Fish Mortality on the approaches to Leeds.

Howard Anguish reports on the situation.

There is growing concern being felt about incidents of fish mortality at Ferrybridge which seem to be caused by the passage of large barges as a direct result of the new gravel trade recently introduced into Leeds. This has led to the pausing of traffic while investigations are carried out, and the large numbers of fish mortalities has, in turn, led to expressions of concern from anglers about the future viability of the fishery in the area. It appears that there are particularly large numbers of fish in the Wash Dike area of the waterway which, it is suggested, may be attracted in large numbers by the occasional legal release of sewage into the waterway by Yorkshire Water.

Since the resumption of barge activity in recent months the passage of vessels has enlarged the channel somewhat, but more serious dredging is needed to enlarge the channel sufficiently to give room for the fish to escape safely on the approach of one of these large barges, and concern is growing in some quarters about the financial viability of continuing while the barges are being restricted in the amount of cargo that they carry until a solution is found and the channel is dredged. This could take many months and NABO has added their support to a number of  organisations in raising concern about the issue and asked for a speedy resolution to the problem caused as a result of this otherwise very welcome trade on one of the few remaining commercial waterways.”

CBOA have released a press statement:

“We are deeply disappointed that the Canal and River Trust has, without consultation, in effect shut the navigation on the Aire and Calder Navigation between Hull and Leeds so that barges cannot use it. Operators will lose their  livelihoods for a punitive 8 weeks and air pollution will increase because each 500 tonne  barge takes up to 25 lorries off the road, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 75%, as well as NOX emissions and particulates .

 The CRT‘s reason is to find out why fish are dying on that stretch, because anglers  have complained about the issue.  The CRT has known about it for 18 months.  The likely reason is a stream flowing into the canal which has caused severe silting. Barges are not killing the fish – the problem doesn’t happen anywhere else on the waterway network. CBOA calls on CRT to implement a solution rapidly.

At a time of increased concern about climate change, what sense does it make to bring the barge industry to a halt in this part of Yorkshire?”   Some barge movements are taking place, with monitoring and sampling of silt, water and dead fish on each occasion and these samples will be sent away to a lab for testing (about 10 day turnaround).  What is different about this short stretch of the A&CN is that it is very narrow and heavily silted.  Barge have made a channel through the silt and can navigate without difficulty but there is little room for the shoals of fish that apparently are attracted by the  nutrients in the water (ironically from an effluent drain) which is so much cleaner and cooler since the  closure of polluting industries and the Ferrybridge power stations (which warmed the water).  In terms of damage to the cills the barges currently used were built in 1967 to the maximum dimensions of the time – with a maximum draft of 2.5 metres (8ft 3 in) which allows a margin over the highest cill – so not an issue.  Barges were increasing draft after dredging but had not yet got to 2.5 metres.

Angling Trust wrote:

‘The carnage that is occurring now is the result of an ill-conceived idea by a green venture programme to keep lorries off the road and use antiquated, polluting, oil burning mega barges on a precious fish-rich area for the task of transporting aggregate. Because of the extent of this carnage killing flora and fauna, this self-defeating operation must be stopped immediately.’