Ruffe Justice for Alien Invaders
By Jenny Haworth Environment Correspondent
NEW laws could see anglers and landowners who put alien fish species into lochs and rivers fined up to GBP 1,000.
The Scottish Government legislation aims to provide greater protection to our native freshwater fish life.
Species such as pike, carp, roach, bream, tench and rudd – popular with anglers – have been appearing in areas where they did not previously live.
They cause havoc, eating other fish, competing for food, spreading disease and diluting native strains of the same species by breeding with them.
The new laws, which come into force on 1 August, will make it an offence to introduce fish or live spawn into inland waters without permission.
The legislation is targeted at angling clubs that stock their fisheries with alien species, devastating the native biodiversity.
In Loch Lomond, it is believed the alien ruffe species arrived after fishermen used them as bait. They have decimated native populations of a rare white fish called powan by feasting on their eggs.
In other areas, farmed salmon and trout have been introduced to areas with native breeds, and have diluted the genetic make-up of the original strain. Richard Lochhead, the environment secretary, said the laws aimed to tackle “alien invaders”.
He said: “The legislation provides the government and district salmon fishery boards with a powerful tool to protect Scotland’s fragile freshwater bio- diversity, while continuing to promote the world-renowned fishing it supports.”
Ronnie Picken, the chairman of the Scottish Anglers National Association, said the legislation was long overdue. “It’s important that we don’t have people sticking fish where they shouldn’t be,” he said. “If the fish haven’t been there before, there’s no reason to put them there.”
Brian Davidson, the director of the Association of Salmon Fisheries Boards, said pike anglers using ruffe in Loch Lomond had caused havoc. “People would come up with buckets of ruffe to use as live bait and then discard what was left over.
“The fish would breed and that would alter the ecosystem. The number of ruffe just exploded. It is almost impossible to eradicate fish like this once they get in, so it underlines the need for regulations to be put in place.”
He thinks that in most cases it is ignorance, rather than any malicious intent, that leads people to introduce alien species of fish. “Angling clubs and people that own lochs and sections of rivers may be unaware of the consequences,” he said.
Ron Woods, from the Scottish Federation of Coarse Anglers, agreed that the law needed to be tightened up. “I can go on eBay tomorrow and get any non- native species and get them delivered to my door in an oxygenated bag and do what I want with them,” he said. “That’s clearly what’s wrong with the current system.”
He said that even if a koi carp collection got too big for its pond and was released into a nearby river that it could cause problems.
District salmon fishery boards or Scottish ministers through the Fisheries Research Services – depending on the rivers concerned – will now be responsible for applications to introduce fish.
The authorities will have to be satisfied that there is an acceptable case for stocking fish and that they will not threaten native species, before permission is granted.
FROM the Clyde teeming with carp, to Loch Lomond overrun by ruffe, alien fish species have been appearing all over Scotland.
Barbel have turned up in the Clyde, bullhead in the Tweed, roach in Loch Ard and minnows in the Western Isles.
In some cases, the fish adapt to their new environment without creating problems for the species already living there, but often they cause havoc.
Carp are bottom feeders, meaning they uproot plants and turn the water muddy. The underwater environment changes and native species are put under threat.
The powan is so rare it lives in just two sites in Scotland: Loch Lomond and Loch Eck. But its numbers in Loch Lomond are under threat after fishermen accidentally introduced ruffe by using them as bait.
The ruffe developed a taste for powan eggs and have bred out of control, almost wiping out the rare native species.
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