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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Elvering on the Severn Estuary

What are elvers?

They’re baby eels. Eels have a remarkable lifecycle which sees them travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

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Spawning (egg laying) has never been observed, but it is believed to take place in the spring, deep in the Sargasso Sea, between Bermuda and the Bahamas. Maturing females are thought to contain up to 10 million eggs. The eggs develop into a ‘leaf-like’ larva called a ‘leptocephalus’ It was originally thought that these larvae took three years to migrate from the Sargasso Sea to the European coast but, recent studies suggest that the journey may take as little as 12 months.

When the larvae reach shallower water they change into what is called the ‘glass eel’ stage before continuing with their migration into river estuaries.

eellifecycleThey use the tidal currents to push them into our river systems, going upstream on the flood tide. During the ebb tide they move out of the current towards the bank side to prevent being washed back out to sea. As the water warms during the late Spring, glass eels start to develop pigmentation and become strong swimmers. At this stage they look like miniature adult eels and are referred to as elvers.

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Male eel stay in freshwater for between 7 and 12 years, maturing at an average length of about 36cm. Females stay between 9 to 20 years and mature at a larger average size of about 50cm, though eel can grow larger reaching up to 1 metre in length and live as long as 40 years.

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When the fish mature they change to a blue/silvery colour and migrate seaward during the autumn, usually during dark stormy nights.

Population collapse

The European Eel is a critically endangered species. Since the 1970s, the numbers of eels reaching Europe is thought to have declined by over 90%. The exact reasons for the catastrophic decline are unknown but probably include: overfishing, parasites, barriers to migration such as weirs and natural changes in the North Atlantic currents

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Elver fishing

There is a very long history of fishing for elvers in the Severn Estuary. It’s important to the local culture and also makes a contribution to the local economy. The wholesale value of elvers has risen dramatically from around 50p a kilo in the 1980’s to anything up to £500 a kilo now. There are about 3000 elvers in a kilo. Prices fluctuate greatly depending on demand and the number of elvers about.

CaptureFishermen sell their catch to elver traders in the UK, who then sell them on for restocking fish farms and fisheries across Europe. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulations, it is now illegal to export European elver outside the Continent.

Regulating elver fishing

If you want to fish for elvers you need a special permit from us.

Details here http://bit.ly/11a4Dux

Last year we sold over 200 elver dip net licences on the Severn Estuary.
Because eels are so endangered and due to the potential financial benefits of catching large numbers of elvers we try to strike a balance between allowing fishing and protecting the vulnerable population.

Our permits put restrictions on the equipment you are allowed to use and how and where they are used. This limits the numbers of elvers it’s possible to catch while allowing fishing to continue.

Most elver fishermen are law abiding. Some are not! During the elver season ( from February to May) we devote a lot of effort to detecting and tackling illegal fishing activity. We have a dedicated team of fisheries enforcement staff who are fully warranted and equipped to carry this out.

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We also have some sophisticated kit, such as night vision headsets and cameras, sonar equipment and high- powered boats, to help us track down the guilty. Last year we successfully prosecuted 10 people at magistrates courts for illegal elver fishing on the Severn Estuary.

We also have the power to seize equipment that we suspect to be illegal or being used to carry out illegal activity. In the past, in addition to fishing equipment, we’ve seized and impounded boats, cars and vans!

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The elver season is now well underway and we’re out and about most nights.

Chasing fish in the middle Severn

Last week, as part of a major survey of coarse fish in the mid Severn (from Shrewsbury to Worcester), we used a special piece of monitoring kit we borrowed from our friends in the South East region of the Environment Agency.

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It’s called an electrofishing boom boat and has been specifically designed to sample larger rivers. Catching fish in a big river presents lots of problems. It’s too deep and wide to net effectively, too big and deep for normal hand held electrofishing gear, and debris, obstructions and depth changes make sonar equipment unreliable. The boom boat is effective as it greatly increases the effective size of the electric capture field. The two large multiple rings arrangements on the front of the boat with metal prongs dipping into the water are the anodes and electricity passes between them and the cathodes (metal plates situated under the boat). This electric field then attracts fish towards the anodes and then immobilises them. The fish are caught by two people with nets on either side of the boat, and placed into an aerated storage tank on board the boat.

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Last week we fished between the County Showground and English Bridge in Shrewsbury. At various locations along this section fish caught were unloaded to colleagues on the bank.

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The team on the bank identify and count the fish, measure their tail fork length and take samples of scales which are sent for analysis. This tells us how old the fish are and how quickly they are growing. They are then released back into the water.

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We caught good numbers and a wide selection of fish including some large pike and perch, a shoal of roach, dace, chub, ruffe, gudgeon, European eel and juvenile Atlantic salmon as well as plenty of bullheads and minnows. A large adult Atlantic salmon was also seen but not caught.

The results from this investigation will be combined with match catch data from anglers and fry surveys to get a better appreciation of the fish population of this important fishery. We hope to produce a report on our findings later this year.

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