Trout, pike and the search for balance

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Pic courtesy of ReflectedSerendipity

It’s a common misperception among those on the outside of the magazine industry – “How do you fill all those pages every month?”

On the inside, the question is routinely turned on its head, with “What the hell do we leave out?” being easily the more common question as press day approaches.

The dilemma tormented us once more last month, as my investigation of the hottest potato in Irish angling at present had to be shoe-horned into some 900 words in TF issue 503, out today.

Anyone who’s been asked to précis War & Peace will understand my frustration. Doing justice to an increasingly rancorous dispute over the balance of power within Ireland’s western loughs is likely to call for much more newsprint in the months ahead.

At its heart is a dispute over the viability of trout co-existing alongside pike in these showcase waters. To quote from our article:

“In one corner, trout anglers insist that unchecked pike populations will lead to the demise of brown trout in the loughs. In the other, pike anglers insist that Mother Nature has managed this balancing act for centuries and should be left to get on with it.”

For a summary of the pros and cons, you’ll have to read the article, but I received further input on the debate from two other sources for which there was simply no room on the printed page without diluting what was already there. Taunted By Waters, therefore, steps into the breach.

Firstly, I heard from Conservation Section of Oughterard Anglers [OACS], based on Corrib’s southern shore. They reject any claim that pike are indigenous, explaining that, “Officially under the EU Water Framework Directive pike are still classed as being non-native/non-benign to Irish waters by the IFI [Inland Fisheries Ireland]. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) still class pike as being invasive to Ireland.

“If pike were native to Ireland they would be found in every watercourse in the country just like brown trout but this is not the case.”

They also reject the notion that pike, however they got there, have acquired any kind of ‘squatters’ rights’ in Irish waters.

“We know from extracts from the book, The angler in Ireland: or An Englishman’s ramble through Connaught and Munster, during the summer of 1833 by S. Belton, that Lough Corrib was ‘infested’ with pike and that trout fishing was extremely poor,” they told me, citing the following extract from the book in support:

“Salmon are taken in Lough Corrib, as also some very large trout; but the Lake, being infested with pike, no great sport can be expected; and few are caught, except by cross-fishing.”

The OACS point out that the Corrib Fisheries Association (CFA) was set up in 1898, with the aim of restoring Lough Corrib as a trout fishery, a project based on pike control and  stream enhancement.

“Within a few years of the CFA establishment, trout fishing dramatically improved,” they said. “Ever since, pike have been culled on the Corrib and trout stocks have flourished in spite of other pressures such as the roach introduction, zebra mussel introduction, lagarosiphon introduction, loss of spawning habitat, climate change etc.

“No scientific evidence has ever been either produced domestically or internationally, which shows that pike have a benign or positive effect on salmonids.”

Instead, they argue, biologist Dr Ron Greer, in his 1995 book Ferox Trout & Arctic Charr, described as “…part of the mythology of the pike anglers’ sub-culture that pike are some kind of ecological balancing act. This is simply not the case in small, shallow charr and trout lakes.”

Greer’s book touched upon another issue that resonates among Irish trout anglers, 22 years on: the unlawful introduction of pike into waters where they previously weren’t.  OACS claim that Ireland’s  Owenriff system, a Corrib tributary and a major salmonid nursery, was “destroyed” when pike were illegally introduced there approximately 10 years ago. This theme also arose in Scotland in the early 2000s.

One man who has gradually come round to the idea of active control of pike numbers is Larry McCarthy, who runs Corrib View Lodge & Angling Services with his wife Michelle.

By-laws introduced in 2007 cut the number of pike to be retained by anglers in Ireland to just one a day, provided it was  less than 50cm in length, and McCarthy believes this led to a key shift in the ecological equilibrium.

“Foreign tourists were taking many pike up until 2007 and many of them just stopped coming over after that,” he explains. “That was a big controlling factor gone and so, while I was all for leaving Nature alone at one point, I believe things have now tilted too much in the pike’s favour.

“I don’t want to see pike eradicated and the argument that trout anglers kill too many fish is valid, but the loughs should be afforded care as a true wild trout fishery. Any way we can protect it, we should follow it.”

The outcome of a review of existing pike control measures by Inland Fisheries Ireland is expected next year. Never have the words ‘watch this space’ been more pertinent…

One thought on “Trout, pike and the search for balance

  1. All the trouble in Ireland is the result of the Pike Anglers’ Club of GB (PAC) interfering and meddling in Irish domestic game angling policies over the last 20 years. Irish game anglers don’t interfere with British coarse angling policy so why should the opposite be allowed to happen? John Currie and others in the PAC have serious questions to answer.

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