River fish move in their struggle to survive low water levels |  UK News

River fish move in their struggle to survive low water levels | UK News

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

A few deep pools remain along its course, in which the river’s typically healthy fish population is now hemmed in by water levels lower than many on this river can remember.

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

Environment Agency workers are moving fish into the Mole River as the low water levels are dangerous for them.  Pictured is EA Fishery Officer Joe Kitanosono, who is leading the operation.
Image:
EA Fishing Officer Joe Kitanosono

EA fisheries officer Joe Kitanosono, who is leading the operation, said they thought carefully before going in.

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

“We can see that the levels are not going to improve even with the rain that we just had.

“Then we have to take the last step of removing the fish.”

Easier said than done.

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

One person waves the hoop that carries electricity through the water, several others walk behind, scooping up the fish.

The fish are then transported in buckets to tanks filled with hydrogen peroxide.

Environment Agency workers are moving fish into the Mole River as the low water levels are dangerous for them.
Environment Agency workers are moving fish into the Mole River as the low water levels are dangerous for them.

It is a drastic step. The fish are already stressed by the lack of oxygen and high temperatures in the small pools they have been confined to for weeks.

Pulling them out of the river by roughing them up only stresses them out more. About 20% of the fish removed could die. But those are much better odds than they had by staying in the river.

And compared to the situation in other rivers across the country, the Mole River fish are lucky.

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The River Wye on the border between Wales and England is a good example.

It is home to some of our most vulnerable fish populations, such as salmon and sea trout, which must migrate along the river.

Salmon have been dying for weeks, not only from falling water and oxygen levels, but also from pollution levels. As water levels drop, pollution concentrations increase.

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

Things have been bad on the river for a while, bordered as it is by cattle and poultry farms adding to existing pollution from sewage treatment works. But the drought has made them even worse.

Based on their measurements, levels of phosphate, a key contaminant, are eight to nine times the target level.

“It’s gotten pretty harrowing and it’s almost a full-time job now,” said Ms Wilding Jones.

Environment Agency workers are moving fish into the Mole River as the low water levels are dangerous for them.

He is pleased that the Environment Agency is now using his data in its monitoring.

The agency has been criticized for inadequate monitoring of pollution in England’s rivers, a lack that has been even more conspicuous 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 has a vital role to play in this.”

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

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

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

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

“We need action from politicians, from regulators, and using the key hooks in our legislation around the Environment Act to have targets that ensure that in terms of wastewater production, agricultural chemicals and actually , storm surge, those things are properly accountable in the long term.”

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