Environmental agencyMore than 20,000km of England’s rivers have been opened up to improve fish migration over the last four years – the equivalent distance of London to Rio and back – the Environment Agency reveals on World Fish Migration Day (21st May).

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, such as eel, salmon and sea trout.

Young eels make an incredible journey more than 5,000km across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sargasso Sea to rivers all over Europe – and adult fish make the return journey to spawn.

It’s not always possible to remove all weirs – for example, many are still being used and can’t be removed if buildings, walls or bridges could be damaged, where the risk of flooding would increase or if there is heritage interest. In these cases fish passes are the solution.

To celebrate World Fish Migration Day Environment Agency experts ran an event in Durham city centre today as part of the global campaign to raise awareness about the importance of fish migration.

Called from Cathedral to Coast, it took place on the River Wear, and saw adults and children alike getting involved in finding out more about iconic local fish species, and how they travel up the River Wear.

Durham County Council also gave an overview of the new Freemans reach Hydropower scheme – this innovative renewable energy project has been designed with a specialist fish pass and fish counter that not only allows migrating fish to travel freely along the river, but also tells us how many salmon and sea trout are returning to the Wear to spawn.

Phil Rippon, Fisheries Specialist at the Environment Agency in the North East said: “The Environment Agency does a lot of work to help improve fish migration and we are delighted to be able to share this with the local community. Being part of a huge global event gives us a great opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of fish migration and explain what we do and why.”

Sarah Chare, Head of Fisheries at the Environment Agency, added: “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. By working with partners we can play to different organisations’ strengths, make our money go further and deliver more.”

The Environment Agency has been working with partners on projects all over the country. One recent success of removing a barrier to migration in the North East is a new fish pass on the River Tyne.

Here in the North East the Tyne Rivers Trust recently worked with Northumberland County Council and the Environment Agency to build Hexham fish pass which opens up access to many kilometers of spawning and juvenile habitat.