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Cormorants (Inland Fisheries)

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 15 May 2003

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How much public money has been spent by her Department over the last seven years on research into predation of inland fisheries by cormorants; and what conclusions have been reached. [113303]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Elliot Morley)

The Department has spent £1.4 million on research into predation of inland fisheries by piscivorous birds over the past eight years.The research programme significantly improved our understanding of the behaviour of fish-eating birds, their numbers and distribution and the extent of the problems they cause to fisheries, and helped towards the development of effective management strategies. The results of the early research have been published.

Does the Minister agree that it will come as no surprise to either anglers or the taxpayers who funded the research to learn that cormorants eat fish? The point is what will the Minister do to make it easier for fishery owners and angling clubs to protect their stocks and their livelihoods, especially in the light of the news this week that at Walthamstow reservoir, fish stocks worth £50,000 were predated in a single year?

I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this matter. Indeed, he took me to Walthamstow reservoir to see the problem. Unfortunately, on that particular morning there was a thick fog so I can only say that I could see no problem. However, I know that there is a problem and that my hon. Friend is serious about it. As he knows, we have spent a great deal of money on looking into ways of dealing with the matter; for example, research is currently under way on fish refuges, which may be helpful in dealing with the problem. My hon. Friend will also know that in the worst-case scenario we can issue licences for control, but people have to demonstrate an economic loss and that other ways of deterring cormorants have been tried and have failed. We are willing to work with the angling world to find out how we can deter cormorants from eating its fish.

May I declare an interest? I have a pond on my farm in County Antrim—[Interruption.]—I will invite the Minister there.

At this time of year, I go to Movanagher fish farm to buy brown trout to stock the pond. All year round, I never see a cormorant, but within 24 hours cormorants come in and eat every one of those trout—[Interruption.] This is a serious point. At Movanagher fish farm, at fish farms throughout the United Kingdom and in commercial and sporting fishing, it is a disaster. The only way to deal with the problem is not to waste money on civil servants but to designate a number of days when cormorant stocks throughout the UK can be culled.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Of course there is an issue regarding still-water fisheries and the trend towards inland cormorant breeding, but his suggested solution may not work, and non-lethal deterrents may be equally effective. We do take the problem seriously; we must identify the most effective way of deterring such predation, and to do so we must examine the whole range of options.

We have been talking about fish-eating birds; may we discuss the situation with regard to a fish-eating animal—the otter? Only this week there has been a report that the otters are coming back in great numbers.