A popular fishing competition has been cancelled – because of a lack of fish.
The IPA Open Championships has been called off for the first time in its 50-year history after organisers say they cannot guarantee anglers will have anything to catch on the River Ivel at Biggleswade.
The situation is a problem for anglers as they compete with a rapidly growing otter and cormorant population.
Graham Inwood, vice president of the Ivel Protection Agency (IPA) said: “Last week’s Pairs Match was a devastating blow to the organisers who are simply not prepared to put anglers on pegs knowing they will almost certainly blank.”
Only five minnows were caught in the competition.
“This is a sad reflection on an event that has run for almost as long as the Ivel Protection Association has been in existence,” said Mr Inwood.
He told the Chronicle the fish stock had been declining in recent years, mainly due to predation by wildlife.
He said otters and cormorants were believed to have done significant damage to fish numbers in recent years and as they had no natural predators, the wildlife was increasing.
And the issue is causing dissent among both anglers and the Environment Agency.
“The problem with our river is not a recent one, its decline has been ongoing since the early nineties,” said Mr Inwood.
“Water quality is cited as a possible cause, but the fish caught last weekend were pristine, as were the bream that won last year’s match. Well fed, seemingly free from parasites and no indication of any health issues.
“The decline of our river fish is obvious, the causes less so.Flow rates and abstraction are cited as possible causes. Nitrates and phosphates from farming. Even the influx of oestrogen from domestic waste water has been mentioned as a possible cause of declining recruitment in fish stocks.
“However the glaringly obvious fact is the increased level of predation which simply has to be the major issue.
“Signal crayfish are rife throughout the Ivel and must have a huge impact on fish eggs and fry. The population of cormorants in all regions has boomed since they were added to the protected list in the early nineties. Prior to that they were a noted rarity in our region. Now otters are out of control and their numbers increasing dramatically. Between them these three species are taking fish at all stages and sizes from spawn to specimens. Anglers are witness first hand to this decline, their sport dictated by the numbers of fish throughout the river system.
Mr Inwood said the group had been in discussion with the Environment Agency about buying new fish stock but there were anglers who believed it would just be money spent to feed the otters.
“Searching for a solution, there probably isn’t one,” he said.
“Nature will effect a natural balance in time. Fish stocks will decline to a point where food supply limits the predators. Anglers will focus even more on fenced in commercial fisheries. As for our rivers, the few remaining river enthusiasts will seek out the odd surviving specimen fish hidden away in one or two locations, or perhaps try for the pockets of smaller fish that are able to exist in the few places that regular human presence is a deterrent to predation.”
Mr Inwood said he had already seen otters in daylight, which could be a sign they are struggling to find food.
“In the 90s around 230 angers would turn up for the championshiops,” he said. “Now we are getting around 25 people and e don’t have enough locations to get fish. It’s soul destroying.”
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “We are sorry to hear that IPA has cancelled its 2018 Open Championship on the River Ivel due to low fish stocks.
“Our officers attended a recent IPA meeting and discussed how to improve fish populations and river habitats.
“Several option for improving fish stocks were discussed and it is for IPA members to now decide how best to proceed.”