River poachers blamed for killing 100,000 fish

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The Independent Online

The biggest recorded kill of fish in one of Britain's most protected rivers may have been caused by bungling poachers. Between 80,000 and 100,000 fish have died in the past 10 days in the Dee's lower reaches on the border of England and Wales near Chester.

The biggest recorded kill of fish in one of Britain's most protected rivers may have been caused by bungling poachers. Between 80,000 and 100,000 fish have died in the past 10 days in the Dee's lower reaches on the border of England and Wales near Chester.

The magazine Angling Times says no definite cause has yet been found for what it describes as the biggest kill of fish in their natural domain, destruction of the entire stock in the area.

Poachers often use chemicals to cut oxygen in the water and fish suffocate quickly. Ten days ago, dead and dying fish began surfacing in the river at Farndon, starved of oxygen.

Environment Agency officers trawled a 20-mile stretch between Bangor-on-Dee and Farndon in motor boats, bucketing out hundreds of dead fish. Brown and sea trout, barbel, pike and roach were worst hit and environmentalists fear mammals such as otters and voles may also be affected.

Attempts to find the polluters have been the environmental equivalent of a murder hunt. An incident room has been set up at a water abstraction plant at Bangor-on-Dee, where visitors to a horseracing meet were questioned last Friday. Agency staff also questioned people living around the Dee at Farndon over the weekend. Farmers and businesses - who have admitted previous spillages - have also been questioned and police divers have been working at depths of 20ft in search of evidence.

In the fishing-tackle shops of Chester the talk is of chemicals being dumped in the river from the back of the van driven into the area, but the absence of any real explanation has elevated the possibility that poachers may be responsible.

"There have been occasions [when] poachers have used a substance in the water illegally which results in [them] getting the fish out quickly," said an Environment Agency spokeswoman yesterday.

"Poaching these days is no longer the chap taking home a bit of fish for his tea." The contaminating agent was colourless and odourless and is proving difficult to identify. Environment Agency scientists at Llanelli, Warrington and Chester are still examining dead fish and water samples.

The Dee serves more than two million people with drinking water and last year became the only designated water protection zone river in England and Wales, a status that allows the agency to keep a register of companies on its banks who are potential polluters and control the storage of pollutants.

Anglers believe the stretch of river will be of no use to them for 10 years. Steve Fitzpatrick, news editor of the Angling Times, said: "An incident at a trout farm two years ago killed 300,000 fish but we've seen nothing like this in their natural domain. He grew up fishing the Dee's waters and believes 100,000 fish have died.

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