Category Archives: Freshwater fish of Britain

Mystery of vanishing eels

The eel population of the Thames has dropped by 98% in 5 years and conservationists can only speculate why. The Thames eels (Anguilla anguilla) are born 4000 miles away in the Sargasso Sea, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, from where they migrate to British fresh waters.  After up to 20 years they return to their breeding grounds to spawn and die. To make these long journeys the eels rely on ocean currents, which are susceptible to changes in temperature.

Disease and pollution could also be causing problems for the eel.  Although the Thames has revived since its “biological death” in the 1950s, the river remains under heavy urban pressure.  And the Sargasso Sea, in contrast with its romantic image, suffers from a particularly high concentration of non-biodegradable plastic waste, trapped there by ocean currents.

Sea lampreys return

Sea lampreys have returned to English rivers. The Environment Agency has identified 12 spawning sites and seven adult Sea Lampreys have been seen in them. Like salmon they are anadromous, living in the sea and breeding in rivers. This a positive sign as they are a good indication of the high river water quality. Until now the only known site in the UK  where the species fed in freshwater was Loch Lomond. The Telegraph

A history of pike

File:Pike caught frog.jpg

Pike were sometimes in the back of my mind when I swam in rivers and lakes as a child, my imagination fed by terrible tales told by other children and myself of their bite. Britain and Ireland, the latter where it was probably introduced by the English in the 17c, are home to one species of pike: the northern pike (Esox lucius).

The English common name “pike” is an apparent shortening of “pike-fish”, in reference to its pointed head, Old English píc originally referring to a pickaxe. The generic name Esox derives from the Greek for a kind of fish, itself a word of Celtic origin related to the Welsh eog and Irish Gaelic iach (salmon) Wikipedia

Izzac Walton, who published the famous The Compleat Angler in 1653, said of the pike

” The mighty luce or pike is taken to be the tyrant, as the salmon is the king of the fresh waters” from here.

Pike will aggressively strike at any animal in the vicinity, even at other pike. Young pike have been found dead from choking on a pike of a similar size, an observation referred to by the renowned English poet Ted Hughes in his poem ‘Pike’. The poem begins:

Pike, three inches long, perfect
Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold
Killers from the egg, the malevolent aged grin
They dance on the surface among the flies
Read and listen to introduction and complete poem here read by Ted Huges

Although generally known as a “sporting” quarry, most anglers release pike they have caught because the flesh is considered bony, especially due to the substantial (epipleural) “Y-bones”. However, the larger fish are more easily filleted, and pike have a long and distinguished history in cuisine and are popular fare in Europe. Historical references to cooking pike go as far back as the Romans. The flesh is white and mild-tasting. Fishing for pike is said to be very exciting with their aggressive hits and aerial acrobatics. Wikiepdia

Danger of being bitten by a pike

  • River Swimming Water Safety mentions Pike attack as a risk of open water swimming “You can get a good bite from a pike. This seems to happen when people simulate the movements of a fish.”
  • Why nobody is safe when the pike are biting (The Times) Lots of tales of the amazing exploits of pike “In 1922, The Field carried a report about a 14lb pike caught at Newbury on February 19 that year. The fish had an entire newborn pig in its stomach.”