Canal to be restocked with fish after wall breach washed hundreds into fields

THE Environment Agency is to re-stock part of the Grand Western Canal following fish losses caused by a spectacular bank collapse. Thousands of fish including pike, perch, bream, tench, roach and eels were washed out of the canal after a section of bank near Halberton gave way following torrential rain.

Water from a two mile section of the canal flooded surrounding fields creating a temporary lake. A team of Environment Agency officers assisted by members of the Tiverton Angling Club launched a rescue operation and successfully returned more than 400 fish to the canal.

However, they only caught a fraction of the fish trapped in the lake. Agency officers are keen to rescue as many of the larger fish as possible as these are an important part of the canal’s breeding stock. There was some welcome news this week when the Environment Agency’s national fish hatchery at Calverton in Northamptonshire offered to supply young fish to help restock the canal. The hatchery was set up with the specific purpose of replacing fish lost through pollution and other unforseen inclidents. An initial re-stocking of roach, rudd, tench and bream will take place early next year. This will be followed by an annual re-stocking of approximately 2,000 of each of these fish species.

Local angler and head bailiff for the Tiverton Angling Club, Ian Nadin, said, "This is brilliant news, the canal is a fantastic fishery.

"Unfortunately the stretch where the breach occurred was one of the best on the canal and is very productive. It is impossible to judge how many fish have been lost.

"The Environment Agency has done an amazing job rescuing fish but we suspect any that are still trapped in the lake won’t survive We welcome the decision to restock the canal. It is excellent news."

Nick Maye of the Environment Agency said: "The bank collapse resulted in the loss of a significant number of fish from the canal. Some were injured and died within days of being washed into the lake. The decision to re-stock is important because it will speed up the recovery of the fish population.

"It was by far the biggest rescue we’ve ever attempted and the most challenging. Soft mud and sub-zero temperatues made it extremely difficult to deploy our nets, but we did manage to catch around 400 fish and safely return them to the canal."

The team will return to the lagoon tomorrow (Monday) for a final attempt to rescue some of the remaining fish.

The collapse of the canal bank occurred on November 21 during extreme weather when parts of Devon received a month’s rain in just 48 hours. Devon County Council, which owns the canal, has installed two temporary dams to prevent further loss of water. The cost of repairing the canal could be as high as £5 million.

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