The Thames once supported important and valuable fisheries. Smelt were plentiful at Billingsgate up to 40 boats worked every day between Wandsworth and Hammersmith taking up to 50,000 of this fish. Shads, salmon, founder, eel and whitebait were also important.
Over a million lamperns were sold annually to Dutch fishermen for bait. The remains of Bronze Age and Saxon fish traps along the Thames illustrate the river’s long fishing history. Growing pollution and habitat loss combined to destroy fisheries in the early 19th century. By 1960,a mammoth scheme was started to extend London’s major sewerage treatment works and improve river water quality. The Greater London Council and Thames Water Authority carried through the 20-year project, which today would cost £300 million.
Today, the Thames clean-up campaign is internationally recognised as a success. The estuary now supports over 120 species of fish, is an important marine nursery ground and plays a major part in supporting North Sea stocks. There are recreational fisheries for a range of species, a commercial eel fishery below Tower Bridge and a fishery for sole below Mucking. Problems remain, however. In wet weather the sewers can overflow, discharging raw sewage into the estuary. This can happen 50–60 times a year, leaving sewage waste on the foreshore, killing fish, and harming wildlife.
We are working with the Government, Ofwat, Thames Water, businesses, local people and the Thames Estuary Partnership to tackle these problems.
The fish species found to date are listed below.
Click on the highlighted fish to find out more about them.
The majority of these fish were found during routine surveys by the Environment Agency and its predecessors. The Environment Agency has a statutory duty to maintain, improve and develop freshwater fisheries. In 1995, Thames Region acquired sea fisheries powers downstream to Mucking. These powers and duties are used to protect and promote all of the fish populations present in the estuary. Fisheries officers and biologists work with other organisations to survey the fish. This involves seine netting, kick sampling and beam trawling on six sites from Richmond to Grays. Otter trawling is used from Woolwich to Southend. Occasionally, rare species such as sea horses are found.