Otter cull call as fish worth up to £30,000 wiped out

Tom Pollard, owner of Water Park fishing business, Church Pool Fisheries holds a monster carp. Picture courtesy of Churn Pool Fisheries.

Otters have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years

First published in News
Last updated
Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Brendan McFadden
Wilts and Glos Standard by , Reporter

OTTERS are enjoying a resurgence in the Cotswolds, but they could be on a collision course with anglers who claim they are decimating prize fish stocks in local fishing lakes.

The poor quality of the UK’s rivers during the 1950s and 1960s and extensive poaching, saw otter numbers decline rapidly throughout the UK until the animal was declared an endangered species and given protection.

Following the work to improve waterways, the registering of otters as an endangered species and the Otter Trust releasing scores of hand-reared otters into the wild – the otter is now thriving.

Now, anglers, commercial fishing businesses and lake owners across the Cotswold Water Park, have reported that scores of giant carp, which each cost thousands of pounds, have been killed by otters, threatening local livelihoods.

Many are now calling for urgent action.

While most simply want measures taken such as otter proof fencing installed around those lakes containing the most valuable stock, some say more drastic action is needed.

Philip Chun, treasurer of Ashton Keynes Angling Club, said: “People do not understand that there are not the fish in the rivers that there used to be.

“One thing to do would be to instal otter fencing.

“The other thing is to shoot them, but you can’t legally do that. I would call for new laws to be introduced.

“The impact is not just on lake fishing it is also affecting the tackle shop industry. Effectively 90 per cent of the fishing tackle shops will have to close because they won’t be able to continue.”

“Five fish have been taken recently out of 35 stock (from Neighbridge lake, which the club hires out). If you lose five out of 35 fish that is a big chunk of your fish gone quite quickly.

“Some of the fish are very big in the lakes and you can’t buy them at that size. If you could you are looking at £25,000 or £30,000 for a carp.

Mark Bryant, carp angler and owner of Cirencester-based fishing tackle company, Baitworks, said: “The public have this image of otters being a cuddly little species, but they have not seen the other side of the coin. They are taking livestock from people’s businesses.”

Ben Welbourn, biodiversity and estates manager at the Cotswold Water Park Trust, believes it is not economically viable for carp fisheries to constantly replace large fish and that a long-term solution needs to be found.

He said: “The only such solution currently available is otter-proof fencing, which can be expensive to retrofit to existing fisheries, and is not suitable on many multi-use sites. The problem is exacerbated in the Cotswold Water Park by the close proximity of these fisheries to the otter’s natural navigation routes – the rivers and streams of the Upper Thames catchment.

“Whilst those fisheries set furthest away from rivers may be relatively safe from otter predation, many others will undoubtedly suffer.”

Mr Welbourn said the CWPT was working with fishery owners to look at potential solutions, but said the organisation was “guarded” against any suggestion of a cull as a solution.

The Environment Agency has previously provided funding for otter fencing, but has no money allocated for this in the current, or next financial year.

Tom Sherwood, Fisheries Officer at the EA, said: “It is generally agreed that the over-arching strategy should be to create and maintain healthy aquatic environments where balanced populations of fish and otters can co-exist in a sustainable manner. There are however those existing fisheries where in some instances the only effective way of protecting fish stocks maybe by fencing.

“The Environment Agency are happy to support and work with angling clubs, landowners, businesses, etc, to look at measures, including fencing, which may afford their fisheries some level of protection from otter predation.”

Tom Pollard, owner of Churn Pool Fishery in South Cerney, spent £4,500 installing otter-proof fencing.

“If I didn’t put in the fencing, I wouldn’t have my business,” he said. “Everywhere around the water park is decimated by otters.”

He said in his opinion fencing was the only sensible option lake managers could adopt, adding that a cull of otters was an extreme measure as they are beautiful creatures.

Otters are one of the UK’s top predators. As well as feeding on fish, they also eat waterbirds, amphibians and crustaceans.

Otters may be in the firing line from some sections of the angling community in the Cotswolds, but they are not the real villain, according to a leading expert.

Tim Paisley is chairman of environmental group, the Predation Action Group, and has written a report called The Big Picture, which examines why fish stocks are being depleted by predators.

He said otters were being driven to the extreme measures of taking giant carp, because cormorants were increasingly fishing in usual otter hunting grounds.

The sea birds themselves were being forced into hunting rivers because of the over commercialisation of fishing which has decimated fish stocks around the British coast.

“We are on the brink of an ecological disaster,” he said.

“Cormorants are emptying the rivers of fish. Otters are being driven to extremes that they wouldn’t have been driven to in the past and eating fish from the lakes. You can get licenses to shoot cormorants but only a limited number.

