One of the most exciting and interesting parts of running a fishery is stocking fish. Deciding what species, what size and then seeing new fish delivered can give the whole club a boost, however it’s important to realise that stocking fish is one of the biggest risks any fishery manager or club committee will take. This is the time when disease, non-native species and unwanted fish can easily make it on to your site, and once there it is very difficult to control them. However, with a little bit of planning it is possible to minimise these risks. We have worked with Paul Coulson from the Institute of Fisheries Management to bring you this detailed guide to making sure you get things right and that stocking is beneficial to your water, rather than turning in to a disaster.
Do you really need to stock fish?
Obviously if it is a new water and there are no fish present then you will need to add some fish. Even at this point you need to give careful consideration to the species you are stocking, how many and at what sizes. Remember, fish grow! Do not stock to the maximum density as the fish will soon exhaust any natural resources and then become reliant on anglers’ bait or supplementary feeds to sustain them. Give them some room.
You need to be aware of your waters carrying capacity. This is the amount of fish that a water can naturally support and is based on the quality of the habitat, amount of nutrients (food) and space available. It is a balancing act and if you want your fishery to be sustainable then think about this when ordering your fish.
If you are managing an established water and considering adding some new stock there are a number of questions that you should ask before you purchase any fish
Firstly, you will need to be really clear about the reasons for stocking new fish;
- Is there a clear plan about what sort of fishery you are trying to create? A clear vision will guide the steps that follow, particularly in terms of stocking.
- Is there actually any need to stock or will other measures improve the fishery?
- Can natural recruitment be encouraged?
- Can the fishery sustain a higher biomass than it already has?
- Are the existing fish growing? If so, at what rate? Is there recruitment?
A survey of the venue may be a much better way of spending the available money so you really know what is going on beneath the water. Too many fisheries simply continue to stock fish without any idea of what their existing stock densities actually are. You can have too much of a good thing and sometimes cropping fish can actually lead to an improvement in sport.
Following the fish surveys further surveys of water quality and invertebrate life will provide further evidence to ensure that measures taken to improve the fishery will be both cost-effective and environmentally sustainable, remember the carrying capacity. If you have answered these questions in a considered manner and stocking remains the only viable option then there should be a series of follow up questions;
- What are the suitable / desired species of fish?
- How many fish to stock now, to create the fishery that is planned? And should it be a single or multiple stocking
- The size of fish
- Are there potential predators on a particular size or species of fish?
- What time of year is best to stock and why?
- What impact upon angling will the stocking have?
- What impact will increased fish numbers have on water quality?
- What impact will increased numbers have on the invertebrate population and ecological processes within the water? For example, increased turbidity, associated with an increased fish population, may have an impact on plant growth.
If you are managing the fishery do not give in to committee, or angler demands for new fish. Just because someone shouts the loudest at a meeting, or an angler wants your water to contain X, Y or Z species because they have them at another fishery down the road is no reason to stock fish. This can lead to inappropriate species being stocked and often the impacts can be far reaching and costly to remedy.
Sources of fish
Once you have decided that you are going to go ahead and stock some fish you need to source them. At this point you have two possible options: either farmed fish or those sourced from a fish dealer, which have been netted from other fisheries or natural waters. Obviously, both of these routes have their pros and cons, and the questions below should be asked of your chosen provider. It is always a good idea to talk to other clubs or fisheries for their experiences with, and recommendations for, potential fish suppliers. Shop around and contact various suppliers but be aware that very cheap fish can end up being very costly as they are often cheap because they are of lesser quality or may not be what they seem. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably worth giving it a miss.
Once you have decided on a potential supplier ask them;
- for the farm’s CEFAS registration number. This registration means that the site is a registered Aquaculture Production Business (APB) and has to conform to certain regulations.
- for details of their supplier permit – (see below).
- for the current health check on the fish. A health check is not always required for stocking fish into certain waters, but is always a good idea. These types of health check require some fish from the source to be examined for a variety of parasites and pathogens. It is important you see and understand the health check report.
- for details of previous customers, you may contact to seek views of the supplier and the fish
Some other questions are worth asking (we ask a lot of questions);
- What is the history of these particular fish? Are they farm grown or wild caught and do they come from a single source?
- What age are they?
- What is the maximum and minimum size range of the fish you will receive?
- Are the fish the right/pure species and not hybrids or colour variants?
- How will the fish be transported?
