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Otters found dead in Waveney

PUBLISHED: 07:00 05 August 2009 | UPDATED: 11:19 06 July 2010

Increasing numbers of otters are being killed by illegal traps set to catch crayfish in the Broads, the Environment Agency has revealed.

Three dead otters have been discovered in traps over the last four months - two in the River Waveney at Beccles, and one at Oulton Broad.

Increasing numbers of otters are being killed by illegal traps set to catch crayfish in the Broads, the Environment Agency has revealed.

Three dead otters have been discovered in traps over the last four months - two in the River Waveney at Beccles, and one at Oulton Broad.

Now the Environment Agency, which also reported an incident of six otters being found dead in a fyke net in the Broads last year, wants to highlight the danger traps can pose to wildlife, saying their use is “irresponsible and illegal”.

In the latest incident, a member of the public spotted a trap floating in the river at the entrance to the yacht station in Beccles.

Environment Agency experts say the otter found caught inside probably entered the trap out of curiosity or to get at the bait, and drowned when it was unable to get out.

Julia Stansfield, from the agency, said: “It made me so sad to see a beautiful, healthy animal like this killed so pointlessly. People sometimes complain about rules and regulations, but in this case there are very good reasons.”

Otters can be kept out of danger if traps with a small entrance hole or otter guard are used. Crayfish traps and fyke nets, which are used to catch eels, should be licensed, fitted with an otter guard and checked regularly.

Rupert Pyett, from the agency's enforcement team, said: “We have no clues as to who set these traps. In these cases we won't be able to prosecute, but hope that the incidents serve as a lesson to deter anyone else from trying to trap crayfish without talking to us first. Ironically, if they had contacted us we could have told them they were wasting their time as there are no crayfish left in the Waveney.”

Until recently, Turkish crayfish were numerous in the lower Waveney. They were wiped out from the river in October 2007 by an outbreak of crayfish plague and it is believed there are no crayfish of any kind left in that part of the Broads.

Otters, water voles and native crayfish are protected by law and killing them can result in a fine of up to £5,000 or up to six months in prison.

The EDP's angling correspondent Roy Webster said it was possible some people were unaware that their traps and nets could harm otters, adding: “Ignorance is no excuse”.

“I think they are probably catching crayfish to sell and for their own consumption,” he said. “If it's got a market value, then people will go to great lengths to obtain it.

“Anglers are most concerned about the number of traps being set in the Norfolk Broads. They feel there's a lot going on that's not within the law, or the spirit of the law. They're very alarmed about it.”

Mr Webster said some anglers believed that as well as fyke nets being used to catch eels for sale due to their high value, cages and nets were also being used to catch fish to supply the frozen bait trade.

Lewis Murawski, from Anglers World shop in Norwich, said he believed that the rising number of otter deaths was due to the increase in numbers of the species, adding: “There are no more people fishing with illegal nets but there are a lot more otters around.”

Mr Murawski added that the otter-release programme to boost numbers was currently the “number one” topic of discussion among anglers, who now face competition from the mammals for fish.

Anyone who suspects that a trap has been set illegally or who finds a dead otter should call the Environment Agency's free incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.


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