Michael Patrick/AP

Beavers Face Off Against Salmon in Scotland

December 16, 2008 07:31 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A former British cricket star is leading a group of celebrities who are concerned that reintroducing beavers in the country could be “catastrophic” for salmon fishing.

Beavers to Make a Comeback, After 400 Years

Retired cricket player and recreational salmon fisherman Sir Ian Botham says that a plan to bring beavers back into Scotland could seriously damage the country’s salmon fishing industry, which is worth about 75 million pounds per year. Native beavers have not been seen in the country in 400 years, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Other celebrity anglers who have joined Botham in his opposition include former ITN newscaster Fiona Armstrong, former Gordon Brown spokesman Charlie Whelan, and BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman.

Four beaver families are planned for release in Knapdale, Argyll, in the spring. If the initial project goes well, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland plan to release hundreds more of the animals across the Scottish countryside as part of a six-year project. However, research suggests that dams built by beavers could cause 80 percent of salmon spawning locations to become blocked in several areas, which would in turn affect juvenile salmon numbers.

“Salmon stocks took a hell of a hammering in the ‘60s on a lot of rivers and are only just starting to come back,” Botham said to The Telegraph. “A lot of work and time and money has gone into developing these rivers and making sure they fulfill their potential and go back to what they were.”

Opinion & Analysis: “Is the reintroduction of beavers a serious threat to Scotland’s salmon stocks?”

Andrew Graham-Stewart, a writer on salmon and salmon conservation issues, writes in the Scotsman that despite the beaver lobby’s claim that the animals are harmless, dams will have a serious effect on salmon numbers. He calls it “crassly irresponsible” for Scottish authorities to risk harming a $100 million pound industry that employs more than 2,000 people. “We are told that hundreds of years ago salmon and beavers co-existed happily in Scotland. Even if that were the case (and there is no way of knowing how the two species interacted back then), the situation now bears no comparison. Land use has changed beyond all recognition, and we now have a salmon angling industry which is entirely dependent upon there being adequate numbers of adult salmon to catch.”

“Introducing beavers into Scotland is a ludicrous proposition. They will upset the ecological balance—they’ll be wanting to bring back bears next,” Whelan said to The Telegraph.

But Simon Jones, Scottish Beaver Trial project manager at Scottish WildlifeTrust, points out that more than 25 European countries have been successful in reintroducing beavers in the past few decades and that they have been found to have a positive effect on wildlife. “If beavers were indeed a serious threat to salmon, there would have been scientific research and widespread active beaver management to show for this, which is not the case. If salmon were unable to get over or bypass beaver dams they would not be found above them—yet evidence shows they are.”

Related Topics: Other animal protection controversies

In May, U.S. authorities were investigating several sea lion deaths, suspected to be the result of human involvement, in the midst of a controversy about a federal policy to allow limited killing of sea lions in an effort to protect endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest. In March, the national Marine Fisheries Service had granted Oregon and Washington permission to target 85 sea lions a year near the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River in order to control growing numbers of sea lions, who eat salmon.

In England, farmers are becoming frustrated by a new government policy that no longer allows them to kill rabbits that get out of control. The government says that the rabbit population has waned, but farmers and landowners say the rule ignores “the realities of rural life” and the damage that they are capable of inflicting on crops.

Wild mustangs have recently become a target of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management due to concern about public grazing lands which they share with the cattle-ranching industry. Officials are advocating mass slaughter in order to reduce their numbers, and more than 33,000 have been taken into captivity to make way for the cattle.

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