THE Environment Agency has found an unexpected environmental hero in the sea trout.

Small numbers of the determined fish have swum against the odds to migrate upstream to their spawning grounds at the headwater of the River Rother in Kent.

The fish need high river flows to allow them to complete their ‘run’, which usually happens during the winter swell between November and January. The occasional sea trout may manage to swim upstream during the summer months, but very low flows means that this a rarity.

The drought conditions of recent months has meant that the Rother’s flows were so low that the Agency’s Kent fisheries team struggled to even get their survey dinghy afloat in the first possible opportunity that they had to monitor the river.

The feeling amongst the survey team was not hopeful – there were concerns that there may not have been a run at all.

However there was a surprise in store for the Agency team, whilst there were fewer fish than in the surveys of previous years, all the fish were healthy and of a reasonable size.

Fisheries Technical Specialist Chris Conroy said, “We were worried about the size of the sea trout run this year as the conditions have been so bad for them.

“Not only have they had to contend with low river flows because of the lack of rainfall but the sluice gates at Scots Float near Rye have had to be kept shut for longer periods to keep the river levels up. So the Sea Trout have had fewer opportunities to enter the river channel.

“It just goes to show how strong-willed these fish are; it’s really heartening to see that they were all so fit and well. This really is a case of nature overcoming all the odds.

“Unfortunately the fish also have to battle for survival against poachers, since some unscrupulous individuals have tried to exploit the vulnerability of both Salmon and Sea Trout trapped in the estuaries on rivers with low flows.

“We are stepping up our investigations to counter this illegal trade, which further harms the populations of the fish, under-cover officers are visiting wet fish dealers across Kent looking for illegally caught fish.

“Those found to be trading in Salmon or Sea Trout illegally could be fined more than £2,500 or imprisoned if they are convicted.

“We would ask that anyone offered these fish under suspicious circumstances to contact our Hotline Number immediately on 0800 80 70 60, so that we can stop people from trying to profit from the destruction of our environment.”

The Environment Agency has joined with the Kent Marine Police to patrol the coastline, stopping and searching fishing vessels to detect the illegal capture of Salmon and Sea Trout.