Christmas has come early on the River Thames this year as the Environment Agency delivered a stocking packed with 1,250 barbel to the Thames River last week.

 The batch of 18-month-old fish was released in three areas along the river as part of an Environment Agency project to give the declining barbel population a boost.

The fish have been marked with a small orange spot in the translucent skin adjacent to the eye. The marks will help the Environment Agency keep track of how the population is developing in the coming years.

 Anglers are being asked to do their bit by reporting any catches of barbel which have the distinctive orange spots. Working closely with local anglers the Environment Agency will be able to build a more complete picture of the fish’s movements and survival rates.

 Environment Agency fisheries officer Lizzie Rhymes said: “Our aim is to see these barbel flourish in areas of the Thames where numbers have declined. When the fish reach maturity, we hope they will spawn successfully and continue to boost barbel populations.

 “The stocking is part of the Upper Thames Barbel Project, which we started in 2005. The project identified areas of the Upper Thames where barbel populations are threatened.  We have also begun a programme of habitat restoration to improve and create new spawning grounds. Stocking juvenile barbell in the river is designed to complement this work.”

Barbel, which can live up to 25 years, indicate high quality river habitat. However, the species faces many pressures which threaten populations in the River Thames. These pressures include a lack of suitable spawning grounds, and an inability to reach important habitats as a result of impoundments.

 To spawn, barbel require shallow gravel areas with fast flows. Hatching larvae use still shallow bays to feed and avoid predators.  As juveniles grow, they use faster flows on shallow gravels. These habitats are required if larvae are to survive their first critical winter. In rivers without suitable spawning grounds nearby, adult barbel will migrate over 30 km to spawn.

 The fish have been bred at the Environment Agency fish farm at Calverton, near Nottingham, which produced half a million fish last year. They were released on Thursday, 4 December, between Buscot and Newbridge. This follows on from last year’s stocking programme which targeted the upper reaches of the River Thames between Hannington Bridge and Cricklade.

 Lizzie Rhymes added: “We plan to monitor these barbel during our annual fisheries monitoring programme. However, we are also asking all anglers fishing the River Thames to look out for these marks. If anyone is lucky enough to catch a barbel, and it is marked, we would like to hear about it.”

 “We carry out more than 500 fish stocking transfers every year. Other stocking programmes this winter will be taking place on the river Cherwell, Great Brook, Enbourne, and Thame. Species due to be stocked into these rivers include: chub, dace, roach and bream.”

 If you catch a barbel, please contact Chris Bell on 01491 828358.