Thursday, February 5, 2009

Week 57

Week 57

A week of snow, proper snow, and just what you would expect in early February. Schools closed for three days of the week, fifty plus kids chucking snow at each other on the recreation ground, abundant opportunities to sledge and slide and a hard time for the creatures of the parish. Our bird feeders in the garden are emptying at an incredible rate. The feeders in the wood are hammered by all and sundry, while the flattened Maize is a hive of activity. It is a hard time for flora and fauna but all will feel the benefit of “proper winter conditions in winter time” later in the year.

The highlight of the week? The midweek presentation by the leader of The National Trout and Grayling Strategy group at Sparsholt College. After getting lost in a college that I attended over twenty years ago and is now unrecognisable having tripled in size I eventually found my way to a free glass of wine and a sixty minute PowerPoint presentation, stating “The Facts” behind the proposed Brown Trout stocking policy. As well as a few humble keepers and riparian owners there was a sprinkling of Sparsholt students, and some particularly “Big Noises” from the Environment Agency and Institute of Fishery Management. The letter that I will be posting to various attendees follows:

Thank you for your kind invitation to attend the IFM meeting on the 4th February to hear Dr Shields explain the Scientific thinking on which future Brown Trout Stocking Policy is to be decided. PI recently attended a meeting of the Southern branch of the IFM where Dr Brian Shields was to explain “The Facts” behind the Trout & Grayling strategy. I attended with an open mind but am sorry to say that I remain unconvinced that it is the best way forward for the stretch of river that I am responsible for. The EA require full compliance by 2015 when all Brown Trout stocked must be triploid, or diploid raised under a “suitable” rearing scheme from a distinct indigenous stock, the second option having more merit than the first, although it was intimated that this was not to be encouraged.

During the presentation, a spokesman for the Wild Trout lobby stated that a twelve mile stretch of the middle Test had been stocked with triploids for some years, Inexplicably, no investigation into the impact of this stocking policy on fish populations in that stretch of river has been carried out.

I am not anti triploid and recognise that in some situations there is merit to them being used, but concerns remain about the public perception of a National Strategy that hangs its hat on the use of an engineered fish that has been banned in Germany on grounds of its GM status, and flies in the face of current thinking on animal production, where all things organic and natural are king.

Concerns were also raised that the Strategy had deflected from real issues of concern in the Test Valley, namely the decline in the Grayling population in the middle river, deterioration in water quality, rampant avian predation and a drop off in some habitat management practices.

Brief mention was made of a recent three-year study by The Game Conservancy on forty-eight sites on seven rivers that concluded:

“There was no statistically significant drop in abundance, biomass or growth of wild Brown Trout in upland and lowland rivers when stocking took place.”

“Stocking did not cause displacement of wild Brown Trout in upland and lowland rivers.”

Studies in America have produced similar results with wild populations of Rainbow Trout in Oregon alongside a prolonged history of stocking with hatchery reared Rainbows. As have studies by The Danish Institute for Fisheries research that found that genetic introgression by hatchery trout had occurred in only two of the five wild fish populations studied.

Scientific study backs up both sides of the debate, plus the bit in the middle, and around the edge. Proof positive that, what is the best strategy for one river and it’s population of fish, may not be the best strategy for another. Regional policies would far better serve the Brown Trout of these Isles, than the National Strategy that the EA is currently ramming home and hopes to have in place by 2015.

Several people at the presentation raised the question of how an under funded and overstretched EA hope to enforce this National Strategy, For compliance to be achieved by 2015 the EA needs the cooperation of people managing the fisheries to make the strategy work, everyone has to believe that it is the way forward and buy into the strategy. For the stretch of river that I am responsible for, much of the current strategy is akin to a crackpot expedition to hunt Yeti and Unicorn.

Show me the Yeti, and not just a few indistinct footprints in the snow and I may buy in. lease pass on my thanks to Dr Shields for braving the weather to give us an informative presentation.

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