The answers to these questions may raise yet more questions and concerns, all of which need to be addressed before proceeding. For example, if the fish are imported, where have they originated from? You should be able to view any “licence to import” that farmer has. Be aware of fish that come from countries with known disease issues such as KHV or SVC
Once you are happy, and all of your questions have been answered, you can go ahead and make the purchase. At this point you need to confirm, in writing, the full cost of the fish, any delivery charges and forms of payment. It is always best to have a written paper trail, that way you have full confirmation of your order and there can be no confusion.
Once you have settled on a supplier for your fish it is a good idea to stick with only obtaining fish from that one, trusted supplier wherever possible.
The Legal Bit
Before your fish can be delivered you must ensure that your fishery is registered with the Fish Health Inspectorate and have a Site Permit from the Environment Agency. The Site Permit is issued under the Keeping and Introduction of Fish Regulations 2015 and will list the species and, sometimes amounts, you can stock and will include any further conditions and steps you must take, for example, it may be mandatory for there to be a health check for the stocked fish.
The fish supplier must also have a permit, there are two types of Supplier Permits:
- Tier 1 Permits are issued to an individual, a business or an organisation that is a legal entity that holds Authorisations under the Aquatic Animal Health Regulations 2009. Examples of Tier 1 suppliers would be commercial coarse or trout fish farm suppliers
- Tier 2 Permits are issued to an individual, a business or an organisation that is a legal entity that do not hold Authorisations under the Aquatic Animal Health Regulations 2009. This permit gives the permit holder freedom to operate as a fish supplier. Examples of Tier 2 suppliers would be angling clubs, fishery managers, or commercial cropping suppliers.
Receiving the fish
This is important!
You must only accept what you are happy with and ordered. The purchase of fish should be treated in the same way as any other significant purchase. You are likely spending a significant amount of money on the fish so why would you settle for substandard fish, or species you haven’t requested!
The species you are buying must be listed on your Site Permit. Do not accept fish that you feel do not match what was ordered or described to you. If in doubt, turn them away! Do not be tempted with discounts or dealers saying “I thought you would like a few of these as well so I chucked some in for you”
Consider the following when receiving fish from a supplier:
- YOU are the customer.
- Always ensure the fish are delivered during daylight hours and in plenty of time to allow the unloading and visual examination of the fish to be carried out at your leisure.
- Always be present in person when the fish are introduced
- Ensure all paperwork is checked and covers all the fish to be introduced before unloading any fish. You can contact your local EA Fisheries Officer to confirm if consents, applied for by the supplier, have been approved.
- Encourage the EA to audit the introduction – you have nothing to hide and neither will a good supplier.
- Ensure all prices / costs are agreed before any fish are unloaded.
- Check the temperature difference between the transport tank and receiving water. Large
temperature shocks may cause undue stress or even kill the fish.
- Check the fish are exactly what you ordered (e.g. species, size, weight, quality, number, health status / condition etc.) and if in any doubt do not proceed with the introduction.
- Insist that the fish are weighed or counted off the vehicle in front of you and that you understand the method and units of weighing. Never accept a weight or number count that has not been carried out in front of you.
- Assign a scribe to record weights / numbers, agree these with the supplier and ensure they are recorded by both parties. Take photographs or video footage of the fish and the introductions for your records as you see fit.
It stands to reason that you should be fully prepared for the delivery so as to minimise delay and stress on the fish. Make sure you have enough staff/volunteers on hand to help if needed. However, it is not advisable to make it an open event for all and sundry to turn up to. Having anglers interfering and wanting to inspect every single fish, or bucket of fish, and oohing and ahhing over every one just slows the job down. Make sure you take plenty of pictures and post them on your website or social channels on the evening so everyone knows what has gone in.
Make sure you get your timings right so as to give the fish as long as possible to acclimatise before being fished for. Ideally, we would recommend having a short period after stocking where the fishery is closed, or has reduced activities (e.g. No matches). For example, you could plan the stocking early on in the week rather than on a Friday prior to a full weekend of match bookings. Stocking can be stressful for fish, so giving time for them to acclimatise can help reduce stress and further complications.
A Few Words on Invasive Species
Non-native species are a significant risk to fisheries, particularly Invasive non-native species. It is very important that you ensure that you know exactly what species of fish you are purchasing. Some small bodied fish such as the highly invasive topmouth gudgeon or the sunbleak, are small and inconspicuous when mixed with a group of other fish. These species can have a devastating impact on a fishery. Have a small hand net with you and check through samples of fish to make sure they are what they are supposed to be. More details of Invasive Species that could affect your fishery can be found HERE
Environment Agency: 03708 506506 or 0800 807060
Natural Resources Wales: 0300 065 3000
Fish Health Inspectorate: 01305 206700
Institute of Fisheries Management: 0845 388 7012 (www.ifm.org.uk)