Keith Arthur - Call for research on missing fish

The news that barbel stocks are to be replenished in the River Wensum ¬ as they have been on other rivers where they are not successfully regenerating naturally ¬ is very welcome. I wish those involved, and especially the fish, good fortune every step of the way.

I have, as usual, taken a slightly sideways step and thought about why there is a barbel shortage. If, as is the current trend of popular thought, otters are to blame, has that situation changed? If not, is there any benefit in feeding them yet more barbel any more than there is the restocking of small roach and chub where cormorants are likely to have created the shortage in the first place?

There is absolutely no doubt that angling needs some serious research carried out on fish stocks. Just because we anglers can’t catch them, or even see them, doesn’t necessarily mean that fish are not present. I’m not talking migratory shoals here, but resident fish. I heard a whisper about a very recent survey on a stretch of a well-known southern river - I won’t name it because it didn’t come from an official source - that despite extremely poor catch returns, especially for barbel, the survey found more barbel than were ever believed to be present.

There is history of many species disappearing for varying lengths of time up to years then, as if from nowhere, fully mature fish turn up as if they’ve never been gone. Even the Warwickshire Avon roach which, according to as many local anglers as you could find, had simply been eaten by the pike, showed up in such massive numbers on the 2009 Shakespeare Festival ¬ as soon as bloodworm and joker was allowed - there were many eggy faces, including mine.

There is no doubt that on some stretches of some rivers big fish have disappeared, at least from anglers’ catches. That is not proof they are not there, only evidence towards that likelihood.

In the meantime, if we are to treat the future with anything other than contempt, we must pursue the likelihood that stocked fish will survive and flourish. If they don’t, what happens next?