Angling for Black Death Action

English: Double-crested Cormorant -- Humber Ba...

Last week I had one of my currently all too rare angling expeditions, work and family commitments have taken their toll on my spare time of late. When I add the vagaries and impacts of our great British weather system to the list of reasons, I started to realise why it was an absolute age since I’d last been fishing. 

On my arrival at the fishery I quickly found that my previously slick transition from humping gear to the water’s edge and actually starting to fish had got a little rusty.  Eventually my tackle was set up, a bait was cast to the margins of a tasty looking inlet in the island opposite my peg. Out with the flask and hot coffee poured, I settled down in the now drizzling rain to wait patiently for my float to dip. Whilst I sipped my brew, I took in a roving view of the flora and fauna surrounding the lake.

To my horror I spied a dark coloured bird perched in a far off tree preening itself. I couldn’t be sure but it looked suspiciously like a member of the Phalacrocoracidae family – a Cormorant – often refered to by anglers as the Black Death of fishing.

Anglers vs the Black Death: Known to anglers as the Black Death, the cormorant is a killing machine that can swim two minutes underwater and diving 80ft. In China, fishermen hunt with trained cormorants, but in Europe the protected species is a hated rival, blamed for emptying rivers of fish…(Read More)

When you consider the efficiency of Cormorants as fish “killing machines”, it’s hardly surprising they were once commonly used by humans to gather food. Cormorant fishing was once a traditional method by which fishermen used trained cormorants to fish in rivers. Historically it has taken place in Japan and China since around 960 AD.

Cormorant fishing was once a very successful industry however; its primary use today is to serve the tourism industry of the Orient. Perhaps we need to ensure this quaint display of man gathering food with his ‘pet’ bird, doesn’t get in the way of sensible debate about what is undoubtedly a growing problem here. Sentiment and romanticism has no place in what should be scientifically based conclusions and actions designed to control the Cormorant populations.

The Angling Trust, representative body of angling in England & Wales, wrote to the Fisheries Minister in November 2010 asking Richard Benyon MP for some action on cormorants. They asked him for a reduction in the red tape impacting upon licence applications for the control of fish-eating birds, namely cormorants. These voracious birds can cause untold damage at a fishery, and have a severe impact upon the UK’s £3.5 billion angling industry.

It has also launched a new web site for anglers to record sightings of cormorants, goosanders and mergansers throughout the UK: The new site is easy to use and will gather vital data to help persuade government of the need for action to protect fisheries (see video clip).

Renowned for his interest in all aspects of our countryside and its flora and fauna, the award-winning wildlife filmmaker and long-standing RSPB member Hugh Miles has produced a small film (below) to illustrate the issues. But even Hugh has fallen foul of the heated and emotive debate.

Hugh, probably most famous (amongst fishing folk at least) for the TV series A Passion for Angling has been forced to wade in against the RSPB recently (see here). In what is described as ‘an inflammatory article’ in a recent edition of the member’s magazine ‘Birds’ anglers are described as “being motivated solely by hate” – as Hugh points out, nothing could be further from the truth!

I often wonder why these tunnel-visioned views on so many issues prevail? So few people appear to have the skill (or desire) to examine the bigger picture. Perhaps it’s just another example of how partisan and short-sighted attitudes, mostly born out of self-interest, are the usual drivers of much about today’s society?

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Want to Get into fishing? The latest Environment Agency leaflet will show you how and for more information about all aspects of fishing visit The Angling Trust website and find out more.

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