Monday, 29 June 2015

Project Update June 2015

Yipeeeeeee! The Brine Shrimp Hatchery is dismantled and back in the garage till next year and the conservatory is back doing what it was built for.... Drying bread.
Before we go on, we must make one thing very clear; we are never going to surpass, or even match, the quality of the images in the last blog. Everything was just perfect; light levels, water clarity, and we just happened to be in the exact right place, with finger on camera shutter, at just the right time. So it’s all downhill from now on...... Which is why we have left it so long to do another, but here goes.
The unusually cold April and May continued to slow everything (including us).
Warmth, as well as getting the right food, and the right amount of food in them, is key to the little roach growing and developing and the cool start meant that while we could almost see them growing before our very eyes; which is usual, they weren’t doing so at the rate we are used to.
We struggled with daphnia production too, which we regard as a vital live supplement to the crumb they get when the Brine Shrimps have finished. Ordinarily, we put cabbage and cauliflower leaves in the tanks and barrels and as these begin to soften and release their fluids the daphnia bloom and we can keep cropping and depositing them in the tanks where they squirt out live young every week or so which are perfect for our young roach. This year the temperature of the water meant that all we were doing was preserving and refreshing the cabbage leaves and making them extra sweet and crunchy.
The first few weeks are always the trickiest for us, and our roach, with there being no leeway or flexibility. Once the yolk sac is taken up the little fish must have food regularly which we will hopefully have made sure there is an abundance of with induced algal blooms in all the tanks (they can’t call upon stored fat reserves).
Interestingly (or are we just being geeky again?) we have a little microscope and look at the water regularly to see the volume of little critters darting about in it, and it is astonishing how quickly our little roach clear this microscopic life from the tanks.
What is also astonishing is how everything responds to a bit of warmth and sunshine; none more than us two.
The roach begin to pack on the weight (bit like us two), the tanks green up like pea soup, the daphnia proliferate and continue supplying our roach with their protein packed live young, we can lift our heads and take a breath and let out yet another quiet sigh of relief and satisfaction.
The only thing we really have to watch and check regularly is the water quality, as warm water and roach pooh can deliver a nitrate spike that could wipe out an entire tank of fish in no time.
With everything ticking over nicely we get into our maintenance and housekeeping routine, especially around our stews at Bickton and, of course, here at Project HQ. We should get on with cleaning the mucky ‘used’ spawning boards that we have once again stacked against the garage wall, but we won’t until the last minute, as usual.
Not content to just roll with it, we are constantly listening for any Roach Project penny to drop or bright idea to light up our little brains, and thanks to the fantastic generosity of our supporters and the funds raised at our annual fundraiser doo, the financial burden of running the project is eased significantly and we are able to consider every opportunity to increase the effectiveness of our efforts.
This year we have had our eye on the reinstatement of a small lake at the head of our stews at Bickton, which we mentioned in an earlier blog.
We have now sorted the plans and gained the required consents and have had a small digger in to excavate a drainage channel to dry the bed of the lake through the summer ready for the main excavation work to start in September.
In this, we will be able to generate a full and healthy, and relatively self-sustaining, population of roach through seeding it with various ages and sizes of our own fish. We’ll start by stocking our ‘Toddlers’; remember them? These were the fish we kept back to see if we could grow adults here at Project HQ that surprised us by spawning in the tank, which triggered all kinds of additional inspirational roachy schemes and ideas. We moved these fish a couple of years ago to our large stew at Bickton where they have flourished and grown into real thumpers.
We’ll also deposit a few adults each year from the other stews just to keep the gene pool strong.
With luck and good management the roach should naturally proliferate in the lake and we’ll be able to net and crop off a percentage every few years for release into the river as they increase their own numbers, as well as collecting considerable amounts of spawn each year for depositing and hatching directly into the river.
As we do with our annual releases and spawn relocation anyway, we will do the same with what we crop from the lake and deliver to various locations far and wide, and through adult and juvenile displacement and migration along with the larval drift from the hatching of tens of thousands of eggs, the entire river will, over time, be touched by our efforts, including stretches we don’t have direct access to.
This lake will add yet another substantial string to our bow. It could turn into our very own little silver mine..... So, fingers crossed.
Good plan eh?
Once again some of our great mates at the Environment Agency have offered to come along and help, on their days off, with the rest of the preparatory clearance work ready for the ‘big dig’ later in the summer.
We’ll sign off and leave it there and let the pictures below do the rest of the talking.

Brine Shrimps out. Trev’s bread groundbait (and, of course our crumb fish feed barrels) back in..... That’s better... Three hours a day saved. Whatever will we do with our time?

Used and abused spawning boards ready to be ignored for far too long. It is interesting (Here we go again with that ‘interesting’ stuff...) that as these drain and dry they pour out all kinds of little aquatic critters and the local nesting birds, even though having never seen them before, take full advantage and introduce their young to the virtues of a seafood diet of Gammarus and various olive nymphs.

So the roach hatch, we worry, the Brine Shrimps are stopped, we worry, the roach are then fed the finest crumb size, we worry, they bulge pink as they fill themselves and begin to grow before our very eyes and we always knew there was no need to worry.

You know what we’re like on this web site; we just can’t resist a close-up of our roach, here just a few weeks old.

It’s impossible to give an idea of scale without some sort of comparable reference, so we use Trev’s sausage-fingers. The tiny roach on his middle finger is just a few days old and was one of the first we saw swimming free.

Even though still just tiny splinters of life, this image shows them at probably more than twice the size, meaning we are getting it right, but this gives some idea of just how tricky this period is for us. Getting the right amount of the right feed into these tiny creatures is vital and we only know when we are getting it wrong when some start to die, and this can be as much from over as under feeding, especially when they are on the crumb.

In a matter of just a few weeks the fish are really packing it on. This image also shows the considerable difference in sizes even at this age. Those little ones who don’t keep up will become food for the big ones.

This image shows one of the faster growers and you can clearly see the fins and tail forming nicely. A proper little Avon Roach.

I can’t believe we have actually put a picture of cabbage leaves in a tank on the internet. Still, as we said at the top of this blog post ‘Everything was just perfect; light levels, water clarity, and we just happened to be in the exact right place, with finger on camera shutter, at just the right time.’ The image does show the daphnia bloom, which is the fuzz just below the leaves.

And it gets worse. We actually took a picture through our microscope of a single daphnia. It does, however, show it full and ready to deposit dozens of live young – perfect baby roach food.

Here you can see our little roach mingling with the daphnia in the tank and enjoying the bounty of newborns.

Polar opposites in terms of scale; from daphnia to digger, but both play an equally important role. The digger begins another exciting stage in the project. Once the lake is reinstated, the roach growing potential could be off the chart.

These are our ‘Toddlers’ in stew zero at Bickton being fed. Some are over half a pound and will do very well in the lake.

These fish already supply us with spawn each year which is relocated and allowed to hatch directly in the river.

This image gives a better idea of numbers of toddlers that will begin the colonisation of the lake. If the excavation goes to plan, we’ll allow it to lay empty over winter then stock in February. This should mean that the toddlers will deliver their first lot of lake spawn in April.