Sunday 23 February 2014

Storms and Roach Movement

Well, here we are in full ‘late winter panic mode.’ Not helped by the tiresomely stubborn and bothersome jet stream that has spent the last six weeks plonked right over our roof, bringing the worst rain and floods for more than a billion years.

The Avon up and over.
Budgie's barbel swim...
This is where we usually stop for a breather and a cup of tea while on
Bickton Roach Project duties. The stews are safe from the floods beyond this shed.
And, before we move on, we’d like to take our hats off to the Environment Agency for all the fantastic work they have done up and down the country in dealing with the unprecedented, brutal and relentless weather conditions that have affected us all in some way or another on differing levels, from off-the-scale heartbreaking and tragic devastation, right down to it just well and truly pissing us all off. Despite being run ragged, our EA mates even offered to roll their sleeves up and come and help with any emergency Roach Project duties on their days off. Now, who could ask for more than that?

Yet another of the countless victims of the storms.
I'm sure I've either leant or had a wee up against that tree
while stalking barbel...

Rows of trees beaten to the ground
by the storms.

And all the time we have had to put up with a telly-box crammed with pompous, ill-informed, glory seeking, political point-scorers, hacking lumps out of them for not spending more money than they actually had to prevent something that has NEVER happened before in the history of mankind. Blimey, what do they have to do to get some credit?
Anyway, off the soap box...
The conditions have put paid to our plans for a February roach release. Instead, we are going to wait for the river to get back within its banks and hopefully get them released before the water warms too much, possibly in May at the latest. Warm water and fish stress and handling can be a lethal cocktail, so best avoided.
We went ahead with getting the roach health checked from three locations due for release; this is courtesy of the Environment Agency who do this for us each year. The health check validity lasts for six months, so hopefully will give us enough of a window to get the release done.
What this means is that the roach will pass their spawning time of late April in the stews rather than the river, which is why we like to time the release as we do to allow them to settle and look to spawn soon after. So, we’ll place spawning boards in all the stews and collect their eggs, then relocate the boards and let them hatch in various parts of the river and in side-streams, then release the adults shortly after. This will mean the river will get what we intended, adults and eggs, but not in the order we’d hoped.
It’s always a wrench for us to have to send thirty roach, which is the minimum number required to be sure of detecting any problems, from each location to be health checked as, unfortunately, this health check isn’t just a squeeze of their privates and a request to cough, or the donation of a blood and urine sample; it means they have to die for the greater good of the rest of the thousands that will be given the chance of freedom and survival in the river.
The roach are checked for all sorts of diseases and fungus to ensure what we put back in the river are in good health and not carrying or suffering from anything horrid that could be passed on or affect the innocent occupants already in the river, and it is very gratifying to have the reports returned giving them a clean bill of health, which we have received in the last few days for all three lots we had tested. It means we are doing it right and giving the rest a fighting chance of survival.
We don’t, however, require a health check to move our roach from a Cefas registered fish farm to another Cefas registered fish farm, so from here at Project HQ to our stews at Bickton. We have, to date, as a matter of ‘good practice’ done so when moving our one year olds to the stews as there are so many of them, and to have them carrying something nasty only for us to look after them for a further two years seemed pointless. However, after all this time, and having never failed a health check, we feel we can now dispense with this and just relocate them to the stews; which we intend doing in the next month.
This was pointed out to us by our friends at the Environment Agency and also applies to our ‘Toddlers’ which you’ll remember are the ones we kept back from the first collection of spawn to grow on in one of our tanks. We split them into two tanks early in 2013 to ease the threat of stunting; and that was pretty much the last time we saw them. The only glimpse we get is a ‘light show’ of flashes as they take the regular helping of red maggots we make sure they never go too long without (about once a week through the summer months).
So, as mentioned in the last blog, we decided to move them to our big stew (stew zero) at Bickton where they can live out the rest of their lives just swimming, sun bathing, eating and drinking and procreating..... What a life?
We have collected and relocated spawn from these fish in the past, by placing  spawning boards over them in the tank at the right time and when they start to show signs, but didn’t expect them to spawn this year as we separated them a little too close to the time they would be thinking about it.