“The major problem is what the cormorants have been doing. Otters are protected under European law, cormorants are protected under European law. There is now enough protection to go around to protect all the predators.”

Comments (9)

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5:58pm Thu 20 Mar 14

Kaffee says...

The solution to problem in co-existing with wildlife must not be to kill the wildlife. As is pointed out in the article there are alternative ways to protect fisheries that are preferable to culling. A balance in the ecosystem must always be the aim. One of the problems is that we have to few top predators controlling their prey.

Culling seems to be the standard solution to any problem these days: Badgers, Wild Boar in the Forrest of Dean, Otters in the Cotswold water park, what next?

It is a magic experience to go up early and sit by a lake watching the Otters. I wish more people had that opportunity that we are so fortunate to have in the Cotswold.
The solution to problem in co-existing with wildlife must not be to kill the wildlife. As is pointed out in the article there are alternative ways to protect fisheries that are preferable to culling. A balance in the ecosystem must always be the aim. One of the problems is that we have to few top predators controlling their prey. Culling seems to be the standard solution to any problem these days: Badgers, Wild Boar in the Forrest of Dean, Otters in the Cotswold water park, what next? It is a magic experience to go up early and sit by a lake watching the Otters. I wish more people had that opportunity that we are so fortunate to have in the Cotswold. Kaffee
  • Score: 17

8:51am Fri 21 Mar 14

bobirving says...

This seems like a prime example of people not understanding (or not wanting to understand) how out of tune they are with nature. They've set up this business that depends on a few huge fish which anglers persuade to swallow a hook, tow around around until they're exhausted, lift out and photograph and put back. In the first place, I can't see how this will not cause suffering to the fish in some way, either through getting the hook caught in their flesh or through being lifted out of their natural environment. Secondly, the anglers are not catching these fish because they need the nourishment to survive or even just to eat them; they're catching them for "sport". So the whole business is totally artificial, based on these few unnaturally large fish, whose size forms the major attraction of the fishing lake. Now that real nature, in the shape of otters, is intruding, these guys want other sympathy and support to kill them off? Sorry....
This seems like a prime example of people not understanding (or not wanting to understand) how out of tune they are with nature. They've set up this business that depends on a few huge fish which anglers persuade to swallow a hook, tow around around until they're exhausted, lift out and photograph and put back. In the first place, I can't see how this will not cause suffering to the fish in some way, either through getting the hook caught in their flesh or through being lifted out of their natural environment. Secondly, the anglers are not catching these fish because they need the nourishment to survive or even just to eat them; they're catching them for "sport". So the whole business is totally artificial, based on these few unnaturally large fish, whose size forms the major attraction of the fishing lake. Now that real nature, in the shape of otters, is intruding, these guys want other sympathy and support to kill them off? Sorry.... bobirving
  • Score: -3

12:43pm Fri 21 Mar 14

Pennyroyal says...

A worrying trend that people see fit to cull wildlife, the moment it gets in the way of their own pursuits. These people are so sad, especially when there is an obvious solution to the problem in terms of biosecurity like otter-proof fencing!
A worrying trend that people see fit to cull wildlife, the moment it gets in the way of their own pursuits. These people are so sad, especially when there is an obvious solution to the problem in terms of biosecurity like otter-proof fencing! Pennyroyal
  • Score: 1

4:14pm Fri 21 Mar 14

Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum says...

Foxes. Badgers. Boar. And now otters. They were once endangered for a reason.

To the list of exterminated pests lets add anglers, cyclists, farmers and bankers.

We could all live happily ever after.
Foxes. Badgers. Boar. And now otters. They were once endangered for a reason. To the list of exterminated pests lets add anglers, cyclists, farmers and bankers. We could all live happily ever after. Supreme Chancellor Finis Valorum
  • Score: -11

7:19am Mon 24 Mar 14

MarvinAndroid says...

Crux of this seems to be its cheaper to shoot otters rather than pay for fencing to protect their stock. Meanwhile the fields around Siddington are littered with American Crayfish heads which I assume have been predated by otters. This aggressive invasive species is doing untold damage to fish stocks actually making the otters a fishermans friend. Perhaps the owners of these fishing lakes would care to consider that before loading their guns!
Crux of this seems to be its cheaper to shoot otters rather than pay for fencing to protect their stock. Meanwhile the fields around Siddington are littered with American Crayfish heads which I assume have been predated by otters. This aggressive invasive species is doing untold damage to fish stocks actually making the otters a fishermans friend. Perhaps the owners of these fishing lakes would care to consider that before loading their guns! MarvinAndroid
  • Score: 8

4:24pm Wed 26 Mar 14

Fred Fred1 says...

