The Hunt Saboteurs Association this week launched a misguided attempt to disrupt the Angling Trust’s Cormorant Watch website by encouraging its supporters to record bogus sightings of cormorants, goosanders and mergansers.
When the site was set up to campaign for greater controls of these fish-eating birds, which are now present in the UK in unsustainable numbers, the Angling Trust established a quality assurance protocol to avoid vexatious action such as this.
The Angling Trust, which is the representative body for all anglers in England and Wales, calls on Hunt Saboteurs to stop wasting their time by recording false sightings because they will not be included in the final figures.
The Trust urged them to understand the damage these birds are doing to fish populations and freshwater ecosystems. Cormorants were very rarely seen inland before the 1980s, but their numbers have increased enormously since and they are now a significant factor in the decline of many fish populations in the context of widespread pollution, over-abstraction of water and habitat damage.
Goosanders and mergansers are a particular problem on salmon rivers, nearly all of which are classified as being at risk of failing to meet their conservation targets due to declining stocks.
Research from the Atlantic Salmon Trust has shown that 40-50% of young salmon die on their journey down rivers, with predation the most likely cause. On the Hampshire Avon, a river once famous for its specimen roach stocks, the species was almost wiped out in the middle reaches of the river as cormorant numbers exploded in the 1990s.
The Angling Trust is encouraging anglers to continue submitting sightings to the database up to the 31st March when the survey is due to end so that it can build a picture of the distribution of the birds to support better management of predation at a national level. The Angling Trust will be backing up this information by contacting more than 2,000 angling clubs and fisheries it has in membership and asking them to contribute to a survey about fish-eating birds to provide more evidence to Ministers and statutory agencies to press them to take action.
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: 'It is disappointing that these animal rights extremists have chosen to target angling with their hateful action. Online comments on forums associated with this movement have even called for anglers to be shot, which is appalling.
He added: 'Anglers invest tens of millions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours restoring water environments, monitoring and reporting pollution and collecting litter. We have never called for predatory birds to be wiped out but we do want to see sensible, proportionate management to control their numbers at sustainable levels that can support viable fish populations. Angling is loved by three million people, supports 40,000 jobs and generates £3billion for the UK economy. These people will not stop us fishing.'