Allis Shad River Tamar

Jack Perks: the joy of rivers

Emily Cooper


Jack Perks describes himself as a "fish twitcher". Equipped with his underwater cameras, Jack gives us a fascinating insight into the secret world of fish. Having once made it his mission to see and film every one of the UK's 54 freshwater fish species, Jack has spent a huge portion of his life in and around rivers. We asked him to recount one of his favourite experiences: filming the allis shad.
I love nothing more than being by a river whether it's with a fishing rod in hand, walking my dog or exploring it with my camera, it never fails to bring a smile to my face. I’m a professional wildlife cameraman and specialise in freshwater fish having filmed every species and undertaking many methods to do it. By far my favourite is using camera traps and this is how I filmed one of the rarest fish in Britain: the allis shad. Shad are member of the herring family that run up rivers to spawn in May. Once widespread, they are now largely restricted to a handful of rivers in the south west of England. I turned up with some hope but realistically was prepared for the worst. May is a lovely time to be by the river, mayflies are emerging everywhere, wild flowers blooming along the banks and kingfishers whizzing by with the electric blue flash you typically see. I placed a couple of cameras on the riverbed this is so the shad feel comfortable and not spooked by my presence as they are shy fish. Allis shad enter freshwater in shoals and get to around 8 lbs in weight and 27 inches in length. They tend to stay in the deeper pools during the day and then at night get more active. I’d watched their smaller cousin, the twaite shad, spawn on the severn before. They erupt to the surface frantically chasing each other before racing around each other in circles and releasing the eggs. It's an incredible sight to see. Unlike salmon, shad don’t tend to die after spawning and will drop back to sea after. One of the main reasons for their decline is barriers to migration as they are not good at leaping like trout and salmon so need enough water to push up stream often following high tides. I returned to get my cameras from the riverbed. The water was a sort of greeny soup - not ideal, but you could still make out fish. Big bream, perch, mullet, and even a nice sized went by. I was beginning to lose hope when this bulky looking herring swims right past! I was chuffed to death. After 7 years are going around the country for fish I’d finally finished on this incredible fish getting the first footage of them in a British river. To find out more about Jack and his work, head over to his website.
For Jack, seeing the allis shad was a magical experience. We want everybody to marvel at the sheer diversity of life in our rivers; we dream of wild, healthy, natural rivers valued by all. As Jack mentioned, one of the major reasons for the decline of the allis shad is barriers to migration. It's hardly surprising, given that just 1% of rivers in England, Scotland and Wales are free of artificial barriers. Across the country, our local Trusts fight to make rivers flow freely once more, removing obstacles which prevent fish from following their migration route. If you'd like to support our mission to help fish migrate freely, please consider donating to our cause.
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