NRW approves plan to protect vulnerable fish stocks

Natural Resources Wales has approved an action plan to help protect fish populations from the impact of predation by fish-eating birds (in this case great cormorant and goosander). .

NRW’s Board approved the action plan after careful consideration of  the recommendations to NRW from the Fish-eating Birds Advisory Group on how vulnerable fisheries and fish stocks can be protected from predation pressure while continuing to conserve fish-eating birds.

The Advisory Group comprised representatives from NRW, RSPB Cymru, Welsh Ornithological Society, Afonydd Cymru, Salmon and Trout Conservation Cymru, Angling Trust, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and were advised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and two independent experts on fish and avian population dynamics and wildlife conflict resolution.

Representatives from Welsh Government, Natural England and NatureScot participated as observers.

Ben Wilson, NRW’s principal fisheries advisor, said:

“Our role is to protect and enhance our natural resources, including our fisheries and our wild birds, we therefore have to develop a programme which provides a sustainable balance between restoring struggling fish stocks while conserving wild birds .
“Pressures on wild fish populations, including the iconic salmon and sewin, are caused by numerous factors aside from predation by fish-eating birds such as poor water and habitat quality, marine survival and climate change which makes quantifying the impact of any one pressure extremely difficult.
“However, available evidence indicates that, on balance, fish-eating birds, such as cormorants and goosanders, can have a significant negative effect on wild fish populations and stocked still waters.
“Given the perilous state of our salmon and sewin stocks there needs to be a targeted increase in action to reduce fish predation by birds, especially in catchments where stocks are most vulnerable.”

Acting on the Advisory Group’s recommendations, NRW’s action plan will:

  • Explore the use of catchment-based licences for better coordination in control of fish-eating birds to help conserve vulnerable fish populations.
  • Set thresholds for controls that ensure the long-term conservation status of bird populations.
  • Facilitate and deliver targeted measures to protect “at risk” (and “probably at risk”) stocks at periods when they are most vulnerable, especially at known pinch points where smolts are most vulnerable.

This will include measures such as:

  • Improving river connectivity by removing barriers and improving down-stream smolt migration.
  • Providing improved in-river habitat to provide cover for fish.
  • Supporting non-lethal techniques to scare birds and protect fish.

Ben added:

“This is a balanced approach that places non-lethal controls at the forefront but recognises some lethal control will be necessary.
“Our long-term goal is that Welsh rivers support both thriving wild fish and bird populations.  In the short term however these actions are necessary, to reduce predation pressure on wild salmonid populations and stocked fisheries while also safeguarding sustainable populations of cormorants and goosanders.
“It is imperative we implement this plan as soon as possible. We hope to appoint a fisheries co-ordinator to aid its development and implementation.
“In the meantime, we will continue to address the other factors which affect Welsh fish stocks.”