River Monsters star Jeremy Wade's fears over Hertfordshire's deadly invaders

PUBLISHED: 06:00 06 March 2014

Jeremy Wade with his prized goliath tiger fish in the Congo (Picture: Daniel Huertas and Icon Films)

Jeremy Wade with his prized goliath tiger fish in the Congo (Picture: Daniel Huertas and Icon Films)

Archant

After travelling the world hunting freshwater beasts, extreme angler Jeremy Wade has spoken of his fears for Hertfordshire waterways from the threat of giant catfish.

River monster in our midst? Wels catfish – the facts

• Size: Adult average length 1m to 2m in England and Wales, but can attain lengths greater than 2.5m in warm climates.

• Distribution: Native to Central and Eastern Europe, the species has been introduced into England and Wales, where it is mainly present in lakes. However, individuals are present in a small number of rivers.

• Key features: Large flat head with two long barbels on upper jaw. Long anal fin. No scales. Variable in colour, usually dark marbling and spotting on pale sides. Very distinctive species; it is rarely mis-identified.

• Competition: Will compete with native predators for food.

• Disease transmission: Can host non-native parasites, has been known to carry SVC, a viral disease.

• Predation: Veracious predator of fish, can also take amphibians and crustaceans.

• Natural balance to ecosystems: Heavy predation may cause impacts on native species.

Speaking to the Welwyn Hatfield Times last week ahead of a theatre date in the county, River Monsters TV star and biologist Mr Wade said the monstrous European or Wels catfish – an invasive leviathan which can grow to the size of a man – was “edging out” England’s traditional apex predator, the pike.

He told the Welwyn Hatfield Times: “The European catfish was introduced to Bedfordshire in the 19th century and it spread a little bit in the beginning and has been spreading since then.

“Southern England is ideal for it because it is warm.

“People like catching it, but it does upset the waters and can muscle out pike.”

Wels catfish (Picture: Environment Agency)Wels catfish (Picture: Environment Agency)

He added: “I think the British record has been suspended to encourage people not to catch these.”

He caught a huge Wels on his TV show after the species was suspected of attacking two women who were swimming in a lake in its native Germany.

A statement from the Environment Agency said there were concerns about the impact catfish were having on native species.

It said: “Non-native fish can be fascinating creatures; if you’re an angler, catching one may be your fish of a lifetime, if you’re a fish keeper, they may be the pride of your aquarium.

River Monsters star Jeremy Wade with a piranha (Picture: Barny Revill and Icon Films)River Monsters star Jeremy Wade with a piranha (Picture: Barny Revill and Icon Films)

“Their appealing features range from attractive colouration, such as in the pumpkinseed, to their huge sizes and brute strength, such as in the Wels catfish.

“However, concern is mounting about the increasing presence of these species in our fisheries.

“This is because non-native fish can have undesirable and irreversible impacts on our native fish.

“They may be carrying diseases that our native fish have no resistance against, or breed so successfully they become a pest species.

“Species such as Wels catfish are also predators, so will eat a proportion of the native fish present.”

* Full interview with Jeremy Wade in next week’s Welwyn Hatfield Times.

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