A few weeks ago a PDF file dropped into my mailbox entitled 'Cormorants; The Facts'. This was a report issued by the Moran Committee to "debunk myths about cormorants while setting out a way forward that is acceptable to both angling and conservation groups". I had to re-read the document several times as I couldn't really believe what was in front of my eyes.
The Moran Committee comprised of a group of diverse and interested parties. It's members included people like the EA and the RSPB, English Nature etc. None of these parties are especially pro or anti angling though they all, obviously, have specific axes to grind. Other members of the committee include very pro-angling groups - people who have done some great works on behalf of angling over the years and have become the champions of the cause. The National Angling Alliance. Here are some of the contributors;
Anglersí Conservation Association, Angling Trade Association, Association of Stillwater Game Fishery Managers, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Commercial Coarse Fisheries Association, Institute of Fisheries Management, National Association of Fisheries & Angling. Consultants were also involved from the National Federation of Anglers, National Federation of Sea Anglers, Salmon & Trout Association, Specialist Anglers Alliance, Welsh Federation of Coarse Anglers Ltd and the Welsh Salmon & Trout Angling Association.
That is a lot of 'clout' as we say. So, I expected that with this little lot in our corner, common sense was bound to prevail. It looks like I was wrong.
The press release that introduces the pamphlet opens with the statement that it is a "Ground-breaking initiative between angling and conservation groups". Well, personally, that line alone offends me a great deal, insinuating as it does that anglers are separate from, or are not themselves, conservationists. A minor point to some perhaps but one that needs to be made. The statement is also incorrect, in that it is not ground-breaking and shows no initiative. Let me explain.
There is a lot of information given in the report about these birds and it is generally agreed by the committee that cormorants are a serious problem. (You can read the facts and figures yourself in the full document, I won't bore you with them here, though I will quote the odd line or two.)
Let's not beat about the bush. We anglers have watched cormorant predation damage our sport and we want something done about it quickly before things get even worse. The report freely admits there is a problem but, amazingly, refuses to attempt to address it using the time-honoured proven method of shooting the bloody things. In a nutshell, the overall conclusions given in the report are that it is not worth culling the cormorants numbers. The 'reasoning' being that - "Shooting a few cormorants will create a 'vacuum' for other birds to move into, so killing cormorants on a large scale, even if it were possible, does not necessarily reduce predation."
Have you ever read such nonsense? Thank God that whoever came up with that line wasn't in charge during the Blitz. Can you imagine that from the War Office? "We don't think it worth shooting down enemy bombers because another will just take it's place". Barmy!!
Maths: On average, a cormorant eats a pound of fish each day of it's life - that's about 10,000lbs of fish eaten over it's 25 year life-span, not including the fish it damages but doesn't eat, though those damaged fish may die later.
Two cormorants however do not destroy 20,000lbs of fish. Oh no, that's just the tip of the iceberg. A breeding pair lays a hell of a lot of eggs in 25 years. Each successful hatchling will soon consume it's own daily pound of fish and begin to lay it's own eggs. The damage is compounded with every egg that hatches. Over the span of a cormorant's lifetime, given perfect conditions and assuming that just two birds will successfully hatch each year, shooting a pair of cormorants today will save approx 21,870,302.1818 tons of fish. No, the decimal point is not in the wrong place. (See maths at bottom of this article, calculated by a Professor at Rutgers University, New Jersey). Even allowing for a huge degree of leeway, this amount of fish damage is from a starting point of just TWO birds! So how can the report claim that shooting cormorants "does not necessarily reduce predation" when it's as clear as crystal that it most certainly does!
"To make any difference to the cormorant population, it is estimated that 30,000-60,000 cormorants would have to be killed every year throughout Europe. This is not only impractical; it simply would not be acceptable to the general public."
