Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More

Fearsome vampire fish take over UK rivers with record numbers of the metre-long monsters


Swimmers are on red alert after a rise in
the number of a one-metre blood-sucking fish in Britain’s rivers. The lamprey, which
had rows of razor-sharp teeth, is known to attack humans when hungry, and numbers are
rocketing around the UK. Record numbers were recently recorded in the Great Ouse, Trent,
Derwent and Wear. The rise in the “vampire fish” – which
kill off other fish by latching onto them and sucking their blood out – has been flagged
up on outdoor swimming websites where members swim in rivers and lakes. The Swimmer’s
Daily website carried a report into the rise of the lampreys on May 18, warning swimmers
“Return of the lamprey – ancient, ugly and swimming up Britain’s rivers”. Outdoor
swimmers are now “keeping an eye out” for the blood-sucking creatures – which are
known to attack humans if they are starving – during dips in rivers. The numbers of lampreys – which have been
around for 360 million years and have a permanently open mouth armed with a powerful sucker and
rows of razor-sharp teeth – in the UK have shot up in recent years. Numbers had been
dwindling after man-made barriers to alter the flow of the water, called weirs, prevented
them from swimming upstream to their breeding grounds, where females lay around 170,000
eggs at a time. Mark Owen, head of freshwater at the Angling
Trust, said last week that “fish passes” allow lampreys – and other types of fish like
eels, salmon and sea trout – to get through weirs had helped boost numbers. He said: “The
fact they’re coming back indicates the water quality is improving, which is welcome for
all fish species. “There’s a policy now of having fish passes in man-made weirs, like
a bypass channel for them to go through. Bosses at the Environment Agency confirmed
that fish migration had vastly improved over the past four years, with 12,500 miles of
England’s river “opened up” so fish like lampreys, eels, salmon and sea trout
could get to breeding grounds further up river. A spokesman revealed on Saturday (May 21)
that 200 obstructions had been overcome in various rivers around the UK, with weirs removed
and “fish passes installed”, allowing fish to multiply. The spokesman said: “Almost
200 obstructions have been overcome – this means fish passes installed or weirs removed.
“Migration is important because many species of fish need to migrate to reproduce, feed
and complete their life cycles. “Weir removals and fish passes create ‘fish highways’
making a faster, easier route from the sea right up to the upper reaches of rivers. “This work benefits coarse fish that spend
their entire lives in the river, as well as the species that migrate between the river
and the sea.” Sarah Chare, Head of Fisheries at the Environment Agency, said: “After
considerable investment, rivers in England are the healthiest for 20 years.
“This is down to more than a decade of hard work to improve the health of England’s
rivers. “But there is more to do and opening up our rivers to help fish migrate is a crucial
part of this.” Lampreys are a protected species in the UK, after once being considered
a great delicacy among royalty and the rich. In 1135 Henry I is reported to have died after
eating a “surfeit of lampreys” – although the more likely explanations is that he died
from food poisoning.

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