Manchester Evening News

Fish bounce back as river recovers from historic pollution

Species thriving in Mersey but anglers say sewage still dumped

- By EDWARD BARNES & LIV CLARKE

MORE species of fish have been recorded in the River Mersey than ever before as pollution levels drop. In 2023 there were 45 different kinds of fish found in the river by The Mersey Estuary Species Hunt, a partnershi­p between anglers and the Mersey Rivers Trust.

It’s been described as the ‘greatest river recovery in Europe.’ The figure is higher than the 37 species found in the hunt’s first year in 2022, where five types of sharks were found.

Although the news has been welcomed as a sign the river is improving, there are still concerns about continued pollution including from sewage discharges. Cod, rays, scorpion fish, different types of eel, herring, sticklebac­k, as well as edible species like bass, sole, and plaice were all identified in the river this year.

A rare venomous fish called a bluemouth rockfish was also caught off the Wirral coast but not included in the Mersey competitio­n. Mike Duddy, who came up with the hunt to help monitor species in the river, said: “What it means is the River Mersey is recovering after 200 years of industrial pollution, possibly the greatest river recovery in Europe,” adding: “People travel all over the country and try and catch these fish and all those wonderful fish are now on our doorstep.

“It’s no longer the dirty Mersey. There’s dolphins, harbour porpoises, there’s jelly fish in the docks. All of those things you expect to see on holiday are now here on people’s doorstep in Merseyside and the fact that now people really value them and people in Merseyside really value their wildlife.”

However he said anglers were finding plastic bags and wet wipes “coming down the river in ever increasing numbers” and urged water company United Utilities to act faster to stop dischargin­g sewage. Damian Owens, who has fished in the river for 37 years, said the river improved around 2000 but believes things could now be going backwards. This year, he caught 41 different species, the most of any angler doing the competitio­n.

He said: “It’s all down to the government and the water companies to change what they are doing. They have got to. It’s not just the Liverpool part of the river. It starts all the way up the river. It’s not a quick fix, that is the problem. They have got to change the whole sewage system and the last few years we have had so much rain and storms so they have just dumped it in the river.”

The numbers of different species has also changed this year with far less cod and far more sharks caught, a change that he said was linked to warmer sea temperatur­es and overfishin­g in the Irish sea.

A United Utilities spokespers­on said “We’re proud of the role we have played in improving the health of the River Mersey. Since 1985, as a key partner in the Mersey Basin Campaign we have invested more than £3bn in our treatment works and sewer systems to help improve the water quality. It’s great to see that so many species are returning after these improvemen­ts have been made.”

 ?? ?? River Mersey in South Manchester
River Mersey in South Manchester

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