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The charity making life better by water

Protecting our canal dwelling fish

As part of our work as a charity caring for 2,200 miles of canals and rivers and over one hundred reservoirs, our national fisheries team looks after the wellbeing of our waterway fish.

child holding rescued fish

The water that we look after is home to many millions of fish - roughly 1,750lbs of fish per mile - all protected under law and some critically endangered.

There are around thirty different species living in our waterways. Our most popular native fish include Pike, Bream, Carp, Perch, Tench and Roach. Some of the rarest fish in our waterways are Eels (who travel all the way from their birthplace in the Sargosso Sea reach our waterways and can live up to one hundred years), Bullheads (small fish who like to shelter the brick work in our locks) and the shy and retiring Crucian carp (a small hump backed fish with a deep bronze or golden body).

We also have a number of troubling species of fish living in our canals which are not native to our waters. For example, Zander were illegally introduced to our waters as early as 1878 and have since aggressively predated many native fish, particularly the Gudgeon and the Catfish, now the largest freshwater fish in our waters, which as well as eating other fish, also preys on small animals and birds.

But why is it important to care for our fishy friends?

Fish communities are part of the UK's natural biodiversity and are a vital part of the wider food chain in our waterways. Without them, for example we wouldn't have herons, grebes, kingfishers and otters. Fish are also a great indicator of good water quality – if the fish are thriving, so will other waterway wildlife.

As part of our work to protect and care for our canal dwelling fish, we work alongside our ecologists to make environmental improvements along the canals to support fish habitats. For example, we make sure there's a variety of vegetation available wherever possible to provide refuge and food for fish.

We also work with our engineers to organise fish rescues when canals and reservoirs are drained for repair work. Each year we undertake around one hundred rescues, netting and moving around a quarter of a million fish. From time to time, these rescues are unplanned emergencies in response to breaches, where the canal wall has failed and water has drained out.

Getting involved

Angling on our waterways is a quintessential part of our social history and great way for children and adults to enjoy the outdoors and wellbeing benefits of being by the water. It also plays an important role in keeping our waterway fish healthy.

Angling clubs pay us an income for fishing rights, which is reinvested to maintain fish stocks and make environmental improvements along the canals. Clubs ‘employ' volunteer bailiffs who are the ‘eyes and ears' on the ground, sorting out any problems that arise, improving access, reporting any offences and helping to maintain safe and healthy environments.

We also work with angling clubs to take measures to control invasive species like Zander, for example undertaking electrofishing from time to time and making sure Zander caught by anglers are not put back into the water.

Plastic pollution

Finally, our #PlasticsChallenge, where we are asking waterway visitors to pick up at least one piece of plastic rubbish each time they visit a waterway, is becoming an increasingly vital element of caring for the fish and other wildlife that lives in our canals and reservoirs. Much of the litter and plastic waste that enters our waterways will eventually be washed out to sea, causing problems for marine wildlife.

The plastic litter that remains breaks down over time to create micro plastic particles. These particles then enter the food chain when consumed by fish and invertebrates, affecting their lifespan and consequently the whole ecosystem.


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Last Edited: 26 January 2021

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