Friday, 8 January 2016

Save the zander.


Once again the subject of zander culling has reared its ugly head, this time by way of the Canal and River Trust asking anglers to donate to an ill-conceived fundraiser aimed at regenerating the roach population of the Grand union canal https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/donate/grand-union-roach-restoration-appeal Besides the preposterous idea of asking anglers for money so as to remove and kill born and bred English fish this subject just plain old incenses me!

I am an angler, canal angler and a zander angler. Having spent close to twenty-five years of my life fishing on the canals, specifically the last year pretty much solely fishing the canals, I find myself with a pretty good perspective of how they have changed over the years since the zander have colonized the midland canal network and the effects that colonization has had.

I find it very disappointing that an organization such as the Canal and Rivers Trust seem to have, with little research into the matter, come to the conclusion that the big bad in the canal ecosystem is the zander and that they are largely what is responsible for the decline of the roach. Well, first of all are the roach in decline? From what many anglers see, that might not be the case. Have they ever done any major research into roach numbers or are they just listening to fishing clubs moaning about the lack of them.

Have they even considered that there may be other contributing factors such as;
- Increased numbers of signal crayfish in the canals which feed on fish eggs.
- Increased amounts of detergents entering the water ways from the ever growing pleasure boat fleet possibly effecting reproduction.
- Increased numbers of larger perch due to the crayfish boom, which in turn consume large amounts small silver fish.
- Lack of suitable spawning sites due to inappropriate bank clearances and habitat removal.
- Reintroduction of other predators, such as otters.
- Increased agricultural chemical run off into the canal network as a result of wetter winters.

In all the limited information offered as justification, the CRT haven't really bothered addressing any of these other possible theories and just seem to suggest it's all down the zander.

As a regular canal angler I don't believe there is a lack of roach. In fact I for one believe the canals have quite a good balance of predator and prey fish. But what I believe is irrelevant as its the clubs who rent the stretches who are moaning about the lack of roach sport, and this leads me to the totally different point of view I have often wondered, which may sound a bit controversial 'Have anglers lost their canal fishing skills?'

When I began fishing the canals many years ago it was a world of squats, bloodworm/joker and half pound hook links. Now though we fish in a world of hundred pound bags of carp, pellets and where commercial lakes that have become popular. Now and again I have come across an angler fishing on a tow path, looked in their bait box and seen all the stuff I'd take carp fishing, but nothing I would use for roach fishing, such as bread punch or pinkies, and then I've looked at their set up and seen power waggler rods, massive floats and line so thick Argos would be ashamed to retail it. It's no wonder many pleasure anglers aren't catching much when they are using these inappropriate methods and tactics.

Frankly the canals have been forgotten by many of the angling fraternity in favor of easier venues, and if you want evidence of that, take a walk down your local cut any Sunday of the year and I guarantee you'll be lucky to see any anglers. Conversely head to any commercial fishery and it will more than likely have anglers dotted all round the place. The majority of people fishing the canals nowadays are predator anglers after perch and zander, or the occasional stalwart canal angler who can put together a nice bag of silver fish. So if you take away half the fish those anglers are targeting the only thing this cull will achieve is fewer anglers on the bank, which works against what they are trying to achieve.

Does culling zander actually even work? The simple answer is NO! Removing zander is the single biggest waste of money in angling. I live in an area which was considered an epicenter of the zander population by many, and over the years I have fished stretches on different canals before and after the culls have taken place and guess what, zander always come back every time!

Only the other day I was out on a stretch of canal that has been targeted multiple times for zander culls as its within easy access, and here are a few examples of what those culls achieved.





Absolutely nothing! The zander were moving back into that stretch before the people who did the culling were even back in their cars, because the canals are a massive open network. Furthermore, in many cases the lack of larger zander causes the amounts of tiny little zander to increase exponentially, and those hungry miniature zander are eating machines that thrive on devouring fry.

Going back to this roach restoration project though, I actually think that trying to increase the roach numbers is a good thing, even if I consider the method of removing zander to be a waste of time and money. What everyone involved should realize is that more prey fish means more predators and as they won't stop the zander coming back there will ultimately be more zander when they repopulate once there's a bloom in roach.

