River Teme fish rescue

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The River Teme is one of England’s finest lowland rivers. It rises near Newtown in Wales, meanders through Shropshire and Worcestershire before joining the mighty River Severn just below Worcester. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its entire length.

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Despite its size, however, sections of its upper reaches are prone to drying out during periods of dry weather. This is a fairly frequent occurrence, happening, on average, around once every three years. The stretch most at risk is from Knighton to the confluence with the River Clun at Leintwardine.

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Drying out happens very quickly with low flows changing to a completely dry river bed within a day or two.

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Because the upper parts of the Teme rely on catchment runoff (rather than groundwater) for its flow, an extended period of dry weather quickly translates into low flows and then drying out. That is what has happened this year. The record-wet year of 2012 topped up our reservoirs and groundwater reserves very nicely but the lack of rainfall runoff for the last month (combined with high temperatures and evaporation) has resulted in the upper Teme (and other similar rivers) starting to dry out.

Fishy haven

The Teme is an excellent fishery and is home to a wide range of game and coarse fish. It is very popular with anglers who travel great distances to sample its challenges. The upper Teme is an especially valuable spawning ground for salmon and trout.

You may have thought that a drying river wouldn’t cause too many issues as the fish (being sensible creatures) would just move downstream as things dried out. The problem is that as the flows reduce , large, deep pools of water get cut off as the main river bed becomes dry. The fish tend to seek these pools out as they are deeper and cooler and tend to contain cover (weeds and fallen trees).

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The sun then gets to work on these pools, warming them quickly and oxygen levels in the water fall quickly. Obviously, in time, the pools themselves will dry out.

Launch the rescue team

We monitor high risk river areas like the upper Teme on a regular basis during dry weather. Our fishery officers have years of experience of where and when to look.

Once we know fish are becoming stranded and rescue is possible we scramble our rescue teams from Shrewsbury, Kidderminster and Tewkesbury (depending who’s closest).

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We use electrofishing to catch the fish in the pools. A small electric current is passed through the water which is sufficient to momentarily stun fish. There is quite an art in knowing where to look for the fish and how to efficiently get the optimum charge to the right spot!

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Members of the rescue team scoop them up in nets as they come to the surface and put them into buckets of water.

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The fish are then transferred to a large aerated tank of water towed by a landrover. This keeps them safe and happy until the rescue is complete. They are then taken downstream to a location where flows will be maintained and released.

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Teme haul

During the morning of 18th July we rescued around a hundred large fish from a dozen or so pools. Sadly the small fish and fry cannot be rescued. Some beautiful brown trout were saved as well as salmon parr, stone loach and bullheads.

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In addition we scooped up lots of brook lamprey and returned them to a safer place.

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Work like this is made possible by the money we receive from rod licence sales. We hope that anglers agree that it is important work in safeguarding the natural fish stocks in our rivers.

If you see and dead fish or fish in distress please call our incident hotline 0800 80 70 60

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Rooting out rod licence cheats

Last Bank Holiday weekend all our fishery bailiffs were out and about checking that anglers had got a rod licence. This is a short blog about why and how we do it.

Rod Licences

If you’re aged 12 or over and you go fishing for salmon, trout or coarse fish in England and Wales you need to have a rod licence. If you are caught fishing without a licence you risk a large fine and you could lose the fishing tackle you are using.

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Why is there a rod licence?

The first national fishing licence was introduced in 1992. Before this each nationalised water authority issued its own and anglers had to buy one for each authority area they fished (which was not popular!).

The principle behind rod licences is that those who participate in and gain benefit from the sport should contribute to the cost of maintaining, developing and improving fisheries. The Environment Agency has been given the responsibility for carrying out much of this work and the income we receive from rod licence sales funds a portion of it.

The main work areas which licence payers help fund are:

regulation and enforcement

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fisheries monitoring

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promotion and advice

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incident response and fish rescues

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stocking and improvements (such as habitat improvements, fish passes, fisheries development and improvement)

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We also provide advice to angling clubs, and last year we made over 2,000 site visits to give advice and attended 700 angling club meetings. To encourage new anglers into the sport we coached over 25,000 beginners at various events.

