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Catchment Management

Critically endangered European Eel protected from slipping into water treatment plants

To prevent Eels from inadvertently swimming from rivers into water treatment works, Yorkshire Water is installing three Eel protection schemes designed to protect the endangered fish from getting trapped.

Around Europe there has been a dramatic decline in the numbers of European Eels, a once popular dish in parts of England, to the point where the fish is now classified as critically endangered.

The projects, costing over £2m in total, will help Eel populations in the River Derwent, River Hull and River Esk in East Yorkshire.

The work, which will be completed later this summer, involves upgrading three water treatment works at Ruswarp, Loftsome Bridge and Tophill Low in East Yorkshire.

Ben Gillespie, lead environment advisor at Yorkshire Water said: “This investment will really help to make a difference to the struggling European Eel population. It will enable the fish to migrate freely up and down the River Hill and avoid getting trapped in the River Derwent and Esk. As part of our £10m fish pass programme, they will permanently improve the aquatic environment of Yorkshire’s rivers.”

To try and halt the decline in Eel numbers, the EU Eels Regulations orders water companies to ensure their screens and inlets are designed in such a way to protect the fish species.

For Yorkshire Water, this meant building new and improved inlet screens at Loftsome Bridge water treatment works to protect the fish from accidentally getting drawn inside the treatment works from the river abstraction.

At Tophill Low and Ruswarp treatment works, the outfall from the existing screens has been lowered to ensure Eels going out through the outfall don’t get picked off by predators. At Tophill Low an Eel pass is also being constructed on a major weir, which currently prevents Eels from migrating freely along the river.

Pat O'Brien, Fisheries Technical Specialist at the Environment Agency, said: “It has been great working with Yorkshire Water over the last few years advising on improved fish screening. Modern fish screening technology is not cheap but the investment will provide long term benefits which will ‘future proof’ these sites for the benefit of all fish species.”

Eels spend their early years in rivers and estuaries across Europe before migrating to the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic to breed. The spawn then uses the Gulf stream to return back to into UK rivers by which time they have developed into small glass Eels.

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