Time and time again this subject always comes back to the same old conclusions. The more open minded of us understand that zander are here for good and that nature finds a balance; with a healthy predator prey balance, and that after nearly fifty years the zander should be naturalized. Then there's the anglers out there that can't see past the end of their keepnet, who believe that because they haven't caught a fish a cast from the small section of canal their club rents, that the entire canal is devoid of silver fish, and because they obviously need something to blame, they conclude its all down to the zander. I feel I should mention that prior to zander it was the pike who was to blame; I for one remember the bad old days when clubs requested that pike under five pounds to be killed!

Ultimately the ship has sailed on zander being in our water ways. Their population is so big and widespread that no cull will ever be effective. That means any cull which does take place is quite literally mass killing for the sake of appeasing a small section of anglers who believe that killing a few predators will stick a few more roach in their nets. But ask yourself this 'what if it doesn't?' What if doing this doesn't increase the roach populations. Surely if the angling trust wants to really increase the roach populations they should just concentrate on improving the reproduction rates of the roach in other ways rather zander genocide.

So this brings me to this! The Canal and River Trust are using the Internet and social media to appeal to anglers for money to actually remove and kill zander. Well the Internet is an open forum so have your say if you object to them killing the fish many of us want to catch by showing support for the zander at
https://www.facebook.com/Save-the-UK-Zander-1094522530560270/?fref=ts

And send a message to the Canal and River Trust airing your opinion on their Facebook page.
https://www.facebook.com/Canalrivertrustangling/?fref=nf

Or if anyone who reads this has any friends who work in the angling media give them a nudge and see if they might bring some of these issues up in their publications.

I think all I can say to end is to reiterate my own opinion that zander are here to stay, no culls or surveys will change that and with the zanders rise in popularity as a target species the only option that remains is to naturalize them and let nature take its course.

Save the zander!


18 comments:

  1. Excellent piece Danny

    You know well that I am no great zander fan but I am, as you put it, open-minded enough to realise that removing them achieves nothing positive in angling terms. 'My' canal bears testament to that...it used to be electrofished every closed season to protect the leasing clubs' income (I was one of the lessees) but it didn't make a jot of difference and now, with the canal left a little more to set its own ecological balance, it's ten times the fishery it ever was, bizarre though that would have seemed back then.

    The only purpose of this exercise is protect the income from the few clubs who still rent significant stretches of the GUC such as perhaps Northampton Nene A C, one of the few clubs still able to run successfully attended matches due to the retained quality of the fishing.

    As you rightly say the zed is here to stay. There is no point in fiddling with the balance as it should be left to reach its own level but the current problem is that CRT have the, now outdated, law on their side. Zander should really be categorised like any other fish but there's the further rub...native fish generally aren't protected from being removed either. The whole thing is a mess but nobody cares about fish except the angler

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    1. Your right George, the larger problem is that the rules and regulations Re fish removal are totally out of date. Really things need to be updated with anglers being part of the group that does the updating. But what is the chances of that ever happening!

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  2. Hello Danny, as George has said an excellent piece. This was debated at some length on the Lure anglers society website before Christmas and a number of people took it up with the CRT although it appears with little effect. There still seems this outdated view within the fisheries department of the CRT and various match orientated clubs that removing zander will make everything better, clubs will start leasing water again, anglers will turn up in droves and the silver fish will be overflowing, they live in cloud cuckoo land! Great blogs by the way I have followed yours and Georges for a number of years ,both great reads, keep it up.
    Terry

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  3. Some fair points raised, but a little excitable!! I generally agree that removing zander could be largely ineffective, with out addressing some of the other issues mentioned. However, a careful read of the Canal and Rivers Trust appeal does not actually mention killing zander. Rather, the aim is to "remove and relocate to other fisheries". In addition, the CRT mentions habitat enhancement measures to improve roach recruitment.