The first part of that last para is fine. It's the second sentence that holds the key to all this - where it says "acceptable to the general public". Which 'general public' is referred to here? The same general public that spends millions of pounds on insecticides to kill the aphids on their roses? I think the 'general public' can tell the difference between a conservationist plan to stop a plague of vermin and murdering some fluffy-wuffy Disney characters! This is not a case of unnecessary blood-sport shooting; nobody wants to go out and 'have fun' killing God's creatures, but when the chips are down these distasteful jobs must be done. When faced with pests, we get out the fly-spray, and most people understand the difference. Public approval is only dependent upon the manner in which the information is presented - see recent terrorist imprisonment 'outrage' claims. To assume that public opinion will be against culling is presumptuous to say the least, and, I think, rather arrogant.
Besides, this is not really a matter for public debate, it's gone well past that stage. The vast majority of people in this country don't know or care about cormorants or fish, or much else. They don't have time to get embroiled with every little problem which comes up in everyday life; that is why we form committees like the Moran, so that our children's futures can be protected without bothering the general public with these 'minor' details. Isn't it?
I thought the Moran Committee was formed to make the "hard" decisions, not to make excuses and then pass the buck. Sure, if they made the decision to remove the protected status that cormorants enjoy they'd get some flack from some birdy-types who refuse to accept that fish deserve the same degree of conservation as birds. And as the Moran Committee didn't make that decision, they can expect flak from us anglers. It's a no-win situation, someone is going to scream no matter what is decided. The difference is that by recommending the removal of protected status, the Committee would also have completed the job that they are supposed to be doing, instead of rendering itself impotent in fear of some imaginary 'public opinion' scenario.
Substitute the word 'rat' for 'cormorant' and you'll see what I'm getting at. If a body entitled the Royal Society for the Protection of Rats existed, my point would be obvious. There isn't one so I guess I have to spell it out. Controlling cormorant numbers is the only sane route. Man is the dominant species on this planet. He got there by manipulating every part of nature he could in order to enhance his own lifestyle. If that means flysprays and shotguns to control pest numbers he doesn't flinch from using them, to all our advantage. So objectors, get real, please!
"Anglers need to realise that shooting cormorants will not solve the problem," said Terry Mansbridge, convenor of the working party that produced the Moran Committee leaflet.
Well, let's be honest, that's not what common-sense says, is it? And neither is it agreed with by scientific reports that I found on the web. In a couple of minutes I found this, and it is far from being an isolated opinion:
"All these (cormorant) increases are thought to result from relaxation in former persecution and increased provision of food sources such as fish farms and hatcheries. Numbers in western Scotland have, however, decreased, particularly in areas holding salmon farms, suggesting the effects of both licensed killing and illegal persecution (Wernham et al. 1999)."
Unless the problem Mr Mansbridge refers to is not that of controlling cormorants but the other problem? The imaginary/hypothetical political one? He goes on; "The cormorant population is highly mobile, and studies show that to make any impact on their numbers, 60,000 birds would have to be shot across Europe each year. This is politically and socially unacceptable."
Unacceptable? To whom? I don't know anyone who holds a fishing rod (millions of people remember) who would consider it so, or any true, balanced, conservationist. Conservation is a term to be applied equally to both fish and birds, not just to creatures with wings. To shoot large numbers of these creatures now they have attained pest proportions is a simple, quick, humane and effective proven remedy.
Martin James, a keen birder himself, reminded me that the last time we had a cormorant problem in the UK, back in the 1960s, when a prize of approx 25p per beak was awarded, the problem was solved rather swiftly by shooting the ruddy things. And I wonder why is it that nobody then worried or complained that 'public opinion' might be against the decision to shoot cormorants? It couldn't be because they would have been laughed at, could it? Hmm? So what's changed, because, believe me, people in this country laugh themselves silly at the OTT American PC culture. So why are our 'champions' emulating that trait instead of learning from it?
