Calls for urgent action after fish kills decimate angling on the Aire and Calder

The Angling Trust has intervened to try and end fish kills on the Aire and Calder Navigation at Knottingley, West Yorkshire, caused by commercial barge operators. As these large barges move through the area, they leave carnage in their wake with dead fish floating on the surface.

The Angling Trust is supporting Mirfield Angling Club and Walton Angling Club in demanding the Canal and River Trust (C&RT) take urgent action to stop this slaughter.

Jamie Cook, CEO of the Angling Trust, said:

“I have written to the Canal and River Trust, I want them to take immediate action to prevent this devastating impact on a healthy, vibrant fishery that provides an important economic contribution to the local community.

“C&RT are a valued partner, we invest significantly in their Let’s Fish programme, however they have a legal duty to have regard to ‘the conservation of flora and fauna’ in the decisions they take. In allowing this barge to operate and kill fish every time it passes through this stretch of the Aire and Calder, that clearly has not happened and this simply has to stop. Only then can we look at what options there are to protect the fishery and allow operations to continue without catastrophic environmental damage being caused.”

The Knottingley section of the Aire and Calder Navigation has seen substantial improvements in the quality of the environment in recent decades, to such an extent that it now supports a large range and abundance of fish, and therefore a healthy environment for both plant and invertebrate life. All this from what was once a dead and heavily polluted stretch of water.

It is, therefore, alarming to receive regular reports, videos and pictures of sliced up and dead fish floating on the surface of the canal. From the evidence the Angling Trust has received, it seems that the injuries to the fish would be consistent with them having come into contact with a propeller.

Peter Dawson, a local angler and campaigner, said:

”The carnage that is occurring now is the result of an ill-conceived idea by a green venture programme to keep lorries off the road and use antiquated, polluting, oil burning mega barges on a precious fish-rich area for the task of transporting aggregate. Because of the extent of this carnage killing flora and fauna, this self-defeating operation must be stopped immediately.”

The stretch of the navigation that passed through Knottingley is both narrow and shallow. As the barge passes through, there is very little space either side and below its hull resulting in the fish being trapped and killed by the propeller-driven barge.

The barge began operating in 2020 with fish kills noticed by local anglers straight away. Both the Mirfield Angling Club and Walton Angling Club have been seeking answers from C&RT since then.

A local social media campaign has been highlighting the damage and death being caused, including regularly posting evidence of fish kills. So far, C&RT have failed to take any action. Only when the navigation became damaged and began to leak in late 2020, costing C&RT over £3m in repairs, did the operation of the barge stop. In the summer of 2021, the operation restarted and the fish kills returned.

The impact on the environment does not stop with the fish kills. A diesel leak from the barge polluted the navigation resulting in local swans having to be rescued and treated by the RSPCA.

Watch: Barge leaves dying fish in its wake


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