Black death for fishGovernment announces new rules on Cormorants

Ben Bradshaw, Minister for Nature Conservation and Fisheries, has announced changes to the licensing system for the control of cormorants whose numbers have grown significantly and whose feeding habits are damaging fish stocks and recreational fishing activities.

Announcing the new measures, Ben Bradshaw said: "For a long time, Defra has accepted that cormorants can and do cause damage to certain habitats. To help solve this problem we have undertaken scientific research into fish refuges and other non-lethal techniques. Research findings to date show that procedures such as creating safe environments for fish from cormorant predation are not the solution to all problems."

The new system will presume that where significant numbers of cormorants are present at a site and it is clear that these are feeding on fish stocks, serious damage is occurring or there is a risk of serious damage. However, this will continue to be confirmed on a case-by-case basis and non-lethal solutions will have to have been considered first.

The revised licensing system to control cormorants will be further streamlined in the following ways:

Licences will be issued for a period of two years, between 31 August and 15 April.
There will be provision to extend to protect salmon and sea trout smolts or other vulnerable fish stock in designated spawning sites such as gravel shallows in rivers, licences to kill birds may be issued during the smolt run up to 1 May.
Licences may be issued in advance to prevent problems occurring.
A new application requires a Defra assessor's visit.
All sites will be visited every two years.
Renewed licences where there are no material changes do not require a further visit outside of the biennial visit.
Licences can be amended by telephone, fax or email.
Procedures within Defra's agencies will be aligned to the new system.
All licence holders must provide annual returns on the actual number of cormorants taken - failure to do so will mean immediate revocation of the licence.

Mr Bradshaw concluded: "We must continue to look for non-lethal methods of managing the cormorant population. But it is clear that they do not address the problem in all areas. The new system will be carefully monitored to ensure the conservation status of the cormorant population is not threatened. The mathematical modelling suggests the cormorant population will fall somewhat before stabilising well above its historic level."

In a note accompanying the announcement, Defra said that the consequences of the new measures would be assessed on an annual basis, allowing Defra to adjust the number of licences issued, or even cease to issue licences should the population not respond in the manner predicted.

It points out that The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which implements the Birds Directive, prohibits the deliberate killing of all birds, unless certain requirements are met.

Scientific research information on cormorants is available at:

Licence applications may be obtained from:

Advisory leaflets are available at:

The number of cormorants estimated in England is approximately 17,000 - a rise since 1989 of nearly 70 per cent. The mathematical modelling suggests that the new procedures may permit up to 2,000 cormorants annually to be culled with a possibility of up to 3,000 annually in the short term without threatening the sustainability of the English cormorant population.

Anyone with enquiries should telephone Defra on: 08459 335577.

Speaking on Radio 4's 'PM' news programme, Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "There has been concern for some time now about the increase in the cormorant population which has risen tremendously over the last few years and has caused problems for anglers and certain fisheries.

"I looked at the evidence and decided more could be done. Licences are currently issued to kill them but not at the same level as we are intending to do now."

Although Mr Bradshaw said he proposed only a "modest" increase in the number of cormorants which could be culled, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds claimed the proposal would lead to a 10-fold increase in the numbers which could be shot and said the society was looking closely at the proposals to see if they were legal.

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