An Irish Anglers World

Misconceptions on a Cull

Should IFI’s Pike Management Policies be Re-assessed?

An article titled “What do you know?” written by political editor Stephen Collins was published in the Irish Times “Weekend Review” of Saturday, November 30th, 2013. Based on data gathered by an MRBI poll taken to establish the level of public knowledge Irish citizens possess, the findings were telling.

Most people think of themselves as being rational, however error and bias cloud public opinion much more than would be acknowledged, creating through the proliferation of social media the potential for misinformation to damage the integrity of individuals, organisations, and even countries.

A grand Irish lake pike.

Matt Hayes wrote a blog piece for his website entitled “Otter Kills and Pike Culls” published March 1st, 2014, which applied emotive language to admonish Inland Fisheries Ireland for using gill nets as an element of a pike management programme on Lough Ree. Matt Hayes use of the word “cull” was sensationalist, incorrect, unhelpful with regard to Irish tourism, and hurtful to the IFI scientific staff who are dedicated to improving Ireland’s inland fisheries.

Lough Ree is acknowledged as a mixed fishery and is managed as such. The recent well flagged survey was undertaken to establish the health of all fish stocks within Lough Ree with particular emphasis on wild brown trout and pike. The fact that “gill nets” were used by the IFI team was to allow for a continuity of survey methodology stretching back 35 years. Simply, to achieve a consistent result data collection had to conform to what had been used historically, and gill nets have been the engine of information gathering for the last three decades.

A nice Lough Ree, Ireland, pike for a holiday angler.

Why then set gill nets at a time when large female pike are moving into shallow areas of Lough Ree to spawn? Research suggests that pike are less active during February and early March when the water should be at its coldest. Utilising a strategic combination of survey net locations, anticipated reduced pike movement and the hope that spawn laden females would already be residing in the shallower areas, it was hoped to limit the number of pike entering the nets while still catching enough to enable realistic survey findings.

All extremely positive and certainly not the pike cull that Matt Hayes described. If the angling entrepreneur and journalist had bothered to contact IFI, as this scribe did, along with elementary research the preserve of a first year undergraduate, it would have become clear that pike management surveys on Lake Windermere, Cumbria, north west England also employed gill nets, certainly up to 1998, under the same terms and conditions that IFI incorporated on Lough Ree with no adverse effect on the resident pike population (Winfield and Paxton, 1998).

Critical analysis employed correctly can be a useful tool, however, if one is going to criticise in such a public manner it is incumbent on the media source to get their facts right, and more importantly offer a viable alternative, sadly the emotive and careless rhetoric offered by Matt Hayes achieved neither.

Playing a fly caught lake trout.

In contrast though and worthy of critique are the pike management strategies employed by IFI on many of Ireland’s large wild trout fisheries to include such notable Loughs as Corrib, Conn, Mask, Arrow and Sheelin. Culling of pike to optimise wild trout stocks has long been an Irish fisheries management policy which in light of available scientific and economic information is flawed, outdated and should cease forthwith especially on expansive waters.

To illustrate consider Lough Corrib, in its hey day. According to Kingsmill Moore the revered author of “A Man May Fish”, first published in 1960, Corrib once offered the best lake fishing in the British Isles. To be fair KM was describing Corrib at the turn of the 18th into the 19th century, 114 years ago. The great man first cast a line on Corrib in 1926 and fished the water for 10 years until in 1936 due to deteriorating fishing he said his goodbyes.

Paraphrasing three quotes from “A Man May Fish” sums up Lough Corrib at that time:

Even the pike would make the reputation of most lakes, a thirty pounder always a reasonable possibility” (Kingsmill Moore, 1960).

the great days of Corrib were over before 1926, everyone had his own theory, too many ducks, too many pike, too many anglers, all hypotheses without adequate facts to back them” (Kingsmill Moore, 1960).

We never got more than nine trout on a September day, from five to seven trout was normal, the average weight always at least 2.lbs. Within a few years the fishing had declined, the average catch falling to four, to three, to two, and at last sadly I said goodbye to Corrib” (Kingsmill Moore, 1960).

What the above lines quite clearly prove is that a century ago Lough Corrib was a great trout and pike fishery, with both species residing harmoniously side by side.

A lip hooked Lough Ree trout.

Choosing in modern times to upset the balance of an obviously successful mixed fishery, by strategically optimising a lake such as Corrib in favour of wild trout might have made sense as a fisheries management exercise back in the days of the Inland Fisheries Trust. However today the policy and practice diminishes Lough Corrib’s potential as a resource and that of other large waters where the regime continues, while also proving highly unproductive economically.

Available scientific research attests that commencing a policy of culling as an element of fisheries management prior to assessing the actual relationship between resident species can actually cause rather than cure problems. Removing pike with the sole purpose of creating a managed wild trout fishery would not appear to be a very scientific motive.

In relation to Lough Corrib, a very large water, science suggests that for a managed pike cull to have any success upwards of 30% of resident pike need to be removed (Pike in our Waters, 2003), an unreachable target percentile for Lough Corrib or any other large Irish lake where trout optimising pike culls are practiced, given the funding and staff constraints currently being witnessed by IFI.

Should a target removal representing 30% plus of a Lough’s pike population not be met, managed cull’s can actually result in the pike biomass remaining unchanged with a proliferation of jack’s quickly making up the numbers. These juvenile pike, being far more voracious then their adult counterparts, have the potential to be far more effective at thinning out resident wild trout populations (Pike in our Waters, 2003).

Another consideration is the economic cost, not only of the pike culling exercise, but also the opportunity cost to tourism of removing pike. Realistically, taking Lough Corrib as an example, there is no way that 30% of the lakes pike population can be removed annually, so on that basis alone the current pike culling policy should cease. The practice is proven to be a waste of both time and money, with no present or future benefit to the national interest.

If one assesses the value of pike culling as against pike retention in terms of the species as a national recreational resource, old Esox surprisingly proves far more beneficial than wild trout. Each species displays a positive contribution though and should not be played off against each other, however the domestic spend on pike far outstrips that of wild trout by €39.5 million even though resident trout anglers exceed pike anglers by 5,000 (TDI, 2013).

Taking into account tourist anglers from abroad with particular reference to the United Kingdom, Ireland’s main target market to the tune of 40%, visiting pike anglers outnumber trout anglers by 13% to 7% respectively, with pike fishers staying 4.8 days to trout anglers 2.3 (TDI, 2013). On those figures alone the powers that be need to reconsider their approach.

Given that both Inland Fisheries Ireland have draft pike and trout policy documents presently on the table, there is still time to re assess relative to current scientific evidence and socio – economic matrix’s how Ireland’s pike resource is managed relative to wild trout.

The answer would appear to be very clear, enable mixed fisheries such as Lough’s Corrib and Sheelin to revert and attain a balance relative to all resident fish species. History shows that pike and trout resided harmoniously within such waters in the not too recent past so why not aspire and work towards this ideal today.

Successful modern business incorporates innovation and differentiation as key factors to embrace when planning future strategies. With the knowledge that is currently available regarding both fisheries management and international destination marketing, is it that difficult for Ireland as a nation not to cast aside Victorian practices in the pursuit of mixed fisheries excellence.

IFI would garner much kudos both domestically and internationally by re –evaluating their pike culling policy which is so obviously out of sorts with the customer base the organisation purports to serve. The people iterated their expectations as to how they want Ireland’s fisheries managed ongoing through the medium of the TDI report. After spending €110,000 on the document, the organisation would do well to heed the evidence as it presents and just deliver.

Ashley Hayden © March 2014