HUNDREDS of fish washed out of the Grand Western Canal when torrential rain caused part of the bank to collapse have been rescued.

Environment Agency officers and volunteers from Tiverton Angling Club waded through soft mud in sub-zero temperatures to recover the fish from a 7ft deep lagoon that formed near the site of the breach at Halberton.

More than 400 bream, carp, roach, rudd, eels and some sizable pike were netted and safely returned to the canal during the operation on Thursday, Decem-ber 6. The team had to break through ice on the surface of the lake before the rescue could start but were prevented from recovering many more due to the icy conditions.

Nick Maye, from the Environ-ment Agency, said: “We planned to rescue as many as possible and return them safely to the canal.

“The bigger fish were particularly important because they will be laying eggs in the spring.

“There had already been some losses with birds feeding on a number of dead fish at the water’s edge but there were still plenty left in the lake and we were keen to get them out and back where they belong.”

The task was due to take place earlier in the month but had been delayed to ensure priority was given to residents in the 20 properties that were evacuated around the breach and to allow for the lake to reduce in size.

A second operation to rescue the remaining trapped fish is being planned for this week. Devon County Council, which owns the canal, installed two temporary dams to prevent further loss of water and has pledged £10,000 to repair the 200-year-old waterway.

A two-mile stretch of the canal drained when heavy rainfall caused a raised section of bank to give way – carving a gorge in the embankment and sending hundreds of thousands of gallons cascading into surrounding fields.