We can maximise rod licence income in two ways – by encouraging more anglers to participate and making sure all anglers buy a rod licence.

Rod licence checking

In the Midlands we have a team of dedicated fisheries enforcement officers. They are highly trained (in many areas to the same level as police officers), carry specialised equipment (stab vests, handcuffs, batons) and have a lot of knowledge and experience of angling. They are responsible for a range of enforcement duties – elver protection, salmon poaching, illegal fish introductions as well as rod licence compliance checks and enforcement.

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This year in the Midlands they will check over 14,000 licences. All our rod licence work is intelligence-led. This means that we target our patrols on areas we believe we are more likely to find people without licences.

Our intelligence comes from a variety of sources, such as the previous history of sites, specific tip-offs, surveillance and incident reports. This is all assessed by our crime analyst who then devises a programme of targeted activity.

All the reports we receive about illegal fishing are fed into this process so even if we can’t respond immediately they all help in building our intelligence picture.

Bank Holiday blitz

Last weekend in the Midlands we carried out 761 rod licence checks at 51 different locations across 11 counties. As a result we reported 76 people for offences. These reports will now be processed by our national enforcement team who will decide whether we recommend to prosecute individuals.

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The figures reveal that we reported offences on 10% of all checks. We certainly don’t believe that 1 in 10 of all anglers are licence cheats and think that it reflects the fact that we are successfully targeting high evasion locations. Indeed in a couple of targeted hotspots near Scunthorpe and Gloucester last weekend we reported 50% of all anglers checked!

We have many more operations planned for this year so please have your licences ready! Remember, if you haven’t had your licence checked it may be that you’re fishing in fairly compliant locations. If you know different tell us – you know who to call (0800 80 70 60)!

Rod licences – questions and answers http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/38081.aspx

Buy your licence online here http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/31497.aspx

Where your money goes http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Leisure/Annual_report_summary_-_final_-_combined.pdf

Gardening skills to help fish

On Tuesday 25th March representatives from eight angling clubs, from the Shrewsbury area and further afield, met on the River Roden north of Shrewsbury for a demonstration day of river habitat restoration techniques using large woody debris. The day was organised by Environment Agency Fisheries staff in conjunction with the Wild Trout Trust, with the aim of providing representatives from local angling clubs (and partners such as the Severn Rivers Trust) the opportunity to witness and take part in practical demonstrations of techniques, which they could then put to use in future back on their own stretches of river.

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Despite the weather the day was a great success, with 19 attendees treated to demonstrations of various techniques such as pleaching (hinging) of hazel / alder / willow / hawthorn trees alongside the riverbank and also the introduction of brushwood structures to margins of river.

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All techniques have the aim of creating dense cover for juvenile fish species. However, they also have the benefit of improving river bank protection by making it more resilient to erosion. Brushwood gathered from nearby coppicing work and recent storm damage was also utilised, whilst fixing methods included stakes and wire for bundles and also pinning trees with metal bars so they don’t dislodge form the riverbed.

The work will help to trap silt and clean the gravel on the river bed to provide improved trout spawning habitat.

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More habitat days are planned on the River Frome in Gloucestershire and River Leadon in April, again organised by our Fisheries staff and led by the Wild Trout Trust.

Events like these are made possible by the money we receive from fishing licence sales, buy yours here. http://bit.ly/Y0g6pO

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Fishy health checks in Shropshire

Our fish monitoring programme is now in full swing and our people have been undertaking lots of electric fishing surveys. On Wednesday 18th June we surveyed the River Onny near Onibury in Shropshire.

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Using electric current we surveyed 100m of the River Onny and caught:

127 juvenile Salmon

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18 Brown Trout

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3 Grayling

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2 large eels

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We measured all the fish and removed 3 scales from each salmon and trout in order for them to aged by our Brampton Laboratory.

