European eel gets helping hand with pass completed at Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low

A section of the River Hull at Tophill Low with an aluminium pumped eel pass in place
Energy and environment


The construction of a pumped eel pass to allow the fish to move freely along the river Hull has been completed at Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low nature reserve.

Numbers of European eel arriving in Europe has fallen by around 95% in the last 40 years. The decline has been attributed to habitat loss and degradation, manmade obstacles on watercourses, disease and climate change.

The new pass, which was a joint venture between Yorkshire Water, the Environment Agency, JBA and Ward and Burke, will help the critically endangered European eel by ensuring they can complete the epic migration which is essential for their lifecycle.

The eels can spend years in the rivers before returning to the sea and breeding off the coast of America.

Dr Ben Gillespie, river resilience specialist at Yorkshire Water, said: “These creatures have an incredible life cycle – starting off the coast of America before travelling across the ocean to Europe where they can spend a number of years and then making the return journey to spawn.

“Sadly, they are critically endangered, but we know there is a population in the river Hull and by constructing this pumped eel pass at Tophill Low they will be able to access the upper reaches to feed once more before making their journey back across the Atlantic.”

The eel passes consist of an aluminium channel and is lined with material to help the eel rise above the manmade obstruction, before re-entering the river upstream of the obstruction.

Pat O’Brien, fisheries specialist at Environment Agency in East Yorkshire, said: “The weir at Tophill Low, also known as Hempholme weir is the tidal limit on the River Hull and so very high priority for fish passage, being essentially the front door to the whole river upstream.

“The tidal location, the need to maintain a fixed head for water abstraction and flow gauging presented a few design challenges but working collaboratively with Yorkshire Water, JBA and Ward and Burke, we’ve now got a really good fish pass solution for the River Hull that will benefit all migratory fish, particularly eels.”

The new eel pass follows the construction of a £1.4m fish pass on the same stretch of the river allowing the free movement of many other fish species.