A HAMPSHIRE fish farmer’s business has been left in ruins after otters ate £30,000 worth of his stock.

Mark Simmonds was horrified after discovering 105 of his 122 carp dead, dying or missing.

He is now warning that unless otters are culled river fishing across Hampshire could be wiped out within five years.

Mark, 54, who has bred fish for 35 years, said the problem has been getting steadily worse since the mammals were reintroduced to Hampshire in the late 1990s.

He said: “It’s a major, major problem. It’s like releasing wolves next to a sheep farm.

“The otters have got to be culled, it’s the only answer. They used to be hunted, destroyed and killed because they were vermin and destroyed fisheries. But there just isn’t the fish in the water to support them anymore.”

Mark, who has moved the surviving 17 carp to a site protected by an electric fence, has abandoned his fish farm in Romsey. He believes one family of otters was responsible for the attack.

He added: “It’s completely ruined me. Before I was one of the largest producers of British carp in the country.

“Up until 2004 I had never seen a fish damaged by an otter on any one of my fish farm sites but that has all changed and after the damage sustained this week another prime site for growing carp has been lost.”

This is the third fish farm Mark has had to close in the past decade due to otters eating his stock.

The environment Agency said many otters were now returning to southern England and believed it was a good indicator as to the health of a watercourse and the water quality.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “We sympathise with the fishery owner and understand this issue has been occurring over a number of months. There is a national fund to assist fisheries owners with this problem and the Agency is happy to advise on specific issues relating to otter predation.

“Conservation work for otters, which started in the 1970s, concentrates mainly on protecting and improving river and wetland environments. The expansion of populations that we see today is due to natural colonisation, as we do not stock or reintroduce otters.

“In situations where fish losses to otters are particularly high, or are likely to be a serious problem, steps should be taken to prevent otters gaining access to the fish, while still allowing otters to travel freely along watercourses.’’ The agency also said it was important to establish the identity of the culprit before issuing blame and reminded people that it was an offence to injure, kill or take an otter.

The spokesperson added: “If otters are thought to be the culprit, there are several measures that could be taken, for example fencing and a small decoy pond.”