The recommendations, or lack of them, in this report appear to me to have been reached and agreed to, purely for reasons of perceived political correctness. Well, I'm sorry. I never realised that the Moran Committee was formed to decide what was politically correct or desirable (to whoever). I thought it was formed to discover if a cormorant problem existed, which it did. And to recommend a suitable effective and efficient treatment. Which it did not. In fact the recommendations that the Moran Committee did make, show such a lack of consideration for angling interests that they might just as well have not bothered with them in the first place. (You can read the recommendations yourself in the report if want a good laugh. Or cry.)
So what happened then? With all the clout the angling world presented to the Moran Committee, how was it that the wishes of true conservationists, the average anglers, were seemingly totally ignored. Where were our champions, the NAA, when we needed them most?
I feel that the credibility of the NAA has been put into question by backing this report and that our initial confidence in them as an organisation to champion our causes has been badly damaged. How could they have supported this cotton-wool wrapped nonsense!
One part of the report is headed "Why not just shoot cormorants?" It continues "....about 6,000 cormorants winter in Bavaria. During the winter 1996/97, over 6,000 birds were shot, but the average winter population was not reduced; culling the birds simply created a space that others moved into from surrounding areas."
This is a 'reason'? Rubbish! It just goes to show the extent of the problem, and every year that problem compounds. Fortunately, we can still make a difference. We have lots of shotgun shells, we won't run out.
"We will work with Government and organisations across Europe to manage conflicts where they occur and try to find sustainable solutions to the problem that are acceptable to all."
I hate to keep carping on about this but the only "sustainable solution" is on the ammo counter of our local shotgun dealer. Obviously this solution will never be acceptable to some people but anything less will not be a 'solution'.
The paper ends with "For general advice on angling and cormorants please contact the National Angling Alliance on 020 7283 5838" Or maybe, don't bother. Call the Girl Guides instead.
So, was this report's total disregard for the angling world, and common sense, the 'Ground-breaking initiative' that was mentioned earlier? If so, it's not ground-breaking. They've been ignoring us for decades. God help us.
I wrote to an expert to do the maths - an
Associate Professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
>If a cormorant eats 1lb of fish each day and lives for 25 years how many lbs
>of fish IN TOTAL are consumed in 25 years? assuming that it hatches 2
>surviving baby cormorants each year. A hell of a lot I know, but how many
>tons are we talking here?
"Assume that the babies can breed at the end of their first year, but two new chicks
only come from the females. Of the two chicks each females produces each
year, one is male, one is female. Finally, lets assume that the females can
breed for all 25 years.
At the end of the first year there are 2 females and 1 male.
Each female produces two more chicks, half male, half female. At the end of
the second year we have 4 females and 3 males.
The pattern is that at the end of each year the number males and females
increase by the number of females at the start of the year.
At the end of the third year, 8 females, 7 males.
by year, the number of females is 2, 4, 8, 16..... 2^n for the nth year;
the number of males is 1, 3, 7...... 2^n-1 for the nth year.
Total birds at the end of the nth year is 2x2^n - 1 = 2^n 1 -1 birds
(67,108,862 birds at the end of the 25th year).
Total number of bird-years for m years is sum of (2^n 1 - 1) for n = 1 to m.
this equals 2^m 2 - 4 - m bird years. For m=25, this is 2^27-29 =
134,217,699 bird years. At 11 lb of fish per day, 365 days per year, per
bird = 5.39 x 10^11 lbs of fish or 240,573,324 tons!
This number is unrealistically large because it assumes that the birds all
survive and can breed during the entire 25 years. The calculation would be
somewhat harder if they are given a fixed lifetime.
I misread your message. Divide all the weights by 11 for the correct
So, given perfect conditions, that's 21,870,302.1818 tons of fish destroyed. From just two cormorants.
The prof later said he thinks the calculations he did are misleading. He says that if all birds survived, their population would indeed grow exponentially as calculated - just two parents would indeed cause a huge amount of fish to be eaten. In reality he believes that this is unlikely to happen as "the population is a lot more stable than that - even if it is growing it will not be exponentially".
I hope he's right. And I'd better not mention the Queensland Cane Toad to him then.