Changes that will help the Environment Agency better understand and respond to fish diseases have been announced.

After a comprehensive review of the Environment Agency’s role in fish health, resources currently allocated to fish stocking health checks will – from April next year – be diverted into expanding and improving scientific education, testing and response to the threat of disease and parasites.

“The Environment Agency plays a vital role in controlling fish diseases by regulating fish stocking consents and investigating fish kills caused by disease,” said Fisheries Policy Manager Adrian Taylor.

“At the moment we undertake only one third of all fish health checks – which form part of stocking consents – with the majority conducted by approved fish health consultants.

“By offering this final third to the private sector, we can redirect our scientific resources into increasing our knowledge of fish disease, developing the best possible testing procedures and improving the quality and range of fish mortality investigations.

“There will be no reduction in the level of protection given to our fisheries. The need for a health check in support of fish introductions to high risk waters will remain – the only change will be who does the health checks.”

From April 1 next year, all fish stocking health checks from suppliers (Section 30 introductions) will be conducted by independent fish health consultants. The Environment Agency will be working to make sure that they are adequately prepared to take on these additional 200 health checks each year.

The Environment Agency’s enhanced fish health approach will expand work on fish mortalities and give greater emphasis to supporting our fish movement policies with sound science rather than relying on the precautionary risk assessments, enabling us to:

  • better protect our native fish populations from new and emerging disease threats;
  • better educate and advise fishery managers on the threat of fish disease and the role of fisheries management in preventing disease outbreaks;  
  • better understand the parasites and diseases we control;
  • provide support to the fish movement industry and create business  opportunities through the critical assessment of parasites and diseases we control;
  • expand the investigations we do into fish kills caused by disease, making use of the most up to date tools and techniques.

The Environment Agency is responsible for regulating the movements of fish to inland waters within England and Wales. This means that anybody wishing to introduce fish into an inland water is required, under section 30 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, to obtain the written consent of the Agency prior to the introduction taking place.

Health checks are required by the Environment Agency in support of fish introductions under Section 30 which are directly to open water courses (rivers, canals) or to stillwaters connected to open waters or within the known floodplain. Fully enclosed stillwaters do not generally require a health check as a part of the section 30 consent, but the Environment Agency still advises fishery owners to ensure that a health check has been done before the introduction takes place.