Page 1

WILDLIFE C O N S E R V A T I O N C O N F L I C T O R PETER S .

A N D

ANGLING:

INTEGRATION MAITLAND

The relationship between angling and wildlife conservation is a complex and often ambiguous one. Many anglers consider themselves to be naturalists also and rriajor guardians of water quality and freshwater habitats. In contrast, some people believe that angling involves substantial cruelty to fish and considerable damage to aquatic ecosystems. Most conservationists probably have views somewhere between these two extremes. There is no doubt that many human factors other than anglers have a much greater impact on the aquatic environment - some of them totally destructive. These include domestic and industrial pollution, harmful run-off of fertilisers and pesticides from various forms of land-use (notably farming and forestry), ditching and canalisation of streams and rivers and filling in of ponds. Recently, new threats have come from fish farming, acid deposition and global warming. However, the objective of this paper is to explore wildlife conservation and angling and how they relate to each other. Both share many similar objectives, but it is important to examine areas of conflict to see if problems can be solved or compromises reached. A recent example of a conflict solved gives some cause for optimism. Waterfowl in many countries were being poisoned by lead deposited in the water by anglers. In particular, mute swans in England were in serious trouble because of the large amounts of angler's lead (from discarded or lost weights) which they were ingesting. A voluntary code followed by legal measures has meant that most anglers have now replaced lead by substitute compounds and there has already been a marked decrease in swan deaths from lead poisoning. Litter Many groups of humans deposit litter in the countryside and anglers are no exception. Angling litter is commonplace around popular angling sites and much of it includes discarded everyday items such as drink cans, polythene bags, paper cartons, etc. It is characterised, however, by the inclusion of angling items such as discarded bait containers, makeshift rod rests, nylon line and fish hooks. Monofilament nylon line and fish hooks, as well as being discarded intentionally, are also frequently lost inadvertently during angling and are commonly found attached to riparian vegetation and stones in the water. Birds frequently become entangled in this and the RSPCA deals with hundreds of entangled birds each year. Fish too can be found with nylon streaming from them - attached to hooks which have been swallowed or are embedded in the body. Such fish are normally in very poor condition.

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 27 (1991)


WILDLIFE CONSERVATION A N D ANGLING: CONFLICT OR INTEGRATION

77

Disturbance Angling is normally a quiet and often solitary occupation. Nevertheless, in sensitive areas, substantial disturbance to wildlife can take place. Commonly waterfowl can be disturbed. Sometimes the disturbance is minimal, and especially with tolerant species like mallard there is probably little effect. However with more sensitive species, such as divers, the impact can be serious. Most damage is done at nesting time when birds are disturbed on the nest or prevented from gaining access to their nests. Much of this disturbance is done unwittingly by the anglers concerned. At one time it was thought that some of the decline of the otter population in southern Britain could be due to disturbance but research has shown that otters are less sensitive than previously thought and rarely affected by human activity at the water's edge. The only exception is with breeding females where it is important that quiet and secure places are available for mothers to rear young in seclusion (Jefferies 1987). Damage Apart from some (usually unintentional) damage to fences and gates, the main direct damage created by anglers is to the riparian vegetation. This may be caused by trampling across sensitive marsh or bog communities or actively destroying these to gain better access to the water. Often tree branches are removed or even entire trees felled - sometimes along a whole stretch of bank. Where worms are sought as bait it is common to find patches of turf dug out. Often, fires are built near the water's edge and surrounding vegetation further damaged. Fishery management Because of problems along the riparian zone, this is frequently modified by fishery managers to avoid damage or aid angling access to the water. Such management can include tree clearance, weed cutting, the use of herbicides or biological weed control methods. It may also involve the creation of firm paths or wooden walkways as well as the reconstruction of bank sides using wooden supports or stone walling. Fishing stances, jetties for boats and other structures may also be created. In some cases, as well as making physical alterations, attempts are made to alter water quality with the objective of improving the fishery. This may involve the addition of fertilisers to increase productivity or lime to increase alkalinity. Such materials may be added direct to the water or its tributaries or spread more diffusely within the catchment. Recently, a number of fisheries have installed equipment to pump oxygen into the water at critical periods. Several birds and mammals compete with anglers for fish and such piscivores are especially attracted to highly managed waters with unnaturally high populations of stocked, easily available, farmed fish. In Great Britain, herons, cormorants, mergansers, goosanders, otters, mink and seals are

