AN eel has been spotted in Bradford Beck for the first time during a check on fish stocks in the waterway.

A team from the Wild Trout Trust, Friends of Bradford’s Becks and the Aire Rivers Trust were electrofishing in the beck to see if fish stocks are recovering from a pollution incident in 2018, when the eel was sighted.

It will have had to travel 3,000 miles from the Sargasso Sea, near Bermuda, where it was born, so was a welcome sight to the team carrying out their work on World Fish Migration Day last week.

Kevin Sunderland of the Aire Rivers Trust has been monitoring fish in local rivers for more than 20 years.

He said “The return of the eel to the Bradford Beck is highly welcome and follows increasing reports of eels elsewhere in the Aire and its tributaries.

"It’s to be hoped that the eel survives its stay in Bradford Beck and eventually makes the trip back to the Sargasso Sea and manages to spawn there.”

While the team were checking fish stocks, they were also looking to see if the works to make it easier for fish to travel up the beck from the River Aire have been successful.

Professor Jonny Grey of the Wild Trout Trust said: “Electrofishing temporarily stuns the fish so we can catch them into a bucket for identification and measuring. They are all returned to the river afterwards. As you can see from the photo, the team were socially distanced in the river – my electric wand made sure no-one got too close!”

The team caught or saw bullhead, minnows, stone loach, brown trout and the eel. Nick Milsom of the Aire Rivers Trust was helping to catch the stunned fish and added: “Unfortunately the eel and a 40cm trout got away before we could net them, but we all saw them. It is great that the beck is beginning to recover from the pollution incident a couple of years ago.”

The Wild Trout Trust has built fish passes into the bridges under Leeds Road and Dock Road and a weir near Low Wells over the last six months.

The work is part of a partnership between the Environment Agency, Bradford Council and FOBB to make the beck more natural and attractive.

Obstructions on the river bed make it difficult for fish, such as trout and minnows, to ascend the river. So the project is designed to make it easier for fish, especially trout, to move up and down the beck from the Aire, enabling the fish population to re-establish.

Timber sleepers were installed in the river to make the water deeper and to break up the fast flow.

Other parts of the project include improving footpaths and wildlife friendly planting along and in the banks of the Beck below Briggate.

Rob Hellawell, who first reported the big pollution incident in 2018 and who helped with the electrofishing, said: “Fish stocks have not yet recovered to pre-2018 levels when we could often spot trout as far upstream as Poplar Road.

“However the electrofishing survey shows that there are signs of improvement.

"We are expecting salmon to return the River Aire in the next decade as fish passes are being built by the DNAire project, and it would be wonderful to see them exploring the Bradford Beck!”

Barney Lerner, chairman of FOBB, added: “Unfortunately there is another barrier to fish movement just upstream from Leeds Road. The Environment Agency has a special weir to measure flow in the beck. I am pleased that the project team is actively discussing how this can be modified to make it easier for fish to get over it.

“Let’s hope that a solution can be found and implemented soon and enable fish to move further upstream.”