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.”