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 27 (1991)


78

Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 27

often regarded as a threat to fisheries and are normally discouraged by shooting. This may have a short-term effect but normally the void created is simply filled by another member of the same species. Sometimes native (occasionally introduced) fish species are regarded as undesirable competitors or predators and are poisoned out from a lake by the use of a piscicide such as rotenone or antimycin A. The lake is then restocked with desired angling species, usually brown or rainbow trout. Rotenone is much less toxic to bottom invertebrates than fish but zooplankton can be severely affected and populations may take many months to recover. Stocking As well as stocking waters which are Ashless as a result of poisoning, various other types of stocking are practised by fishery managers. Commonly, the wild stock is supplemented by additional fish in an attempt to improve fishing. Often, very large numbers are introduced; these may be young fish which need to grow before reaching a catchable size, but more and more waters are receiving fish of a catchable size and in such 'put and take' systems fish may only be in a water a few hours before being caught again. Such intensive management practices can create many problems. There may be damage to the original native stock through competition, predation, genetic dilution or the introduction of diseases or parasites. Sometimes the original stock may be completely wiped out and the fishery is forced to a permanent 'put and take' situation. In addition, it is often forgotten that such fisheries rely on fish farms for their stock and thus they exacerbate the problems created by fish farms (abstraction, pollution, disease, parasites, escape of stock, attraction of predators, etc.). Live fish In general, game fishing involves the least handling and pain to fish which, other than when they are actually being 'played' are reeled in and either released at once if they are too small or despatched and taken to be eaten. In coarse fishing on the other hand, fish are rarely taken for eating. Regardless of size they are normally removed from the hook and kept (possibly for hours) in a keep net (in shallow, often dirty and warm water) until they are released at the end of the day - usually after a rather lengthy weighing process. Substantial mortalities can occur during this period and after release; mortalities of up to 98% have been recorded after fishing competitions (Bylander, 1990). In addition to fish which are the quarry, other smaller species are caught by hand net or rod and line and used subsequently as live bait. This means that they are kept alive in a small container, transported to the fishing site, impaled on one or more hooks and cast into the water in the hope of attracting large predatory species such as pike, pikeperch or perch. Fortunately such bait fish usually die a short time after impalement. Many also die in the container; those which do not are either destroyed, released at the angling site or taken home for further use.

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 27 (1991)