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    1. I am glad you found this blog to be excitable as that's exactly how I wanted it to come across, as nothing gets people attention like a bit of excitement ;)
      I have to say that I wish that I could read what the CRT intend to do and believe that any zander caught might be lucky enough to be relocated. Given that five grand don't to far nowadays, I can't see how within such a tight budget they could remove, transport and relocate any zander to any of the very few venues licensed to take them.
      We have to be realistic and look at what has happened to fish in previous culls! They would be lucky to end up at Billingsgate fish market and not going to waste as they have in the past.

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  4. Roach recruitment is not the problem, with all due respect. Roach breed very successfully indeed in these muddy Midlands canals. In summertime the surface in certain nursery areas teems with them. But just as soon as they migrate to the bottom and assume the habits of adults they are culled relentlessly by zander for whom they are the perfect bite sized meal. Hence the apparent lack of roach...

    But that lack very much depends of your perception of what a roach is. If you think a roach is a roach when it's a match anglers idea of a roach then, yes, these canals do lack them at the level of that idea. But if you think a roach is a roach when it's survived zander and grown to a pound in weight and above and beyond then things are rather different. Then you have a tricky and testing fish for catching at the pound, not stupid juveniles for catching by the pound.

    The biomass of roach is the same as ever, but there's far fewer of them making up the same gross.

    Instead of culling zander, my advice is to cull the large roach instead. Weigh what you kill and replace with an equal weight of roach fingerlings. The roach biomass remains constant and match anglers will be happy for a year or two!

    If they bother to fish...

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    1. You had to bring up biomass Jeff ;) the one complicated subject I tiptoed around due to it's size and complication. I think both you and I know that the canals have an appropriate quantity of fish per square foot, even if the roach section of amount is made up of millions of tiny roach or a few hundred giants. Though I must say considering that perch out number zander ten to one, that if people want a fish to blame it might have redder fins and stripes. Anyway I reckon you could walk ten minutes from your house with a pole and using pinkies plus a handful of ground bait could put together five pounds of roach all under six ounces.

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    2. Yeah I love that word. Might drop it into the smoking hut conversation at work tomorrow night, see what happens in a biomass of one-third born and bred English/two-thirds non-natives, all of whom are currently getting along just fine with each other....

      You mention perch. They ain't exactly thin on the ground and probably thicker on it than ever before, but what about pike these days? Not quite as rare as gudgeon, but getting there!

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  5. Well perhaps Danny the CRT are going to sell the zander to offset the cost ? A reply from the CRT and the Angling Trust to an request for information regarding the proposed cull/removal ,states that the zander will be relocated to a fully enclosed still water that already has a licence to hold such fish. For those interested have a look at the lure anglers Society website, page 4 of the sub forum Talk Lure Angling about halfway down the page with the title "Canal Zander Cull",lots of interesting info including replies from the CRT ,Angling Trust and the E.A. about the matter. One of the best points made I think is from a chap who used to run big 100 plus peg matches on the Northampton and Nene club canal waters in the 70s and 80s .He makes the point that in those days they might get 6 boats through during a match, now it would be more like 60,and anglers are not going to fish under those conditions any more. Now the canals are made for boats and there is little likelyhood we are going to see less of them.
    With the increased boat traffic it must surely mean that the chances of increased spawning success are pretty slim to say the least.
    With regards to improved habitat improvement to help the silver fish spawn, the fisheries people might want that but they need to talk to the maintenance people first because at the moment they seem to want to cut down every reed, branch and blade of grass within 6' of the canal.

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    1. You missed 4 words off the end of your comment Terry -
      "...and throw them in"
      They used to gather it all and have little bonfires, now it all goes in the cut. Still, it makes work for future dredging companies.

      I love this subject

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    2. As I have said before Terry, I hope that any zander that might get removed in the future do find their way to a good home and that the CRT are starting to get the message that it's just cruel to destroy them.
      It's spot on about the boat traffic, especially on the GU. On some sections I fish the boat traffic is constant pretty much all year round and your right that this has to effect the spawning/survival of any eggs laid.
      As for the maintenance people, they need someone to have serious word with them. Literally last year a stretch of the Coventry canal which was bursting with life, was practically laid waste. The far bank cover which was six feet deep in places was cut back to within millimetres of the bank. Not only did this destroy some amazing fish holding spots for zander/pike/chub/carp, but overnight kingfishers and herons which regularly hunted for the over hanging trees disappeared. Worst of all, like George said a very large proportion of the cut back brush went in the canal turning the place onto a tackle graveyard.

