Trout Anglers ‘Out for a Duck’
Simon Cooper is concerned at the ‘flawed logic’ behind a conservation policy.
The headlines in The Scotsman and the BBC splashed much the same message: Survival of rare duck in Scotland 'depends on trout fishing'. I must admit it rather caught my eye, with the article which went on to say:
"Conservationists believe they have identified the cause of a decline in numbers of a rare duck. In the UK, common scoters breed at only a few locations in the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland and lochs in the hills and glens near Inverness.
A key cause is now thought to be rising numbers of trout which eat the ducks' main food source, freshwater insects.”
RSPB Scotland and others have raised concerns the bird could become extinct locally because of poor breeding. The charity suspects declining angling on the lochs has helped boost brown trout populations.
Dr Mark Hancock, from the RSPB's Centre for Conservation Science said:
"Of all the lochs we investigated during this work, scoters bred most often at those with the shallowest water and the largest, freshwater invertebrates. It soon became clear that there were more insects where there were fewer brown trout, so it looks like scoters are being limited by a lack of food in places where the fish are eating it all. We're now using these results to design new ways of helping scoters. For example, in areas of the north Highlands where angling activity has dropped off and fish numbers have increased, more trout angling is potentially one way to boost freshwater insect life."
Dr Andy Douse of SNH and co-author of the study, said:
"Scotland is the only part of the UK to have breeding scoters, many of which nest in legally-protected nature conservation sites. This study highlights promising management options for restoring populations of this declining species."
The first time I read the article I thought interesting, but after a few re-reads something about it slightly needled me…
Firstly, it was the assumption that trout fishing was seen as a form of fish population control, the implicit belief that we killed the fish we catch. I don't know about you but most anglers I know prefer catch and release and on the occasions I have fished Scottish lochs, mostly populated with beautiful wild browns, I wouldn't have done anything else.
Then there was the statement 'It soon became clear that there were more insects where there were fewer brown trout ....'. Well, I'm sure you know that there have been decades of research into the state of fly life on the chalkstreams and in all that time I have never once seen any fly life decline attributed to the fish population. Invasive species, pollution, climate, water flows to name but four that might be cited, but trout?
If anyone ever suggested that fish be removed from a stretch of river to boost the fly life we'd call the men in white coats.
Then there was that final bit of Orwellian ‘group speak’, "This study highlights promising management options for restoring populations of this declining species." I think from all the above we can see where this particular policy might be heading. Encouraging us to fish is great news, but I suspect they may have other measures in mind and that would be wrong because, despite an eye catching headline, the conclusion is based on flawed logic.
Flyfishing.co.uk is delighted to bring you Simon’s feature, which was first published in his ‘Fishing Breaks’ Newsletter.
Simon’s company, Fishing Breaks, based in the heart of the River Test Valley, offers some of the finest chalk stream fly fishing available in the UK – and a whole lot more. Check out their website HERE
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