River fish are moved in struggle to survive low water levels | british news

Despite the rain, the Mole in Surrey still looks more like a gravel track than a river.

A few deep pools remain along the course, where the river’s typically healthy fish population is now corralled by the lowest water levels many on this river can recall.

After waiting until the last minute, the Environment Agency has now decided to wade in and rescue fish in some of the fastest-disappearing pools and move them to other parts of the river.

Employees of the Environment Agency are moving fish on the river Mol, because the low water levels are dangerous for them.  Pictured is EA Fisheries Officer Joe Kitanosono, who is leading the operation.
Image:
EA Fisheries Officer Joe Kitanosono

EA Fisheries Officer Joe Kitanosono, who is leading the operation, said they’ve thought carefully before wading in.

“We’ve looked at all the other options,” he said.

“We see that the levels are not improving even with the rain we just had.

“Then we have to take the ultimate step to remove the fish.”

It’s easier said than done.

His team uses a technique called electrofishing, in which a current is passed through the water to temporarily stun the fish.

One person waves the hoop that carries the electricity through the water, several others wade after it and scoop up the fish.

The fish are then transported in buckets to tanks full of oxygenated water.

Employees of the Environment Agency are moving fish on the river Mol, because the low water levels are dangerous for them.
Employees of the Environment Agency are moving fish on the river Mol, because the low water levels are dangerous for them.

It’s a drastic step. The fish are already stressed by lack of oxygen and high temperatures in the small pools where they are locked up for weeks.

Manipulating them out of the river will only cause them more stress. About 20% of fish removed could die. But that’s a much better chance than they had staying in the river.

And compared to the situation on other rivers up and down the country, the fishing on the river Mole is lucky.

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The River Wye on the Welsh/English border is a good example of this.

It is home to some of our most vulnerable fish populations, such as salmon and sea trout that have to migrate the length of the river.

Salmon have been dying there for weeks, not only from falling water and oxygen levels, but also from pollution. As the water level falls, the concentrations of pollution rise.

We joined Marian Wilding Jones, one of a network of citizen scientists monitoring pollution levels on the River Dore, a tributary of the Wye.

The river has been in bad shape for some time now, lined with livestock and poultry farms that amplify existing pollution from sewage treatment plants. But the drought has made them even worse.

According to her measurements, the levels of phosphate – a major pollutant – are eight to nine times the target level.

“It has become quite harrowing and now almost a full-time job,” said Ms. Wilding Jones.

Employees of the Environment Agency are moving fish on the river Mol, because the low water levels are dangerous for them.

She is pleased that the Environment Agency is now using her data in its monitoring.

The agency has been criticized for failing to monitor the pollution of England’s rivers adequately, an absence that was even more noticeable during the drought.

In a statement, the Environment Agency told us: “We need to improve the water quality and ecological health of our rivers and monitoring plays a vital role in this.”

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It said it has spent more than £180 million on environmental monitoring since 2016, adding: “We have also put new requirements on water companies to significantly increase their monitoring.”

However, campaigners argue that key agencies need more support to address the scale of the problem.

“Not enough is being done,” said Jamie Audsley, chief executive of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.

“Our key regulators, Environment Agency and Natural England are underfunded.

“We need action from politicians, from regulators, and to use the key hooks in our legislation around the Environmental Act to have targets that will ensure those things in terms of wastewater production, agrochemicals and indeed long-term storm surges to should be accounted for.”

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