The perceived mass depletion of commercial and angling clubs’ fish stocks in Europe and North America, principally on inland waters, has led to war being declared on the cormorant.
Are the fishermen’s fears and claims justified? If so what is the best way to limit or control the damage.
Reasons behind the increase in Cormorant population
Cormorants were declared a protected species in some parts of Europe in the 1970s. They have gone from being almost extinct in many regions to today’s increased and stable population.
The combination of placing the bird under protection and the increase in it’s food supply are the 2 principal factors in the rising population. The drainage of agricultural nutrients into lakes and rivers promotes the development of many fish species and leaves rich pickings for the birds.
Climatic changes have also contributed to rising numbers of Cormorants in Europe. Whilst thousands of birds migrate from countries like the Czech Republic to warmer climes thousands more migrate the other way and end up there for the winter months – including the Cormorant. The migration takes place in October / November and then again in March / April. In 2005 there were an estimated 8,000 Cormorants in the Eastern part of the Czech Republic.
Cormorants are fish eaters. Typical prey will be between 10 – 20cm in length. During the winter months they would need to consume between 400 – 500 grams of fish a day.
Cormorants that feed in natural waters tend to take fish such as roach, Rudd or Chub that have very little to anglers. The main problem lies when the birds feed inland and target fisheries ponds, reservoirs or bodies of water with an artificially high fish stock. The cormorant will be attracted to schools of fish and therefore the likelihood of them frequenting this type of water is higher.
However, it is not simply a question of how much the cormorants actually eat. When hunting the birds harm a number of other fish in the process. The injured fish rarely survive for long especially in the winter months. More usually they will succumb to infection and die shortly afterwards.
There are a number of proposed solutions to this ongoing problem. Unfortunately, none seem to provide ‘the perfect solution’ for all parties concerned.
Placing a ‘wire construction’ over ponds or inland waters may be ideal for conservationists, but would not go down well with the anglers. How can the practise their sport with such a hindrance?
It has been established that ‘scare’ tactics’ such as a shot into the air is not an effective way of controlling the problem. It just means that the flock in question will move to another area and double the damage caused there.
In the UK fisheries owners can apply for a license to shoot a number of the birds. Guidelines in the Czech Republic permit the shooting at flocks made up of more than 50 birds. Each country has different rules and regulations with regards to culling and it is doubtful that a blanket ruling across Europe will happen anytime soon.
This is topic the Jan Kappel EFTTA & EAA lobbyist continues to bring o the attention of the European Union.