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Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Teenager illegally threw catfish in river
Catfish in a glass tank
A catfish can decimate all other life in a river
A teenager illegally threw a large catfish back in to a village river and now it could have escaped in to the River Thames.

The Environment Agency called off a four-day search for the Wels catfish when it could find no sign of it in the River Darent in Kent.

Bosses of the agency's fisheries team say they will not seek to prosecute Oliver Parker-Grater for the unwitting act, because of his age.

When I saw it in the water I knew it was a big 'un, but had no idea it was larger than me. But I was not about to let it get away

Angler Oliver Parker-Grater
The operation to land the 5ft-long Wels catfish, which weighs 40lbs and is worth up to 2,000, began after fears he could decimate other wildlife in the river.

Fifteen-year-old Oliver of Pollyhaugh, Eynsford, was unaware of how dangerous Darren could be, when he threw it back.

Angler Oliver caught Darren after battling him for 90 minutes and being pulled along the river from one end of the village to the other.

He had to climb into the water, straddle the fish and lift it out with his hands, as it was bigger and heavier than him.

Oliver told a local newspaper: "When I saw it in the water I knew it was a big 'un, but had no idea it was larger than me. But I was not about to let it get away."

Adrian Saunders, who has been leading the search for Darren, said his team had been using electro-shock fishing techniques for three days.

Environment Agency fisheries team members
The Environment Agency team have called off their search
"My suspicion is that he has swum downriver towards the Dartford Creek area and could even be in the River Thames."

Darren is believed to have been illegally imported into Britain to provide game for anglers who relish the fight they give.

Mr Saunders said: "We think the fish was illegally imported and stocked in a gravel pit in the Sundridge area, which is upstream of Eynsford.

"He was then washed out of the pit during the floods at the start of this year and escaped into the Darent.

"We do not believe anyone would put a fish of this size deliberately in a small river like this."

The Wels catfish is Europe's largest freshwater fish and is not indigenous to the UK.

They have no natural predators in Britain, can grow up to eight feet long and feed on fish, small mammals and waterfowl.

Razor-sharp teeth

Mr Saunders added: "These are very strong, muscular fish that put up a huge fight."

Catfish have an ugly appearance, looking like a giant tadpole with a huge bulbous head and a wide slash of a mouth lined with hundreds of razor-sharp teeth, which are used to rasp its prey.

"The presence of huge carnivorous fish like this can be a threat to the environment," added Mr Saunders.

The current British record for a Wels catfish - Latin name Siluris Glanis - in Europe is 62lbs, while the world record weight is 202lbs.

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