Fishing Lines: Big eaters still in the black

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FISHERY owners are probably breathing a collective sigh of relief. The Black Death, those ravenous cormorants that have been scoffing all their fish, have largely disappeared. Phew, that could have been nasty] We thought they were going to eat the lot. With roach and bream costing about pounds 3.50 per pound (trout cost only about 85p), those cormorants came close to bankrupting us. I wonder where they went to?

I have some bad news for those fishery owners. The cormorants haven't cleared off. Although they have been driven inland to hunt because sea stocks have been decimated, they still breed around the coast. Once the mating urge wears off, they will be back to those nice waters where food is so easy to catch. And all those who have restocked will soon be seeing the black mass descending on their lakes once more.

One of these innocents appears to be Brian Pluckrose, facilities manager at Holme Pierrepont. The 74-acre Nottingham water has just spent pounds 15,000 restocking with roach and bream so that competitors in September's World Angling Championships will have something to catch. Pluckrose is quoted in this week's Angler's Mail as saying: 'Cormorants have eaten some fish but they are not the main culprits. Where are the cormorants today? There aren't any to be seen]' Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, Brian. But perhaps you should listen to Bruno Broughton, the fisheries management expert, who has just completed a survey of your water.

'Cormorants are obviously implicated in this,' he said. 'There are only half-a-dozen reasons why fish disappear from a water and I've ruled out all the others. Holme Pierrepont used to be a water that had large stocks of fish. It doesn't any more.'

No wonder the England team manager, Dick Clegg, is gloomy. He will take the blame if England don't win on their home patch. Broughton says stocking should ensure reasonable fishing, but admits that cormorants are the BSE in the beef sandwich. If they return in the same numbers, and once again use the lake as their personal feeding bowl, then it will be a very different story come September.

Fortunately, I think I can save the day. I was going to sell this unique scheme, but my nationalistic pride was too great. I can guarantee a brilliant spectator event and good catches - without resorting to any of the bloodthirsty solutions suggested, like shooting the birds, electrocuting their perches or hacking down all trees so they don't have anywhere to roost within 30 miles. I would like to pretend the idea is mine alone, but its inspiration comes from the Chinese fishermen of Guilin, in the north-eastern Kwangsi Chuang province. This picturesque area, with its gentle rivers and limestone hills, is famous for the laziest method of angling I've ever heard of.

All fishermen have their own pet cormorants. These highly trained birds are not fed for 24 hours before fishing. The fishermen tie string round the birds' necks before setting off. In the river, they do what cormorants do best, and catch fish. (Superbly efficient hunters, they are able to catch fish up to 50 feet down). Normally they devour them, but the string means they can't. The fishermen, who sit around drinking and chatting, pull in the cormorant and force it to disgorge its catch, then send the bird off again. At the end of a session, the birds are allowed a few fish, and the fishermen keep the rest.

There are already thousands of cormorants living inland in Britain (similar concern is being expressed in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France). With 30 teams of five taking part in the world championships, it should be no trouble to catch 150 birds and train them. If there are any fish left in Holme Pierrepont, the cormorants have a far better chance of catching them than do the anglers. So instead of using maggots or worms, each angler releases his own cormorant (why, they could even wear team colours). At the end of three hours, the team with the highest weight wins.

The only problem I haven't overcome for the world event is what will happen should the Chinese take part. If they bring over their own highly trained cormorants, they're going to be unbeatable.

The 3oz stuffed gudgeon I mentioned in this column a couple of weeks ago sold for pounds 5,875 at Bonham's last week. That works out at pounds 1,958.33 an ounce.