LETTER: The Rother otter is bad news for fish

AS IN life there are always two sides of the coin and the recently reported sighting of an otter in the River Rother, as highlighted in last month’s article by Richard Williamson as ‘good news’, falls very much into that bracket.

Let me say right now I do not hate otters any more than I hate any other living creature, but I happen to be an angler participating in one of this country’s largest leisure pastimes, and incidentally a pastime that also has an economic aspect.

Otters have been around for a long time and it’s true and a good thing that the work of Rivers Trusts and many other voluntary organisations, as well as the much-maligned Environment Agency, is improving our lovely southern rivers, in particular the Rother, where many anglers and clubs look forward to catching both coarse and trout varieties of fish. And let’s remember, these fish are returned safely back into the river – a misconception that we catch fish to eat is widely held by many people who don’t really understand this wonderful pastime.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

So in some respects our lone otter finds the Rother in good enough condition to think it worth a visit, and this is the problem, and a problem that perhaps not everyone fully understands: it’s what otters eat and top of the food chain are fish, and sadly the Rother’s fish population is hardly what you would describe as ‘teeming’.

Yes, it’s improving, and yes, peering over a bridge you will spot the odd fish, but how many fish are needed to feed a colony of hungry otters? I can tell you: a very large number indeed.

They don’t only eat fish they also eat water birds, especially those lovely fluffy ducklings you see in the springtime, well to an otter that’s lunch done with.

Are you getting the picture? Well, the picture of a half-eaten fish may spoil your appetite, and if you have a pond with fish then you need to protect it fairly quickly because otters travel, and they travel to where there are fish – and that includes those in your back garden pond, so keep a look out.

The commercial fisheries have been hit very hard, very expensive carp and all varieties of fish have been eaten by otters, so owners have had to erect wire fencing to protect their businesses, many have had to close down with job losses and likewise estates through which rivers run have had their angling incomes effected due to otters, after all why pay to go fishing when there’s no fish worth catching left.

Unfortunately there is a lack of understanding and appreciation that nature really does a pretty good job of looking after itself, when mankind with doubtless all good intends feels the necessity to interfere with this balance that things get out of hand.

In the case of otters many of them have been introduced by people rather than arrive on their own as intended by nature, this has ended up in some area’s being overpopulated by otters, the impact of which can be devastating. More research is necessary and the Angling Trust, mindful of this situation, is doing its best to highlight the problems and to reach a balanced assessment of an issue not widely understood by lots of people who automatically applaud the arrival of otters in their local river.

Roger Poole

Lock Lane,

Birdham