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Walking fish found in Thames Estuary

PUBLISHED: 16:43 17 March 2009 | UPDATED: 16:02 07 September 2010

Environment Agency Fisheries Officers received a report this week of an unusual walking fish found in the Thames Estuary at Woolwich in South East London. The Walking Catfish, which is non-native to the UK, was spotted by a local angler. Mr. Birol Koca,

Environment Agency Fisheries Officers received a report this week of an unusual walking fish found in the Thames Estuary at Woolwich in South East London.

The Walking Catfish, which is non-native to the UK, was spotted by a local angler. Mr. Birol Koca, from Woolwich Arsenal said: "I spotted the dead fish laying on the shore and instantly recognised it as a catfish. I knew that these fish should not be in our local rivers so I called the Environment Agency's 24 hour Incident Line".

Catfish are becoming more and more popular in recreational fisheries and aquariums. If they escape into the wild,they can pose a threat to the environment by competing with our native fish for food and habitat and spreading disease or parasites. It is likely that the unfortunate catfish was introduced from an aquarium after it grew too large for its home.

Emma Barton, Fisheries Officer for the Environment Agency said: "This species which is native to South East Asia has the ability to walk over land using its stiff pectoral 'spines' and a back-and-forth movement of the body, it also has an air-breathing organ which functions much like a lung when it is on land".

Emma contacted the Environment Agency's National Fisheries Technical Team in Cambridgeshire, who were able to identify the fish with the help of experts at the Natural History Museum in London and the Non-Native Fish Laboratory in Florida, USA.

The keeping of certain non-native fish species is restricted under the Import of Live Fish Act (ILFA), administered by CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) because of the potential ecological threat.

The unlicensed removal of fish from one water and stocking them in another is a major concern. This is illegal and can spread diseases, putting not only the transferred fish but also the other fish species in the waterbody and their habitat at risk.

Under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, the Environment Agency has the power to prosecute anyone who is caught illegally stocking fish and if found guilty can face a fine of up to £2,500.

"Non-native fish can pose a significant risk to the local environment. The local angler acted very responsibly. By working with us, they have helped ensure that the Thames and the wider environment is protected. We urge others to do the same." Emma added.


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