This is a fantastic result! We counted salmon redds (nests) on this same stretch in October and November last year and saw salmon spawning, redds and dead kelts (fish that have died from exhaustion after spawning).

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The large numbers we caught shows the river in a great health and that not all the redds got washed away by the winter floods.

Staff from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) joined us and took 30 salmon parr away to check if they have a parasite, Gyrodactylus salaris.

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It is a category one notifiable disease. The parasite has decimated rivers in Norway and CEFAS check each catchment in the UK every 5 years. Luckily no parasites have been found in our rivers to date.

Catching fish in a half mile wide river

On 8-9th May we carried out the bi-annual fish sampling on the Severn Estuary at Arlingham. This is no simple task as not only is the river very wide, it’s also tidal, rising and falling many metres twice a day.

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We use fyke nets. These are like a long narrowing tube with the wide end pointing upstream. Fish swim into the net and can’t escape. They have special attachments in the mouth to prevent otters entering and getting trapped.

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The fyke nets are set at low tide in the estuary channel. After 24 hours the nets are checked and any fish species present are identified, counted, measured and released.

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The dominant species caught were Mullet, Eel and Sea Bass.

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The netting forms part of our WFD (Water Framework Directive) TRAC (Transitional and Coastal) monitoring programme. The data collected allows us to monitor the fish populations of the Severn estuary.

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Spawning salmon spotting in Shropshire

The River Onny is an important river for migratory Salmon, with numerous fish running the river to get to suitable spawning ground in the upper reaches.

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To spawn salmon cut redds, which are shallow excavations in gravel beds, and lay their eggs at the tail end of the redds where the fertilised eggs can grow into alevins in the relative sanctuary of the deep gravel beds.

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The simplest way to determine the amount of salmon that have run the river to spawn is to count the amount of redds that are cut over a set area and time period. This gives us a good idea of how strong the salmon run has been in any one year and therefore how this will relate to year class strength within the existing population.

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On the stretch of the River Onny, from Stokesay to Onibury, that we surveyed last week 10 salmon redds were seen as well as a pair of salmon guarding a recently cut redd. Four dead cock fish and one dead hen fish were seen. This is all part of the natural life cycle as not all salmon make it back downstream due to exhaustion.

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Trout and chips (of the micro variety)

We have lots of weirs in rivers which are used to provide us with flow information which we use to issue flood warnings and control abstractions in times of dry weather. However, these structures can prove difficult obstacles for fish to get over, reducing the lengths of river available to them. We assist fish passage wherever we can and on many structures have built fish passes.

This week we have been carrying out some research into how easy it is for fish to use one type of fish pass. The location was a gauging weir at Bishop’s Frome on the River Frome in Herefordshire.

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The weir has a Hurn baffle fish pass installed. This has slots which are placed in a row straight up the weir face to encourage fish to jump straight up and over the weir. This is a common installation on our gauging weirs as they are gently sloping.
On longer, steeper slopes, the baffle slots go diagonally up the slope so the fish can expend energy, then pause, before going again, all the way to the top.

We commissioned our consultants, APEM, to investigate whether such a design is suitable as an ‘all species’ (chub, dace, roach, trout) fish pass or whether it is trout specific. We have started the investigation by looking at how easily trout can negotiate the pass.

APEM staff electro-fished the River Frome and caught 14 brown trout (all over 150mm). The fish were anaesthetised, and a PIT tag (micro chip) was inserted into the fish. The fish were measured, the PIT Tag serial number recorded against the length and they were released downstream of the weir.

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When a fish passes through antenna loops placed at the top and bottom of the weir, a camera and sensors record the bar code and capture an image of the fish which is recorded on a hard drive.

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Five days after the fish were released 5 have gone over the weir (they were detected by the upper antenna). Strangely those 5 fish include the smallest (188mm) and the largest fish (338mm) that we tagged. The other 9 fish appear to still be nearby as they have been picked up by the lower antenna loop but have yet to make it to the top.

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The antenna loops will remain in place for at least another week to help monitor the movements and behaviours of the fish when confronted with this type of baffle configuration.