The Angling Trust has launched the 'Action on Cormorants' campaign which urges anglers to write to their MPs supporting the call to put cormorants and goosanders on the general licence on an annual reviewable basis. This would give them the same status as rooks, crows, jays and magpies whose numbers can be controlled without resort to specific licence.
Currently angling clubs and fishery managers have to use what the Trust describes as "a bureaucratic, cumbersome and ineffective licensing system which has completely failed to protect stocks of vulnerable silver fish and salmon smolts in most parts of the country". The Trust says that cormorant predation has also had a significant impact on endangered species such as the European eel.
The campaign is supported by 10 fisheries, angling and wildlife organisations including the Salmon and Trout Association, the Angling Trades Association, The Rivers Trust and angling celebrities such as TV host Chris Tarrant and singer Feargal Sharkey. Other partners include the award winning Avon Roach Project which features in a specially made campaign video by wildlife film maker Hugh Miles. There is a dedicated webpage at www.anglingtrust.net/cormorants, an online message facility and 80,000 postcards to be distributed to anglers via fisheries and tackle shops.
Anglers will be asked to contribute to a 'house of horrors' picture gallery to get across to MPs and the public the horrific damage these birds can do. 'Action on Cormorants' also urges MPs to follow the lead of members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling and become Parliamentary supporters of the campaign to protect our fish.
In 2010 the Angling Trust won the agreement of Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon to review the current ineffective licensing regime for controlling cormorant damage to our fisheries. The Defra Review Group is due to report shortly and the minister is expected to make an announcement in the winter.
'Action on Cormorants' is supported by the Angling Trust, Salmon and Trout Association, Angling Trades Association, The Rivers Trust, Avon Roach Project, Atlantic Salmon Trust, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Countryside Alliance, Predator Action Group and the Wild Trout Trust.
Some of the top names in angling have also pledged to support the campaign which was officially launched on the banks of the River Severn - once famous for its catches of roach and dace.
Local businesses in the Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury areas have been badly affected by the reduction in silver fish stocks and the cancellation of the regular fishing competitions which drew visiting anglers from all over the country.
Angling Trust National Campaigns Co-ordinator Martin Salter said: "We need every MP's office to be flooded with postcards and e-mails demanding that we have the right to protect our fish from the ravages of cormorants and goosanders. We know that our opponents on this issue are preparing a challenge and will seek to claim that a fourteen fold increase in cormorant numbers isn't a problem when we all know that it is. Fortunately our campaign has the support of RSPB members who also love to fish and we have the fish stock surveys and match catch data to prove without doubt that the predator prey balance is out of kilter and needs to be addressed."
Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd said: "This is an opportunity for thousands of anglers to stand up and be counted. It will only take a few minutes to support our campaign to let MPs know that we care passionately about protecting our fish stocks and that we want action on cormorants and goosanders now. We want a new system that will give fishery managers the opportunity to control these birds responsibly without expensive and unnecessary bureaucracy. Please contact your MP now and, if you can, make a donation to our 'Action on Cormorants' Fighting Fund or join the Angling Trust to help us campaign more loudly on cormorants and other important issues affecting angling and fish stocks."
Paul Knight, CEO of the Salmon and Trout Association, said: "Fish deserve as much protection as their predators. We have to manage on an ecosystem basis, with healthy wild fish populations in balance with their predators. We can no longer give greater conservation status to any one species just because it has more popular appeal, and so fishery managers need a flexible and rapid licensing system which enables them to protect threatened fish stocks at particular times, such as during the annual downstream migration of young salmon and sea trout."
Award winning film maker and RSPB member and former employee Hugh Miles said: "The cormorant is a silver fish killer unparalleled in nature whose numbers have increased to such an extent that the middle reaches of many rivers, including my local Hampshire Avon, are now all but devoid of once common and sought after species such as roach. Well balanced ecosystems need a healthy balance between predator and prey and we need action now to restore that vital balance and give our fish a chance."
George Hollingbery MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling said: "I have witnessed first hand the damage that squadrons of cormorants have done to my local waters, where, in some cases fish stocks have been so badly depleted that they are no longer functioning fisheries. Angling delivers both environmental and economic benefit to communities the length and breadth of the UK. It is only right and proper that we allow fishing clubs and fishery managers the right to protect our fish from unsustainable predation."