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    3. George I know this will be of interest to you. On the same section I mentioned in the last reply there was a single reed bed of about twenty feet in length which was neatly growing in a gap in the cover. A couple of times whilst fishing that area I saw water voles in and around the reeds. I think you can guess where this is going! The reeds went with the rest of the cover as probably did the water voles :(

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  6. Yeah, and they cut down my best bush. It was becoming famous that bush, and now the zeds that seemed to live one atop another have vacated!

    Work parties don't give a flying fuck so long as it looks neat. It must be fun wielding chain saws off a boat, but I think a little training in habitat other than that providing for the comfort and ease of boat tourists should be considered.

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  7. Before Christmas I asked several questions by way of Freedom Of Informaton requests to the CRT and EA . The CRT are acting on a petition by NNAC and MKAA to prevent the further spread south of Zander. To do this the CRT have asked for £5000 to be raised in order that Zander can be electrofished and moved elsewhere.In short they have said pay for it yourselves anglers. "Elsewhere" wasnt specified but it is a stillwater that has an established Zander population. Neither the EA or CRT have any interest in removing Zander from where they are established ie The Thames, Severn , midlands canal network or the Fens.Any club like NNAC or MKAA have the right to petition their landlords to maintain or improve the waters they rent however misguided. Zander are here to stay and like in the fens and Thames they will find a level without anyones help. As a massive Zander fan I dont feel there is anything to fear as like others I believe whatever the CRT and EA do in the Northampton area, if Zander want to spread they will, no amount of netting etc will change that.

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  8. I wonder why the petition specified "prevent further spread SOUTH"? Being from the northwest we also do not have zander in the canals...yet! It is inevitable that they will come though, and I don't think there is anything that could be done to stop that spread, north or south. When they finally arrive I shall fish for them, enjoy their capture and return them alive as I would perch or pike. I won't encourage that spread, but once here, others will certainly do so, in some cases probably irresponsibly. Carp have been spread very widely by carp anglers over the last 40 years and I have no doubt they will do the same with zander. They are here to stay, and will spread for sure. Catfish are also spreading, and the EA make some attempts to remove them...often more as a public relations exercise. Locally they tried to electrofish the cats out of a hundred foot deep, 120 acre water! Pointless! Zander and cats are here to stay, like it or not, and there is simply no reason to suppose that throwing money at their removal will work. But there are lessons to be learned: balsam, knotweed, hogweed, American crayfish, mitten crabs, ide, goldfish, mink...all are chapters in that textbook. There has to be careful thought before anything else is introduced. When the zander do get here, they will inevitably have some effect on the fish profiles locally, but whether that will be seen as good or bad will very much depend upon who is looking. Do I personally want zander "oop north"? It really does not matter what I think, for they are heading this way regardless. Job done.

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  9. I fished for and caught my first Zander from a stretch of the Coventry Canal that has been heavily electro fished. It took 3 visits, but I have now caught one and I will be back. As an angler for over 50 years I remember the predictions of doom regarding Zander back in the 70's and 80's. They are a sporting fish and should be left for the natural balance to be found.

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  10. the last few years on the grand union canal in Northampton I've caught many zander up to 6lb and regularly catching on average 3 fish in a session averaging 4lb . I was in the local paper 4 years ago[ the first zander of the clubs 150 years existance] and was told to kill them. i would /will not kill any fish unnessary and will put them back.the local club say it has affected sport but I hardly see any body fishing the canal[or rivers come to that] even the matches have attendencies in low figures but some good weights are still caught. like any fishing it's location of fish and luck. we've all been there bagging up one day and blanking on the same peg the next one. the fish are still there but no ones fishing for them regularly so how can it be said fishing suffered. I do see anglers coming here to catch zander from outside the county but the club doesn't seem to want revenue from the day tickets that could be sold. I've had 25 zander in the last 5 trips [8 in one session and a 3lb perch]on the cut so it looks like there here to stay. critics should keep to the carp puddles if they want it easy.

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