The ongoing Otter debate needs no introduction for 99% of you reading this. However, for the 1% that aren’t up to speed, it amounts to this…
The recovery of otter populations in the UK has brought about an increasing concern about predation, particularly on still water fisheries and on specimen fish, including our beloved carp.
So, in light of wanting to educate myself, I asked our bloggers for their take on the issue.
Do you really believe that the increase in the otter population is an ecological disaster to wildlife or an over-reaction by passionate anglers? Has it personally affected you and if so how?
Jim Kelly says;
It has not had any effect on me. Grenville, where I fish at present, has an otter fence. The Mangrove had a couple of otters, but they left the carp alone as there were lots of eels, which is their favoured food. Otters are native to this country and hence have a place. I feel that they have become a pest because nature is out of balance.
If there was a healthy eel population I believe that otters would not cause problems provided their numbers were kept in check. The other problem is that they have no natural predators remaining in this country e.g. you don’t see many wolves about. To cut to the chase they need to be managed and for there to be an adequate food supply.
Rob Inns says;
Nature will always find a balance. The problem as far as a lot of fisheries are concerned is that the stocking of carp is way over the natural levels and given the chance otters will eat what seems a lot of fish before this natural balance is reached.
Simple otter fences can keep them out of fisheries and I feel this (although expensive) is the correct way to deal with otters on privately owned fisheries. Not killing them for doing exactly what they are designed to do.
Pat Gillett says;
It’s definitely not an over reaction – rivers such has the Bristol Avon, Wensum and Great Ouse have been virtually wiped out of their barbel stocks by otters. If you google Wensum Trust, you will see that people spent years of their lives working on the Wensum to create probably the best barbel fishery in the country (and it produced the record) – see article here.
Ron Key says;
It’s definitely not an over reaction. Otter numbers have been increasing since their reintroduction was started by Philip Wayre, the founder of the Otter Trust in 1983.
Unfortunately no research was ever done to establish if our waterways had the fish stocks available to sustain them. We are now in the situation where the rivers stocks of fish have been depleted so far that otters are travelling to club, syndicate and commercial fisheries and taking specimen course fish especially large carp.
Unfortunately the reintroduction of otters coincided with predation from other species such as the cormorant, signal cray fish , goosander and the negative impact they were having on our waters. Predation is not just about otters. In recent years the otters main food the eel has also reduced drastically increasing the need for them to look at alternative food sources.
Most of the fisheries in Yorkshire where I learnt to fish have a Predation Classification of Severe and thousands of carp have been lost. Every county in the country now have otters. My current syndicate water in the Midlands is surrounded by 1 3/4 miles of electrified fencing which cost tens of thousands of pounds to build. Potentially, fenced fisheries could be the only specimen fisheries to survive. Many stillwaters and all the rivers cannot be protected in this way. There are practical and of course financial reasons for this and the future for them is bleak.
It doesn’t stop at fish, water fowl and smaller mammals such as the water vole, stoat and weasel are all in danger. The RSPB is already having problems with otters taking birds on their reserves. Unless the the government, EA, Natural England, et al accept that this is a problem that needs managing it will become an ecological disaster. Rant over.
Mark Lambert, fishery manager at Villefond, says;
I have not been affected by otters personally and all the fisheries I have fished haven’t either, In fact I have never seen a wild otter.
I think fishermen do tend to over react but I could imagine if they turned up on my lake and they started to take the monsters that swim in Villefond, I wouldn’t be happy. They claim they kill 30lb plus carp and I am not saying they don’t as I have no experience with them but if they did these fish are very valuable and the problem would need to be sorted. To me the solution is simple, otter proof fencing. I know the arguement from a fishery owner would the the cost of the fencing and I know it would be a lot to fence our lake. I would say the government needs to offer some kind of grant for this, but I don’t know what’s in place.
Failing that as a fishery owner I would be looking for a deterrent to scare the otters away , most animals won’t hang around if it’s not safe to feed especially a smart animal like an otter, so my solution would be my dog, who does a good job of scaring most animals away, so I would recommend an Akita, haha.
