Sadly, fish are not at the top of the food chain and the garden pond is a small microcosm of the greater environment. So, expect higher predators to visit the pond and take what they can.
To defend our barrel pond we considered and used the following tactics:
An electric fence is a very effective method to keep varmits at bay. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to this high-tech defense of the pond. One, is technical: How do you effectively string the wire fence around the barrel? Two, even if an effective method could be worked out, a mini Iron Curtain defeats the purpose and intent of creating a pond environment. (Being forgetful, I most likely would forget to turn it off and fall victim to my own trap. OUCH!) So, no electric fence.
Suzee, the border collie, loves to chase raccoons and cats from the garden but she also loves to sleep. So, relying on her as a sentry to diligently defend the pond all night is out.
The best strategy has been to make it difficult for a predator to attack by the design of the pond environment, allowing the fish to defend themselves. Raccoons have a limited reach into the water, so make the prime fish habitat at least 18 inches and preferably 24 inches deep. The fish can then swim to the bottom and defend themselves. Create hiding places such as a cinder block (these make great plant stands), drain tiles (short terra cotta pipe), or pots laid on their side. Have floating plants that cover the surface obscuring the view into the water. (This can be a double edged sword, as raccoons enjoy salad with their fish entree.) Don't put objects close to the barrels that can be used as a step stool by the burglars.
In one raccoon raid, the water recirculation pump was upset and all the water was pumped out making the fish sitting ducks in a barrel. The raccoons ate well that night!
The best defense is to cover the barrel with a wire mesh screen at night. This has proven very effective. It needs to be in place only at night, so the pond is accessible to hand and eye during the day.
It is important to accept the fact that the pond is part of the greater environment and to expect that fish will be taken. As much as I would like at times to control all aspects of my environment, this is not the reality of our universe. Every fish that is taken hurts, but is also a reminder of the true order of things.
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