Our 'Toddlers' spawning in the tank a couple of years ago.
We dropped the water in the tanks and carefully scooped them all up in nets and put them in bags in bins, as we do the tiny ones for moving. We oxygenate the water in the bins, ironically, with live bait aerators, and transported them to their new retirement home.
Good friends and great supporters of the project Dickie and Martin Howell, who help us maintain the stews at Bickton, came along and helped, and we were all absolutely bowled over at the size and health of our ‘Toddlers.’ They were up to seven inches long and as bright and vibrant as any roach we’d ever seen; broad blue and silver flanks, deep red fins and as perfect as if the wrappers had just been removed or they’d just been minted.
First scoop...

And into the bin they go... You might be able to see our jaws hitting
the floor in the background...

We just had to touch a few of the really big 'uns. Don't they look great?
Then, to our utter amazement, we found about a dozen little ones. So they had spawned, probably on the side of the tank, and these were the survivors that managed to not only avoid one hundred and thirty five adults, but also the solids handling filter pump we have running constantly.

Our eyes nearly fell out of our heads at the sight of the first 'Tiddler.'

It’s sights like this that really galvanise our resolve and confirm that these resolute little critters deserve every ounce of help we can give them, as if they can increase their number by almost ten percent in a tank then, who knows, maybe our little spark might one day ignite the flame of recovery in the river.

Trev carefully corners the last few.

The bag in the bin, full of roach, is tightly sealed with a cable tie.

As you will gather through this blog and web site and indeed the project itself, while we carry a stratospheric level of blinkered determination to succeed in making a difference to the river, a common thread is always the balance of highs and lows, and while the work can sometimes appear very unrewarding, dull and repetitive, and fruitless for long periods; full of mud, rain, cold and fish pooh, this is punctuated with moments of enormous fulfilment and wellbeing with events like the sight of two hundred and seventy plump, broad flanked, red finned, adult, viable roach that we have grown from tiny eggs, not to mention their own tiddlers.

At Bickton Trevor and Martin walk the bins to the stew side under the
guidance/heckling from Budgie in the background - fuelled every few seconds
by Dickie who was on camera duty and taking all these wonderful shots.

At the stew with the first bin, and a welcome rest. The atmosphere crackled
with a blend of anticipation, urgency, pride and relief. Trevor still
laughing at Dickie's stupid jokes, his brother Martin, who is used to it all,
and Budgie in the middle wondering why everything has come to a standstill.

We opened the bag and simply had to touch a few more.

It was then a case of tipping the contents of the bags carefully into a net
a few at a time for release into the stew.

The first net of 'Toddlers.' What a sight.

We just had to get a close-up of that little lot.

The second net full of perfect roach. Have you ever seen a more delightful sight?

The roach are carefully lowered and released into the stew..... Aaaahhhhh!

...and another helping get their moment. We're never quite sure how many roach
pictures to cram on this blog or our web site..... So, we'll just keep going...

Have you ever seen more pride and relief pouring from one face?

The final net full go in. Trev reckoned it was difficult stooping that low
as his chest was so inflated with pride.

The 'Tiddlers' went in the stew with their parents.

One of the tenacious tiddlers gets a helping hand.
We’ll collect spawn from these roach each year by placing some of our spawning boards in the stew at the right time, then simply relocate what will be quite a substantial amount of spawn, given the size and number of them, and let the eggs hatch in various locations along the river. One or two can even be placed in the fry bays and habitat restoration sites we have been involved in. We’ll distribute the spawn all over, but not take it to grow our own adults in tanks as we don’t want to run any risk of creating even the slightest genetic bottleneck. We work extremely hard in retaining the genetic integrity of the strain through the way we do things, so the last thing we want to do is stifle it in any way through our own laziness – not something we have ever been at much risk of being accused of

So, by relocating thousands and thousands of eggs taken from our own, along with the spawn laid by the adult roach we have reintroduced through the years we hope that at certain times of year (early May) when these hatch the river will have enough tiny roach being wafted down the entire middle reaches that the species can, in time, once again take a grip and recover.
By careful placement of our adults and relocated spawn there should be nowhere on the river that avoids a helping, however small, of our roach; from Breamore, down through Fordingbridge, Bickton, Somerley, Severals, Bisterne, Sopley, Winkton and down to the Royalty.....Wow! Best stop going on about it and get to work...