Image source, Gwilym Hughes

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The number of cormorants across Britain has increased dramatically in the past three decades

  • author, Lear Edwards
  • Role, BBC News
In a glance

  • More than 2,000 people have signed a petition demanding licenses to cull fish-eating birds in Wales
  • Poachers claim cormorants and geese are devastating stocks in Welsh rivers
  • Conservationists say the priority should be to clean up polluted rivers
  • Natural Resources Wales says it is developing a plan to study the issue

Fishermen in Wales have called for the culling of some fish-eating birds, claiming they are destroying river stocks.

More than 2,000 people have signed a petition calling for more licenses to be issued by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to handle cormorants and geese.

Both birds are protected species and cannot be killed without permission from NRW, the official Welsh environment authority.

She says there is a plan in place to assess the impact of fish-eating birds and how to control them in Wales.

The petition was put together by one of Wales’ most famous anglers, Gwilym Hughes, who has represented Wales internationally in fishing competitions.

The former police officer and water warden said numbers of cormorants and geese had risen “dramatically”, while fishing stocks – particularly those of the salmon family – had declined.

“The problem has been around for several years and the NRA Wales has not done anything about it,” he claimed.

“In Wales now, we have smaller rivers and they eat the stock in the river.”

Mr Hughes said a single zander can eat between 10 and 30 salmon per day.

“Do the math, there are more than 7,000 fish for every bird, and there are 20,000 of them in the UK,” he said.

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Fly fisherman Gwilym Hughes says he fears for the future of fish stocks in Welsh rivers

But he said the current licensing system for culling the bird is “restrictive.”

“In the Dyfi (river) system, we are allowed to kill two cormorants and three geese in 12 months.

“I think the licenses are really there to protect predatory birds – not to help fisheries.”

The hunter said he wants to issue more general licenses to hunting clubs and fishery owners so they can cull birds if necessary.

Image source, Gwilym Hughes

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Goosander ducks are now a common sight on rivers in Wales

He said it was not just about fish stocks, and claimed the birds were having an impact on other species, including kingfishers and herons.

“The truth is that kingfishers and herons are suffering because of competition now. What will happen to them when all the food – all the fish – runs out?”

“We have a duty to protect them all. It’s not about killing birds, it’s about protecting nature and keeping its balance, that’s all.”

The hickory jay is a non-native bird that arrived in the United Kingdom in the late 19th century. According to the British Ornithological Trust (BTO), there are around 5,000 breeding pairs in the UK, with a population of at least 15,000 birds overwintering in the UK.

In terms of preservation, it is considered safe.

Cormorants are also not threatened, as their population in the UK has increased by 58% since the mid-1990s.

According to the BTO, until the middle of the last century, the cormorant was viewed as a shorebird. However, it has now colonized inland waterways.

The population of the United Kingdom in winter is 65 thousand people, which puts it in direct conflict with poachers.

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Fishing club secretary Hugh Price-Hughes says he has seen an increase in the numbers of cormorants and grebes, while fish stocks have declined.

Hugh Price-Hughes is Secretary of the Seiont, Gwyrfai and Llyfni Fishing Association, known for fishing in the rivers and lakes around Caernarfon.

He said he didn’t even know what a geese was 50 years ago, but now he has seen up to 30 of the birds on the river as young salmon – known as smolts – migrate back to sea.

“These days, we have geese and cormorants in the river, especially when the smoke runoff is running,” he said.

“They follow the flowing bird out to sea, then head to Caernarfon near the castle, and when the tide goes out, you can see another 30 or 40 birds there.

“I assume it impacts sea trout and salmon stocks across Wales – not just Wales, but the UK more generally.”

Image source, Gwilym Hughes

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Conservationist Kelvin Jones says birds are not the problem

However, calls to cull the birds are “unnecessary”, according to one bird protection campaigner.

Former BTO North Wales liaison officer Kelvin Jones said fish-eating birds were the least of the concerns on rivers in Wales.

“The problem is that the rivers are in bad shape these days,” he said.

“The rivers themselves need to be cleaned and then we can look at the problem potentially caused by these fish-eating birds.

“But in general, fish stocks have declined significantly since the 1980s, and it is not due to these birds, but to other factors in the environment.”

In response to the cull call, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said it had a duty to fisheries and wild birds.

She said that in addition to the licenses it has already issued to control fish-eating birds, it has formed an advisory group to study the issue, including members of the hunting and conservation communities.

Dave Charlesworth, a freshwater fisheries specialist at the authority, said: “We are now progressing an action plan that will initially confirm or require evidence about the fish and fish-eating bird impacts and associated control methods currently in use in Wales.”

“We work hard to ensure an appropriate and balanced approach – NRW has a legal duty to promote and improve fisheries in Wales as well as to uphold the legal protections provided to protect wild birds, including cormorants and grebes, and their eggs and nests.”

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