Anglers urge cull of cormorants for eating too many fish

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It has become Liverpool's mascot, standing guard over the city at the Pier Head on the Mersey. But the cormorant, or Liver Bird, is facing a cull after angry anglers claimed the birds were eating too many fish.

It has become Liverpool's mascot, standing guard over the city at the Pier Head on the Mersey. But the cormorant, or Liver Bird, is facing a cull after angry anglers claimed the birds were eating too many fish.

Cormorant numbers have increased from 7,000 pairs to more than 12,000 in the past 20 years since they gained protection from random killing in 1981.

Now Ben Bradshaw, the fisheries minister, is to allow an extension of the licensing system to make it easier to gain permission to kill the birds inland around England's waterways and fisheries.

Mr Bradshaw, who says he had been harassed by cormorants outside his own flat, said that he believed the cormorant was "a pest".

The announcement, to be made formally next month from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), will infuriate bird lovers who say the cormorant has always lived inland and is only recovering its population after years of persecution.

The RSPB said that fisheries managers were to blame for failing to protect their stock, adding that for a cormorant a well-stocked river was "like putting out nuts for a blue tit".

A spokesman said yesterday: "The cormorant, which is Liverpool's Liver Bird, is now being regarded as a pest but it is a legitimate party of our nation's fauna. What is being proposed is an endless death sentence for cormorants. Culls rarely work. They will just create a vacuum that other cormorants will fill.

"We accept it may be necessary for fisheries to shoot to scare birds, but not as a population-reduction measure."

Cormorants can grow up to a metre long and are about the size of a goose, with a maximum lifespan of 23 years. They are distinguished by their habit of standing on sandbars or logs with the wings outstretched. Although they are regarded as seabirds, they are now commonplace around inland fisheries and waterways, including the tidal Thames and the Trent in Nottinghamshire, where they fish for dace and trout.

Last year, Defra granted 135 licences to kill cormorants and 445 of the birds were shot. Currently fisheries must prove that they have tried to scare the birds away and provided refuges for fish before they can apply for a licence to shoot them. But the new regime could make it far easier to gain a licence to shoot the birds.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "Defra is actively considering measures that will increase the level of licences to kill cormorants at local levels. This measure may well help fishery owners and angling clubs deal with the increasing problem of predation by cormorants."

Martin Salter MP, the Government's official adviser on angling and shooting, said the "cormorant is a lethal killing machine" and a widespread cull was now necessary.

"They can eat up to 2lbs of fish a day which means they take up to 30,000 tons of fish a year. Whole fisheries could be cleaned out of stock," he said. "It is all very well for the RSPB to complain about a cull but they were all in favour of culling ruddy ducks when they thought they were breeding with the [endangered] white-headed duck."

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