Whenever a canal is drained of its water during our maintenance work or an unplanned emergency, as the charity that cares for everything to do with the nation's canals and rivers, we’ve a responsibility to make sure the resident fish are safe and well. But how do you do that?
Often this involves a fish rescue using a technique called electrofishing. Don’t worry – it’s not as scary as it sounds – it’s a way of temporarily preventing fish from swimming so we can move them safely.
Usually, it’s the familiar common fish species that we end up rescuing and relocating to a stretch of that canal that still has its water. The most common of all British fish species is the ubiquitous roach followed by bream, perch, gudgeon, pike and increasingly chub. Canals that don’t see a lot of boats also hold good populations of rudd.
Just occasionally, fish out of the ordinary turn up, which is what happened recently on the Walsall canal… John Ellis, national fisheries and angling manager
Recently our fish rescue team netted a fish that a first glance they thought was a British record bullhead. A closer look revealed it was nothing of the sort. What they captured from around Lock 1 of the Walsall Canal was a leopard plec, a native fish of South America but sold in pet shops as an ornamental fish. No doubt the owner felt it was surplus to requirements in their tank and decided to simply throw it into the canal. This irresponsible behaviour risks introducing new fish diseases to the wild and is against the law. Given its need for warm water conditions, it’s unlikely it could have survived a Black Country winter.
Once extremely common on our waterways, and in times gone by considered something of a nuisance species by most fishermen, the European eel is now a species in rapid decline. It’s considered more at risk of extinction that the giant panda!
Large eels are rare indeed but one turned up unexpectedly following a fish rescue in the Ridgacre branch back in 2016. She weighed in at nearly 6 lbs. Due to the powers of social media, the outsized specimen made the news in Australia and headlined in the Bermuda Times newspaper, highly appropriate, given the sea around Bermuda was its original birthplace.
It is said that Henry I died of food poisoning after he stuffed his face with a lamprey pie a few days past its sell by date. Back in the era before the industrial revolution with its associated pollution and loss of rivers for migratory fish due to the building of unpassable weirs, lampreys and sturgeon were abundant in our rivers. Rarely do we find such species today but were lucky to uncover these river lamprey on a lock stoppage a few years ago. They were safely returned to the water, which perhaps would have made Henry turn in his grave.
Probably the most popular species that anglers who target big fish love to catch is the carp. Introduced to the UK by monks in the Plantagenet era, they thrive albeit in low numbers in many urban canals. This monster turned up out of the blue when Hazlemere marina on the River Lee Navigation was emptied for development work, it weighed not far short of 30 lbs and is likely to be more than 30 years old.
Last date edited: 14 August 2017