacks driving down the track
 
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