Fish-kills ‘highest since 2014’ as English, Welsh and Irish fisheries prepare for drought and high temperatures

UK Centre of Ecology and Hydrology is predicting the drought conditions will continue until October.
Photo: Shutterstock/Saurian Ventures

Rivers and streams across England and Wales are drying up and water temperatures in excess of 20 degrees Celsius have been recorded this week on two of the Great Western lakes of Ireland – Lough Sheelin in Cavan and Lough Currane in Kerry.

As fish and other wildlife start to feel the strain, the Angling Trust (AT) is calling for immediate hosepipe bans in all affected areas and for DEFRA to declare an official drought, whilst Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) is appealing to the public to report sightings of fish under thermal stress, as water levels in many rivers are low and approaching drought conditions, and it has already asked anglers to to voluntarily stop using ‘keep nets’ during the forecasted heatwave.

Fish in trouble

The Trust has seen data showing fish-kills are at their highest level since 2014, and are likely to continue. So far in England:
• Hundreds of salmon, trout and eels having to be rescued from the Shropshire rivers Teme and Redlake due to low oxygen levels;
• The fire brigade had to rescue dying salmon from the lower river Exe in Devon;
• 250 trout had to be re-located further downstream on Derbyshire’s river Lathkill due to low flows;
• 200-300 salmon, trout and eels rescued from Dorset’s river Tarrant due to it drying up earlier than normal;
• Fish rescues were in operation on de-watered Thames backwaters around Oxford;
• Hundreds of fish were killed at a stillwater in Sussex due to lack of oxygen, with the EA providing aeration support in response; and
• several hundred fish killed at a stillwater in Kent, with aeration provided to save the remaining stock.

Drought in Wales

Afonydd Cymru reports that in south east Wales, sections of the Nant Ffrwd and Nant Twyn Harris were reported to have dried up and the Ebbw at Rhiwderin is at its lowest level ever recorded. Meanwhile, levels in the Frogwy at Bodfordd on Anglesey are also at an all-time low. The Western Cleddau is currently at its lowest ever recorded level with the Eastern Cleddau exceptionally low too. In July, the Wye received extra water from releases from the Elan reservoirs to protect salmon during last month’s heatwave, but the drought continues.

Across the country, many stillwater trout fisheries have closed temporarily as water temperatures climb once again, and other reservoirs are advising that no catch-and-release should now take part on its waters.

Concern in Ireland

Concern in Ireland centres on the fact that in July, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Office of Public Works’ data buoy, recorded a surface water temperature of 21.84 degrees Celsius at Lough Sheelin, coinciding with the hottest air temperature that month of 30.75 degrees Celsius.

With temperatures set to top 27°C over Ireland over the next three days, Inland Fisheries Ireland is highlighting the significant thermal stress which occurs in brown trout and salmon at temperatures at, or above, 20°C.

Dr Gregory Forde, Head of Operations at Inland Fisheries Ireland explains: “During the current heat wave, air and water temperatures are approaching dangerous levels and fish kills may be unavoidable. In some instances, moving fish in and out of the water may also prove too stressful. That’s why we’re asking anglers practicing catch and release fishing to consider taking a break from fishing while high temperature warnings are in place”.

Who’s listening?

The Angling Trust is concerned that too many water companies have been reluctant to act on the shortage of water for fear of negative publicity, despite latest information from the Environment Agency showing that the water remaining in reservoirs is at its lowest since 1995 ranging from 70% to as low as 43% of normal capacity, and the period from November to July has seen the driest conditions in the south east of England since 1836, when records began. It states the UK Centre of Ecology and Hydrology is predicting the drought conditions will continue until October, with river flows in central and southern England remaining low or exceptionally low.

Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, said: “We need the government to treat this as the crisis it is. We can all see the low flow in our rivers, many of our chalkstreams drying up, and our fish and other wildlife suffering. If ministers aren’t bothered about the environment they should recognise that the economic cost of seeing the taps run dry is horrendous.

“The government must declare a drought now and the water companies should stop dragging their feet. It’s also concerning that the two candidates to be our next Prime Minister seem to have to say nothing about the crisis unfolding in front of them”.

The problem

The Trust points to the current lack of new water resources and that, despite a population increase of over ten million, no new reservoirs have been completed since privatisation in 1991. In the south, where population growth is highest, the last reservoir built was Farmoor, near Oxford, back in 1976. And it stresses that the fact that some water companies have actually sold off reservoirs has worsened the situation.

Martin Salter, Chief Policy Adviser to the AT, said: “Water policy is the UK has been a complacent shambles for decades…The water infrastructure is creaking, leaking and inadequate and for far too long investment has been held back in favour of keeping water bills down, for which we are now about to pay a far higher price.
“Our rivers are drying up, fish and other wildlife are dying and not just on small streams. Big rivers, like the Thames, are suffering and has now dried up along a five-mile length from its source for the first time ever. And yet right now millions of gallons of scarce water is being wasted keeping golf courses and lawns green rather than helping rivers survive and our wildlife and economy protected.”

At the same time, the Daily Telegraph reported that Thames Water had shut down its ’emergency drought desalination plant’ to save money; a move that caused fly fisher and campaigner, Feargal Sharkey to Tweet: “It’s time OFWAT started using its power to issue enforcement orders.”

WildFish, the organisation that “works to protect wild fish” pinned the blame firmly on water companies and government policy: “Following the driest July since 1935, regulators have warned England will move into drought if conditions continue. It is fashionable to blame climate change, but the truth is different. As with the sewage crisis, the problem is essentially one of underinvestment, mismanagement, and failed regulation”. It says estimates suggest there will be a deficit of four billion litres of water a day by 2050 if we want secure water supplies and a healthy environment.

The water companies are due to publish their draft Water Resource Management Plan in November.

On a lighter note: Llyn Brenig, in Wales, reports that the lake is at a high altitude which means that the water is usually cooler than other waters and, at the moment, it still has a good head of water, unlike many other lakes and reservoirs. The level of the lake has dropped, but it does not seem to have affected the fishing.

The public is asked to report any sightings of fish suffering thermal stress:
England, Wales & NI: 0800 80 70 60 (24-hour)
In Ireland: 0818 347424 (24-hour)