Big barbel boost for rivers as EA steps up stocks

The Future of barbel fishing is looking brighter than ever thanks to the Environment Agency stocking two popular river stretches with the largest barbel they have ever reared.

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Officials from the EA’s Calverton Fish Farm recently introduced 171 2lb-3lb barbel across the River Great Ouse at Harrold and the River Ivel at Biggleswade in a drive to improve catch rates and to help surviving barbel to spawn successfully. 

These additions follow thousands of fingerling barbel stocked into the Ouse and Ivel over the last 10 years but the EA admits that this latest stocking is its most significant to date because of the average size of the barbel released. 

Kye Jerrom, a Team Leader for Fisheries, Biodiversity and Geomorphology at the Environment Agency, told Angling Times: “On Wednesday, February 6 we stocked 171 fish – 80 into the River Great Ouse near to Harrold Country Park and 91 into the River Ivel at Biggleswade Mill.

“Some of these individuals were well over 30cm in length and approaching 3lb in weight – the largest barbel we have ever stocked.

“We have been working at these two locations extensively over the last 10 years to conserve the barbel populations and restore river habitats to help ensure sustainable fish populations.

“Our recent PhD studies have shown that barbel numbers are impacted most heavily by poor spawning and poor fry survival, which in effect means the populations are struggling to support themselves.

“We are doing a lot of work to turn that around by improving spawning habitat, building fry refuge areas, creating fish passages and, of course, stocking.”

In the early 1990s and early 2000s the Great Ouse made its reputation as the greatest specimen barbel river in the country after it produced countless double-figure specimen – including Grahame King’s British record at 21lb 1oz.

Predation has since severely reduced barbel stocks on the river but this most recent stocking has breathed new life into the waterway.

The introduction is also a double delight for local anglers who not only have a chance to catch these new barbel but can also help monitor their progress by reporting their results to the EA. 

“These fish have been dye marked with a (safe) blue agent and we want to take advantage of anglers fishing for them to learn more about their growth, survival and spread,” added Kye. 

“This is a great chance to get involved in some active fishery conservation work and we urge any angler who catches a barbel with a blue spot on its belly to get in contact with the EA immediately.”

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What do local clubs think?

Trevor Johnson, chairman of the Upper Ouse Fishery Consultative Association and Milton Keynes Angling Association, said: 

“These are fantastic fish, probably the largest the EA has ever had from Calverton – partly the result of two hot summers helping them pack on weight. 

“This is a sea-change from the EA’s numerous previous stockings with much smaller fish – and potentially a real shot in the arm for the river with a genuine chance that some will survive and spawn again and again, with their offspring providing sustainable stocks for the Upper Ouse and Ivel.

“But if that happens it will only be possible because of the huge amount of work the EA’s fishery lads have been putting in over the years, and continue to put in, to improve spawning and nursery habitats so that fish like these have a chance of producing a sustainable population.

“That’s an uphill battle because while predation – including that by otters – takes a toll on mature fish, it is red signal crayfish which are the real threat to the species. 

“They eat fish eggs and fry and their constant burrowing deposits tons of silt into the river bed, choking gravel beds and preventing successful spawning.

“That’s where the EA has been and are concentrating the bulk of their efforts – trying to create some areas where the barbel can do the business and produce viable fry.”

How can you help?

If you’ve recently caught a barbel from the River Great Ouse or River Ivel with a distinctive blue mark under its belly, the Environment Agency would like to hear from you! 

Contact them via Facebook at ‘Environment Agency – Great Ouse and Fenland Fisheries Team’. Alternatively, email your catch report to

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