What else could I write about this week than the success we have had in getting some movement from the Government on the control of cormorants and goosanders? We’ve been campaigning for more than three years for a change to the current bureaucratic and ineffective licensing regime and this week we concluded negotiations with the Government on the details of implementation of the new measures we announced last year to improve the protection of vulnerable fish stocks from predation by cormorants and goosanders.
I’m really grateful to everybody who supported us with donations and by sending postcards to their MP. The success we’ve achieved would not have been possible without this support, as well as the funding we get from our growing membership.
The new measures will include:
- The funding of three Fisheries Management Advisors (FMAs), to be employed by the Angling Trust from April 2014, to help angling clubs and fishery owners reduce predation, to coordinate applications for licences across catchments and to gather better evidence about the number of birds in each catchment. (Details of these posts and how to apply are available on the Angling Trust website at www.anglingtrust.net/jobs)
- A commitment by the government to review the existing national limit on the number of cormorants that can be shot each year in light of evidence gathered by the FMAs from each catchment in 2014 and 2015;
- A simplification of the licence application form to make it easier for fishery managers to apply to control cormorants and goosanders;
- A removal of monthly limits within an annual licence;
- Extension of the control season to May at times of low flow when salmon and sea trout smolt migrations are particularly vulnerable;
- Agreement to increase the national limit for cormorant controls to the emergency level of 3,000 (from 2,000 last year) in 2014/5 if the need can be demonstrated.
There are two interesting lessons that occur to me from this success. The first is that changing public policy is very difficult, time-consuming and expensive. The then Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon actually asked me to write to him about this issue back in November 2010, so he had indicated that he was keen to take action on this issue. He set up a review process that took more than 18 months and involved us sending a representative to more than 12 meetings with the RSPB, EA, Natural England and Defra. We spent our members’ money producing the cormorant watch web site which recorded more than 80,000 sightings of birds and printing more than 100,000 postcards for anglers to send to their MPs. We compiled dossiers of evidence which required us to travel all over the country visiting fisheries and getting their account of the damage that has been done to stocks by fish-eating birds. Numerous meetings with senior officials and Ministers followed to hammer out the details. All in, this campaign probably cost us getting on for £100,000, which is the equivalent of 4,000 Angling Trust members. If we are to fight this kind of concerted campaign on all the issues facing angling – commercial fishing at sea, pollution, over-abstraction, hydropower, poaching, fish theft, mixed-stock salmon netting and salmon farming to name just a few – we are going to need a lot more support than we have had up till now.
The second lesson is that membership numbers matter in politics. We had a friendly Minister who wanted to help us on this issue, but the RSPB, with a million members and lots of highly-professional staff, was able to use its close relationships with civil servants and Ministers to block the more radical proposals we put forward, such as adding cormorants to the general licence. The Angling Trust has just 17,000 members – a David to the RSPB Goliath. If we had another zero on that, or even two zeros, we might have won more battles than we did in this campaign.
Our membership is growing, but it needs to grow much faster. If you are not already an Angling Trust member, or know somebody who might join because of this breakthrough in protecting the UK’s fish stocks please encourage them to join on our website: www.anglingtrust.net/join . Membership is available for just £2.50 a month.
All best wishes and thanks again to everyone who has supported us.