The secret life of barbel revealed

A ground-breaking study into the secret lives of specimen barbel has revealed revolutionary data that will give anglers the knowledge to put more fish on the bank.

A three-year research project funded by the Environment Agency and undertaken by Hull International Fisheries Institute, saw state-of-the-art radio tags attached to stocks of river barbel to pinpoint their exact movements and this week Angling Times can exclusively  lift the lid on the amazing findings.

The study, which is one of the first of its kind, has not only revealed exactly which features the species can be found in at what time of the year, but also to what extent they are influenced by water temperature and river flow.

Ground-breaking data gathered from tags attached to barbel located in the River Great Ouse in Bedfordshire  have also proved to scientists how far barbel can travel in a day as well as the habitats they prefer during different times of the year  - arming anglers with exact knowledge of how to locate them at their chosen venue.

The detailed thesis, which was undertaken by Dr Karen Twine, now Fisheries Technical Officer for the EA, also revealed vital information about favoured spawning grounds that will in turn assist clubs and river trusts with the future conservation of the species.
“This is some of the most detailed and accurate information we’ve ever collected regarding the movements and ecology of the species,” Karen told Angling Times.

“The project came about after the Environment Agency heard from the anglers on the Ouse that fewer barbel were being caught. This, coupled with the fact that fisheries surveys by the Environment Agency weren’t finding many small barbel, made the fisheries team question why. We designed a series of investigations to look at the life cycle of the barbel, but the radio tracking is what people find most interesting.”

“The tags revealed that in winter, the majority of barbel were located in vegetated areas where there is a high presence of fine sediment on the river bed.”

“They also preferred slower paced water that gives fish the chance to conserve energy when the river levels were generally higher.”
“In summer, more fish were found in shallower, faster flowing channels with a greater abundance of gravel and in autumn gravel stretches were vacated by barbel, which were seen moving back into the more vegetated areas. “

“Overhanging features were proved to be the species preferred habitat though, as fish were found in these areas 64% of the entire two-year study time.”

The revolutionary research also revealed the distances that the species travelled.

Some barbel had a home range, which is measured by length of river between the fish’s most upstream and downstream recorded locations, as high as four miles with individual fish using up to 83% of their available river stretch and moving as much as 3619 yards per day.

River temperatures and flow were also vital factors in the barbel’s behaviour.

“The movements of wild barbel were significantly influenced by temperature and flow of the river, with the optimum temperature range being when the water is between 10 and 15 degrees Celsius,” Karen continued.

“Some of the findings support what anglers have always believed, but there were also a few surprises. Within the timescale available I think that we were able to identify some good places to start with protecting the species, and offer practical outputs to get things moving. Habitat improvement projects on the upper Ouse have already begun as a result of this study.”

Chairman of the Barbel Society, Steve Pope, believes the new found knowledge could go a long way to helping barbel anglers catch more fish.

“This study tells us exactly where and when barbel are spending their time, which is such vital information for anglers.
 “We all know that location is the key in any form of river fishing and data like this will  help reduce the amount of blanks experienced by angler, who just don’t know where to find the fish in their local stretches” he said.

The new evidence, which also gave examples of the ideal conditions and habitats for the spawning of wild barbel, will now be used by the EA for undertaking habit work on river stretches as well as when restocking venues.

The Barbel Society has also recognised the research by funding a continuation of Dr Twine’s work through a national study of UK barbel stocks by Ph.D students from Loughborough University and research on diet and stocking by a student from Bournemouth University.
“Hopefully the next leg of the study will help us to understand why stocks of the species on certain rivers are not as prolific as on others and allow us to understand what is required in order for us to maintain those stocks,” Steve continued.

“These are very exciting times for barbel anglers and the future of the species.”

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