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Pike decline subject of conference

PUBLISHED: 10:46 13 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:56 16 September 2010

Just about all native coarse fish species are thriving in the Norfolk Broads…except pike.

In some areas, most notably the River Thurne valley system, anglers believe numbers of pike have declined steeply and they seek reasons why one of the most famous predator fishery in the country has shown a startling downturn in sport, writes Roy Webster.

Just about all native coarse fish species are thriving in the Norfolk Broads…except pike.

In some areas, most notably the River Thurne valley system, anglers believe numbers of pike have declined steeply and they seek reasons why one of the most famous predator fishery in the country has shown a startling downturn in sport, writes Roy Webster.

They hope to get to the bottom of this mystery at a special Broadland Pike Conference convened by the Broads Angling Strategy Group.

The meeting is a free-of-charge get-together of worried pike enthusiasts in the Norwich Sewell Park College on August 22, 10am-4pm, when discussions will address such issues as

n The effect of poor water quality on pike.

n Low fry survival.

n Damaging angling practices.

n Predatory mammals and birds.

n Fish poaching.

Chairman of the district pike club Stephen Roberts commented: “Broads pike anglers are convinced they are facing a worrying decline of pike and we are meeting to seek anglers' views why this is happening.”

Two of the heaviest pike caught from the Broads - John Goble's 45lb 8oz river record and another of 42lb 8oz caught by Craig Humphries - both came from venues in the River Thurne valley in the past two years.

Even so, it is beyond dispute there are far fewer 20lb plus specimens being reported from those and other tidal waters nowadays compared with the second half of the 20th century.

Most accept that the pike stock in the River Thurne, Hickling Broad and Horsey Mere never recovered from the Prymnesium disaster in the late 1960s. And, although a few huge fish survived in the Martham Broad area, illegal poaching of this edible species, worth up to £2 per pound on a ready market, hindered recovery.

Unlike bream and roach, pike are intolerant of salt water and were therefore less likely to repopulate by migration from the tidal River Bure, which is ever more frequently contaminated by saline, while Hickling and Horsey both suffer from increasing saltwater seepage via the narrow strip of land that separates the Broads from a rising North Sea.

Perhaps it is significant that upper tidal waters in the Broads, beyond the effect of tidal surges, such as the River Bure above Horning and the River Wensum in Norwich, are still teeming with pike of all year classes.

This suggests that the rising salinity is hampering the capacity of pike to maintain numbers able to sustain angling pressure in the lower reaches.

Some anglers are blaming otters for killing pike but there is no material evidence to confirm this is a frequent occurrence.

John Goble said he had never come across the remains of a pike that had been eaten by an otter and added: “I have spotted dead pike that showed signs of being victims of careless man-handling practices, but otters? I don't think so.”

Quite a number of expert pike anglers are recommending that anglers regard their fishing tackle and ask themselves this question. Will Jardine treble hooks damage pike?

Renowned pike expert Mick Brown thinks they will and he now uses a single hook while accepting that a reduced catch rate is a price worth paying for fish conservation.

At their forthcoming conference, Broads pike anglers, rightly concerned about the future of their favourite species, may well decide that the growing campaign calling for a tidal barrage at Great Yarmouth is wholly justified. And decide to join in.

Match results. Hill Farm: S Rouse (Martham) 89lb 11oz, M Wiles (Buckenham) 51lb 15oz, D Chadwick (Wymondham) 44lb 1oz.

Stalham (Old Stables): D Jones 29lb 4oz, M Charlewood 17lb 4oz, D Dearman 14lb 10oz.

Freshwater fixtures. Marsh Trail Lake Open, Lake A, Saturday, August 14. Draw, 9am, fish from 10am to 3pm. To book call John Catchpole on 01502 539599/07939 897931.

North Cove and Barnby AC match, Sunday, August 15. Draw on club car park at 7am. fish from 8am to 1pm. Contact Richard on 07796 437381.

Freshwater results. Marsh Trail Open, Lake C: 1 Mick Critoph 54lb 7oz, 2 Dave Forrester 20lb 6oz.

Winner, Section A: Gary Bull 19lb 9oz; Section B: John Catchpole 19lb 15oz.

North Cove and Barnby AC match: 1 Jason Plume 9lb 6oz, 2 Don Painton 6lb 15oz, 3 Reg Halliday 6lb 5oz.

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