WILDLIFE CONSERVATION A N D ANGLING: CONFLICT OR INTEGRATION

79

The release of such fish can have an important local impact. Apart from the possibility of disease introduction, they may never have occurred at the angling site in question. An outstanding example of this is at Loch Lomond, where ruffe (unknown previously in Scotland) are believed to have been introduced by pike fishermen from England about 1980. They were first detected in the Loch in 1982 (Maitland, etal., 1983) and have since become one of the most abundant species, posing a threat to native fish. Three other species new to Loch Lomond (gudgeon, chub and dace) have also been introduced by coarse fishermen over the last ten years and all have become established. One of these species, the gudgeon, was not introduced casually but brought into the area with the specific intention of establishing a new population. Ir was first introduced to a small pond, but quickly found its way into Loch Lomond. There are many other instances of anglers moving coarse fish into new waters with the objective of establishing a fishery there regardless of the nature and importance of the water involved. Discussion The fact that fish are being caught by and subjected to methods of treatment which inevitably damages them is an area of major controversy and this raises the whole question of pain in fish. Many anglers dispute that fish feel pain, but anyone who has ever kept fish in aquaria or handled live fish regularly in the field knows that they do. The attitude of the state in this matter is clear. Fish are vertebrates and as such are clearly included in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (Home Office, 1990); the objective of this Act is to control scientific procedures applied to an animal 'which may have the effect of causing that animal pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm'. Thus no scientist can carry out any potentially painful experiment on a vertebrate without an appropriate licence and approval for the work involved which must usually be carried out within a designated establishment. An experiment involving impaling live fish on hooks and then leaving them in the water for extended periods would definitely come within the Act and probably would only be allowed under anaesthetic. Yet in the wild, anglers consign thousands of fish every year to a painful and lingering death. This is something which brings angling into considerable disrepute nationally and, in the author's opinion, should be stopped forthwith - if not voluntarily then by legislation. Such a ban would have little effect on angling for dead baiting is a suitable alternative method. In response to criticism from various quarters (Maitland & Turner, 1987), a number of codes of conduct have been produced by angling bodies in recent years, the most recent being a code for game anglers (Game Angling Code, 1990). This covers some of the points discussed above but neglects others, notably the issue of livebaiting, 'put and take' fisheries and the ethical issues of 'catch and release'. It is clear that there are extensive and increasing pressures on our fresh waters and that much discussion and many compromises are needed if this precious resource is to be used wisely. One recent example which highlights

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 27 (1991)


80

Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 27

the kinds of conflicts involved, relates to ducks and fish where Giles et al. (1989) have suggested that because fish compete with some duck species for food, fish should be removed from some waters in order to increase the production of ducks for shooting. Anglers have yet to respond to this proposal. Conclusions The general conclusion arising from the above is that, although anglers are a powerful voice in the protection of water quality and some species of fish, they undoubtedly create a number of conservation and ethical problems. On the one hand angling can mean the pursuit of wild fish in their natural habitats for sport and food, which seems to be an entirely legitimate acitivity. On the other, it may involve the capture of tame farmed fish, possibly to be held for hours in a keep net and released, if still alive, at the end of the day after further handling and weighing - perhaps to be caught again the next day and so on. The ethics of this part of the 'sport' are debatable to many conservationists; to most the practice of livebaiting is entirely repugnant. Thus anglers must give further consideration to such issues and strengthen their codes of practice where necessary. In addition, as with other groups in the population, in an overpopulated world with limited, even diminishing, resources, anglers may have to lower their expectations - especially where these may have included hopes for an expansion of fishing. A move towards reduced angling on natural sustainable fish populations, with a minimum amount of cruelty would be welcome by conservationists. The general restriction of 'put and take' fisheries to artificial waters only would also be a positive step, while the whole issue of 'catch and release' requires further debate not only by anglers but by society as a whole. References Bylander, C. B. (1990). Walleye tournament study sheds new light on catch and release. Minnesota DNR Region III News. 6, 2-14. Giles, N., Street, M., Wright, R., Phillips, V. &Traill-Stevenson, A. (1989). Food for wildfowl increases after fish removal. Game Conserv. Rev. 1988, 137-140. Home Office. (1990). Guidance on the operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. London, HMSO. Jefferies, D. J. (1987). The effects of angling interests on otters, with particular reference to disturbance. Inst. Terr. Ecol. Symp. 19, 23-30. Maitland, P. S., East, K. & Morris, K. H. (1983). Ruffe Gymnocephalus cernua (L.), new to Scotland, in Loch Lomond. Scott. Nat. 1983, 7-9. Maitland, P. S. & Turner, A. K. (1987). Angling and wildlife conservation are they incompatible? Inst. Terr. Ecol. Symp. 19, 76-81. Dr. Peter S. Maitland, Fish Conservation Centre, Easter Cringate, Stirling

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 27 (1991)

Wildlife conservation and angling - conflict or integration  

Peter Maitland

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you