I feel people calling for a cull of the otters is a little strong, I fact I think it’s a massive over reaction as a fishery owner myself. Part of what I like about fishing is being in nature so murdering the parts of nature that don’t behave how I want isn’t an option I would readily undertake. Otters were around long before fisheries and I believe we need to work around them rather than eliminate them.
Paul Cooper says;
The only time that I have personally come across otters was during the 8 years that I fished the Mangrove.
It was regular occurrence during a 3 day session to see at least 1 otter either in the marginal rushes, or sunbathing on one of the many fallen trees around the waters edge. Most of my otter sightings were around 30 yards out, when an otter would swim across my swim with an eel in its mouth. The Mangrove at that time contained lots of large eels and this was the main food source for the single family unit that visited this lake. As far as I know during my time on this lake, there was never a confirmed death from otter mutilation.
I have not fished there for a number of years now so I do not know what the present situation is in respect of the eel population and if it is still visited by otters.
I have fished lakes that are known to have otter problems but I have never seen one in the flesh so I cannot comment.
In 1998 animal activists released 8000 mink from a fur farm in North Staffordshire. A lot of them were trapped and shot, but the remainder have gone on to populate vast areas in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire, just from this single act. Mink cause immense damage to wild life around our lakes and rivers, killing rodents such as Water Voles. They call themselves do gooders, but once again they are messing with nature, as with those responsible for the legal introduction of otters.
Shaun Harrison says;
Ron has summed the situation up perfectly and I would struggle to better that.
Yes, it has affected me directly and indirectly it is affecting everyone involved in the angling trade. I spotted my first otter on the local patch in 2006 and they have been reproducing since.
A few years back I accepted an invite from Nige Cobham to start the season off barbel fishing on his exclusive and incredibly productive private stretch of the Bristol Avon where it used to be possible to roam the banks and stalk double figure barbel. The river is that clear you could see them as plain as anything.
June 16th we excitedly wandered the banks looking for fish to open our new season account. By lunch time it was pretty clear the were no barbel there just the odd very spooky chub. Otter prints were around and naturally Nige was devastated. We returned the next day as the chub sport had been fair but upon venturing down the river for a second go at some of the fish I had failed to catch the previous day, it all became apparent that the Otters had raided during the night again as a couple of fish I had been fishing for the previous day now sported badly ripped flanks and a loss of scales. Many of the other fish were missing. That was an incredible shock to the system I can tell you. A fishery being destroyed in front of our eyes.
Nige had that really pretty stretch for years and was his jewel in the crown to invite people to but sadly no more.
The problem with otters is that they work like cats and kill for fun as well as food. The sad thing for carp is that they appear to catch the largest ones more easily (more body to get a claw into) and then seem to delight in a couple of mouthfuls and then leave the carp to a slow and agonising (I would guess) death.
When Dave Gawthorn found some of the very big and very famous carp floundering at Ashlea Pool, fish we have all read about over the years he had to put some out of their misery. These fish were pensioners of the angling world and were reduced to having flesh stripped from them whilst alive, lost eyes and much more.
Otters may be cute to look at but they are out and out killing machines that will kill a 30lb carp for a few ounces of flesh. They have to survive being introduced into an environment that can not support them.
This video clip sums it up really. Jon Mac’ filmed it and it shows 2 catch a carp much larger than themselves, play with it for a short while before leaving yet another wasted fish. Like cats, they don’t find it fun once the victim stops wriggling.
Steve Bedford says;
I personally haven’t been affected by otters yet but I’m sure its only a matter of time. I have seen in the media the devastation otters have caused and I do believe its going to put a lot of fisheries out of business. Not so long ago the fishery I used to fish was affected by mink, the stock of fish was affected significantly, I’d hate to think what otters will do to it.
The otter problem is just going to get bigger and more widespread unless something is done, lets not forget about the affect cormorants are having at the moment.
Duncan de Gruchy says;
Difficult for me to say either way as we don’t have an otter problem in Jersey (yet!) or in fact, otters at all!
We have much more of a problem with cormorants devastating our fish population, so if otters are anything like cormorants then I can understand the concern.
So there you have it… several opinions to mull over. If you agree with any particular comment above, let me know!
Relevant links include the environment agencies Otter fact sheet, outlining the problem, which can be viewed here.
And this e-petition currently running as a call to the government for action, which you can sign here if you wish.