Otters were poached in the 50's and 60's ? You sure about that Brendan? Poached for food? Chicken Tarka Masala? Cracking journalism as ever - well researched.
Otters were poached in the 50's and 60's ? You sure about that Brendan? Poached for food? Chicken Tarka Masala? Cracking journalism as ever - well researched. Fred Fred1
  • Score: 1

10:18pm Wed 26 Mar 14

Stretchy says...

Otters nowadays haven't just naturally migrated into our rivers,lakes etc.
They have been reintroduced in recent years in unrealistic numbers,with very little thought gone into the Actual sustainability of the release areas.
Otters are very territorial & can have large territorial areas.This forces other Otters further away from release sights & Eating more difficult.
Imagine Conservation groups releasing lets say Wild Cats & before long they begin Eating Farm Animals,threatening to shut Farms etc,same thing has happened here.
If you travel to Scotland you may be lucky & see an Otter.They are there but they're shy & very wild.
Otters are Very Top of of our Waterways Food Chain.
They are Quite Ferocious & have 2" long Razor sharp claws.Razors for Teeth & are more than capable of Killing a Dog!
Just remember,next time you see one or maybe several of our Furry Friends,Backstroking up the Thames eating fish.
Those Fish belong to someone,were paid for by Anglers.Licence Fees pay for all manner of Waterways management.
Lets just hope that there's a load of money coming in on behalf of the Otters,otherwise they're going to run out of food soon....
Otters nowadays haven't just naturally migrated into our rivers,lakes etc. They have been reintroduced in recent years in unrealistic numbers,with very little thought gone into the Actual sustainability of the release areas. Otters are very territorial & can have large territorial areas.This forces other Otters further away from release sights & Eating more difficult. Imagine Conservation groups releasing lets say Wild Cats & before long they begin Eating Farm Animals,threatening to shut Farms etc,same thing has happened here. If you travel to Scotland you may be lucky & see an Otter.They are there but they're shy & very wild. Otters are Very Top of of our Waterways Food Chain. They are Quite Ferocious & have 2" long Razor sharp claws.Razors for Teeth & are more than capable of Killing a Dog! Just remember,next time you see one or maybe several of our Furry Friends,Backstroking up the Thames eating fish. Those Fish belong to someone,were paid for by Anglers.Licence Fees pay for all manner of Waterways management. Lets just hope that there's a load of money coming in on behalf of the Otters,otherwise they're going to run out of food soon.... Stretchy
  • Score: -1

1:07pm Thu 27 Mar 14

Terry Spence says...

What a terribly thought out and executed reponse Stretchy.

1. How many otters were released and what makes that number 'unrealistic'?
2. If a natural resident animal has a large territory, then thousands of years of evolution will have figured out how many an area can sustain.
3. Aside from the wild cat analogy being daft, it's also irrelevant: farm animals are our food source, carp are not. They're there for a leisure activity.
4. If an otter kills a dog, then I would suggest that the dog was bothering it.
5. The fish in the Thames don't belong to anyone and weren't paid for by anglers. Some people may have fishing rights, but there's nothing to stop a fish from swimming from the source to London. Does the fisherman at the source drive down to the South Bank to reclaim his fish? No, of course he doesn't. The fish in the river are the natural prey of otters.
6. Licence fees make up a tiny proportion of waterways management budgets. The majority comes from every tax-payer in the country.
7. If otters run out of food, then they'll die off. I would have thought that would have solved your problem, no?
What a terribly thought out and executed reponse Stretchy. 1. How many otters were released and what makes that number 'unrealistic'? 2. If a natural resident animal has a large territory, then thousands of years of evolution will have figured out how many an area can sustain. 3. Aside from the wild cat analogy being daft, it's also irrelevant: farm animals are our food source, carp are not. They're there for a leisure activity. 4. If an otter kills a dog, then I would suggest that the dog was bothering it. 5. The fish in the Thames don't belong to anyone and weren't paid for by anglers. Some people may have fishing rights, but there's nothing to stop a fish from swimming from the source to London. Does the fisherman at the source drive down to the South Bank to reclaim his fish? No, of course he doesn't. The fish in the river are the natural prey of otters. 6. Licence fees make up a tiny proportion of waterways management budgets. The majority comes from every tax-payer in the country. 7. If otters run out of food, then they'll die off. I would have thought that would have solved your problem, no? Terry Spence
  • Score: 0

1:10pm Thu 27 Mar 14

Terry Spence says...

"Otters nowadays. Coming over 'ere, taking our fish..."

Oh, my mistake. They're supposed to be here. Unlike carp.
"Otters nowadays. Coming over 'ere, taking our fish..." Oh, my mistake. They're supposed to be here. Unlike carp. Terry Spence
  • Score: 0

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