FEB's: Chris White is "on it": Thanks Chris

I raised the FEB issue at the Skype joint LFAG meeting yesterday pointing out the frustration about the delay in addressing FEB predation.  Dave Mee took part in this meeting and he explained the NRW/WG position which is basically they are scared of a legal challenge from ‘Wild Justice’ (Packham et al) so they need to have clear evidence of harm before they introduce any controls – hence the delay until 2022 at the earliest.  In response to a question about who and how the FEB study will be carried out and why anglers cannot carry this out DM said that if the estimated cost of the study is over £5K this would have to be tendered (they will fudge this to keep below the need to tender i.e. split into phases and areas) and there would need to be creditable evidence that those who tender are qualified for the work (the impression was that anglers are not qualified).  I suspect that this work will be carried out by a university (Cardiff/Swansea/Bangor maybe through contracts placed by rivers trusts).  I questioned why the Scottish study was not being considered and from what DM said apparently the Scottish study did not conclude that FEB’s had any impact on fish stocks – note the term ‘fish stocks’ I have seen this used to justify paddling over spawning grounds in the past (Brighton and EA reports on the effect of canoeing on ‘fish stocks’) as the term ‘fish stocks’ covers all species and not just salmonids.  Many of the larger Scottish rivers have large coarse fish stocks (roach/grayling) so you need to know which rivers were used in the studies.  I pointed out that much of the damage by FEB’s is on upland spawning streams and that the investigations to date seems to have been focused on main river counts (DM mentioned the Usk and Wye, both have coarse fish stocks).  The majority of our North Wales rivers do not have coarse fish (other than minnows and loach) so FEB predation has a disproportionate effect on salmonids, there is not a one size fits all solution and studies need to be on a river by river basis (we have said this before re byelaws and have been ignored).  Any study must include upland spawning streams over at least a 3 month period i.e. through the winter when flocks of FEB’s search out an easy feed.  I pointed out that these birds are mobile and may visit more than one site in a day and if disturbed they simply move to another site, most of which are remote and not easily accessible (remote wildlife cameras are better than people in these remote locations).   

The BTO survey is focused on ‘Wetland’ i.e. coastal areas and does not reflect what is happening on inland waterways, they may include some of the major river stems but they do not extend to counts on upland spawning streams I would suggest that this is where the study should be focused.  I will write to NRW and see if I can get some accurate numbers for overwintering goosanders as it is these birds which, in my opinion are causing most damage.  The BTO on its website states that adult goosanders will eat 400gm of fish per day so a flock of just 10 FEBs descending on a river or spawning stream can eat 4Kg of fish in a day – that’s a lot of parr!  The problem is it has been suggested that any parr that are left will take the place of those eaten and it is only predation of smolts which is an issue!  I will bang the drum but doubt that NRW will take any notice!

Chris White

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