Let's put the otter menace into a bit of perspective
PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 May 2017
I notice in the last few issue of the Angler's Mail, the whole question of otters and ottered barbel has been debated backwards and forwards.
This remains current. In East Anglia, I suspect I have at least a dozen conversations a week about otters and their impact. And, of course, there are so many otter fences around our carp waters here that I’m sure we would have Donald Trump’s admiration.
Look at it this way. I often ask anglers when they think the Golden Age of fishing actually took place. Most of them will answer Isaak Walton perhaps or even Mr Crabtree. Let’s remember that in the mid-seventeenth century and mid-twentieth century there were still plenty of otters about so it is quite possible to have a Golden Age and otters, too.
One of the great angling writers of the late Victorian period was J W Martin, nicknamed The Trent Otter. He saw otters most days that he was on that river’s banks and the barbel fishing was better then than it is now!
Let’s have a look more broadly at what has happened in our lifetime. For example, from being aged around seven certainly through to my thirties, I used to adore the estate lakes, especially those reaching all across North Norfolk. In most of those, the fishing now is a distant memory.
In my late teens and in my twenties, I used to revel in cod off the North Norfolk winter beaches. I can remember catching 16 and even 18 pounders. That, too, is consigned to a dim and distant angling past.
If I were to live till my mid-nineties, if nothing is done, the fishing on all our rivers will be gone. Any wild pits that aren’t artificially trout and carp stocked will be gone, too. If we take artificial fishing out of the equation, I believe we are that close to the edge of losing the traditional angling we have enjoyed for centuries.
Of course, I’ve seen great fish dead on the bank with otter tracks around them. Probably many have been killed but some have equally probably just died naturally. I’m not taking the influence of otters lightly, believe me, but, I suspect the real picture is so much bigger. Let me quote a paragraph from an email sent to me recently by Dr Mark Everard, Professor of Ecology at Bristol University. “The herd of elephants in the room are the compound consequences of population growth with all its food, water and other demands compounded by climate change. The manifestation is marine predator migration movement inland, landscape conversion for food production and urban/industrial uses and the mining of aquifers. The consequences are declining water quantity and quality including hydrological simplification, habitat loss and invasive species spread. Fish stocks are the indicators as, on a meta scale, are increasing conflicts over ideological or other perceived differences globally as dwindling resources are contested by crowded populations. Would that there were single solutions!”
Put simply, since those cod of mine disappeared, the population of this country has rocketed and, more especially, our demands have rocketed as well. Little by little, the natural world is finding itself unable to cope and our wild fish are disappearing year upon year. In many ways, they are the sign of a disintegrating environment, rather like canaries down a mine shaft.
There are bandaid solutions, I feel. Restocking is a dirty word but it can work, albeit temporarily perhaps. Some years ago, that forward-thinking club, the Norfolk Flyfishers took four hundred or so mature roach out of their pit and stocked them into their stretch of river. That was perhaps seven years ago but the fishing for four of those years was excellent and the stretch is still better than most along the Wensum Valley. Had the experiment been repeated annually, I think we would have found a partial solution and some very fine roach fishing.
We anglers are never going to be able to control global populations and economies but we might, here and there, be able to save some wild fisheries for future generations. I’d rather have a bandaid personally than a festering sore.