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Fish kills: Let’s be clear – they are not natural and not inevitable
A little spell of hot weather with some thunderstorms, some of which are locally heavy. The result? A spike in fish kills across our rivers and the loss of many thousands of magnificent and highly prized fish.
In the past few weeks, the North West of England has been particularly badly affected, but we have also seen fish deaths on the Warwickshire Avon and other parts of the country.
The river Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal have been in the forefront of this alarming and totally unnecessary massacre of our fish with tens of thousands of dead fish floating on the surface and the devastation reaching right into the heart of Manchester at Salford Quays.
Fish kills have also been reported in:
Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Parbold
Bridgewater Canal central Manchester
Salford Quays/ bottom end of the Irwell (almost certainly a category 1 incident)
Manchester Ship Canal either side of Partington
River Dane in Northwich Town Centre
River Weaver Winsford – Vale Royal Locks
River Mersey in Warrington (almost certainly a category 1 incident)
The Avon in Warwickshire.
So, what’s the cause? The Environment Agency and others claim this is a natural event due to the loss of dissolved oxygen brought on by the hot weather.
But while it may be the loss of oxygen that is causing the devastation, the blame does not lie solely with the hot weather. To dismiss it as that is complacent.
What we have is another wake up call for the EA and Defra. These fish kills are yet more evidence of the appalling abuse our rivers face daily.
As our climate changes, our rivers simply do not have the resilience to function in anything like a natural freshwater ecosystem. Through poor water quality, pollution and, in places, over abstractions and low flows, we have left our rivers unable to cope. The fish suffer because not one of our rivers is in a good chemical state and only 16 per cent are in a good biological state.
Our heavily modified rivers cannot withstand the onslaught. Water companies continue to pollute, too often pouring raw sewage into them after some rain, adding to the pressure our rivers already face from the continuous chronic discharge of pollutants, such as phosphates, from some sewage treatment works and agricultural runoff.
When the downpour comes, the situation is made worse as the pollutions from roads, hard surfaces and drains all wash into our rivers. A period of hot weather and thunderstorms is a tipping point, it is not the cause.
Commenting on the fish kills, Eric Owen of Little Britain Anglers said:
“These are sad times. Our rivers and waterways can’t cope with the pollution over the years and this hot weather and storms are having a big effect.
“We had weather like this many years ago and it didn’t cause as many fish kills, so why now? In my opinion it’s the fact that our rivers are in such a bad place with issues of sewage waste and farm runoff and all the other issues. Hot weather and thunderstorms are the nail in the coffin.”
Anthony Simmons from the Leamington Angling Association said:
“We have fishing rights on some the most prolific stretches of the Warwickshire Avon including Wasperton and Stratford upon Avon. Needless to say, our members have been shocked by the extent of the recent fish deaths on the river and we have been in regular contact with Environment Agency officers to keep abreast of the situation.
“Information emerging from data collected at many different points shows that the sudden influx of heavy rain brought with it large amounts of debris and pollutants from roads, fields, ditches and drains. This caused deoxygenation of many sections of river and fish died as a result.”
Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, said:
“The abuse of our rivers cannot go on. The EA is missing in action, underfunded, over stretched, and is too often not responding quickly enough. While some fisheries teams are doing their best, their best is nothing more than a sticking plaster. We need prevention. We’re sick and tired of having to clean up the mess after it has happened.
“We must see the EA get on top of the state of our rivers. We need more action, more quickly. More prosecutions, more pressure on the water companies, less tolerance of their, often illegal, actions. Polluters must be made to pay – the EA must get tough.”
The Angling Trust continues to ramp up the pressure on the EA and government to do more to restore and protect our rivers. Though our Anglers Against Pollution campaign, and the water quality monitoring network of angler citizen scientists, we are regularly monitoring the water quality of 127 rivers across 50 catchments. We are calling on the government to do more than their currently inadequate Storm Overflow Reduction Plan and their Plan for Water.
Meanwhile, Fish Legal have multiple ongoing actions to hold polluters to account. We are fighting to keep the political pressure on the the government, the EA, and politicians. Anglers can help by raising their voices, demanding more actions from their MPs and supporting the Angling Trust.