Barbel Society Response to the Angling Trust Regarding the Otter Petition

On April 8th 2021 The Barbel Society initiated a petition with the main intention of keeping the otter situation in regard to its status and balance at the top of the agenda. We are looking to achieve a substantial number of signatures in order to confirm the concern felt by all those who want to see a balanced riverine environment.
As current members of the Angling Trust we were hoping they would show empathy and indeed support.
A week later The Angling Trust issued their public statement and we now give our response.

• In his introduction Jamie (Angling Trust CEO) states that he is aware of the ‘initial’ impact the resurgence of otters has had and we are pleased to hear him say that but we would certainly question the word ‘initial’. This situation has been going on for the past fifteen years at the very least so what time period covers ‘initial’?
• He then says that thriving fish populations and indigenous predators are not mutually incompatible in healthy river systems. We would question whether we do indeed have healthy river systems or are likely to have any time soon.
• The Barbel Society has never blamed the decline in barbel stocks solely on predation but we suggest there are very few who would deny that it has and continues to be a major problem. Of course there are other reasons and we will happily support any organisation that is prepared to tackle those difficult issues.
• The many factors adversely affecting our rivers has been highlighted a number of times in our magazine, The Barbel Fisher. We can only bring them to the fore.
• Jamie reminds us that the Angling Trust along with Fish Legal have taken the EA and DEFRA back to court to extract stronger enforcement of regulations, of course we applaud them for that.
• We do not believe that angling per se is under threat today any more than it has ever been. There have always been isolated instances where misguided parties have tried to or indeed stopped angling; we do not believe our petition increases the likelihood of more cases.
• We have taken a slightly different opinion to the Angling Trust when it comes to the Covid situation and our views on this are well documented and don’t need to be repeated and in the interest of moving on we will put this matter behind us.
• The petition has created dialogue, that’s the whole point. You have taken the time to respond, so have others. This subject no matter how difficult it is to address, will not simply be swept under the carpet.
• There is no mention of a cull, barbel or angling in this petition, this is intentional. We want it to be appropriate for all parties with an interest in the riverine environment.
• The point is that protection versus cull is not the only solution; they are the extreme ends of the options. Many in the otter community say it is nature and a balance will be found. If that is the case why are councils and organisations constructing otter holts to make their lives easier? Once that holt is established, under current law the police are expected to prevent visitors and dog walkers from approaching the holt in case the otter is disturbed. We understand that stretches of river have been closed to prevent disturbance of otter presence. This isn’t nature. This is the encouragement of an apex predator that is destroying a sport that the Angling Trust is set up to protect and also destroying the livelihood of the land owners and industry that supports it.
• The Barbel Society has always asked for control, that does not mean a cull, there are non-lethal means that should be explored by those with the real expertise and we would like to see the Angling Trust striving for this solution.
• The stance that appears to be taken by the Angling Trust is that we have to choose between the status quo or an otter cull. You have expressed a view that the latter might cause an end to angling, you do however acknowledge there is a problem by the efforts you are providing to stillwater fisheries. As barbel anglers we fish the rivers and streams and your current position would seem to be sacrificing them for expediency and as river anglers we cannot stand aside and watch that happen.
• In regard to public perception we would like to see the Angling Trust in association with other interested bodies being proactive in gathering up to date evidence and information to be used in educating the general public, which would help enormously.
• We don’t believe anyone expects to get the support of 326 Members of Parliament, however to date there are more than seventeen thousand signatories to the two petitions we have initiated and we would hope you are able to bear that in mind whenever the opportunity arises for you to discuss this problem with the decision makers.
• It was a huge disappointment when it became apparent that the PAG driven meeting had to be cancelled. We were looking forward to being there and our aim was to ensure that those present arrived at a few points we could all rally around, no putting off until the next time, definite results that everyone there could support. Not an easy task but we were absolutely set on helping to make that happen. The hope is the meeting can be reconvened because it is undoubtedly needed. We would point out that the PAG were aware of the petition and had an input to the wording before it went out.
• We do not believe our petition is a damaging stunt, it is a convenient way of measuring support and the numbers in agreement are significant.
• Anglers should not be divided but they are. Unification is a panacea we should all look towards but the Angling Trust should always strive to be the bridge builder.
• You say you recognise our concern but as river anglers we are looking for more empathy and support. Our issues, especially predation, are indeed difficult to deal with but that doesn’t mean we should give up, our interest in this matter is surely mutual.
• As for barbel anglers joining the Trust, you may well see an initial surge but with a little more thought there would be a lot more.

To sum up, a holistic approach is essentially required, with the petition we are focusing on one particular issue because it cannot be ignored. Pollution is a huge topic but laws are in place and it’s a matter of enforcing them, but addressing that while shutting one’s eyes to otter predation is not going to solve the problem.
Many thousands are disillusioned, that is a fact and it could be reversed by showing empathy, understanding and indeed looking to provide solutions rather than trying to cast aside those who are willing to express their views.
Our quest on this issue is not for ourselves; the damage is done and will take years to put right, it’s about the future generations, it’s about every species of fish, bird and mammal in the riverine environment – as we see in your stance towards the beaver, and it’s about leaving some kind of legacy.
Mike Heylin, the hugely respected past Angling Trust Chairman once wrote; ‘The sooner anglers’ calls to have otter numbers controlled are listened to, the better.’ The late John Wilson, also a highly respected angler and broadcaster once stated, ‘Like all animals put into an environment, otters need to be managed’. You should have listened to such individuals, we all should – they were correct.
When your tenure is over we hope you can look back and say I really did try, that’s all we ask.

Barbel Society 2021