Eels — Are they doomed?

The latest scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) concerning European eel is that the stock is outside safe biological limits and current fisheries are not sustainable. Recent recruitment of eel (glass eel) has been as low as 1% of historic levels (measured on a European scale), and adult eels that are migrating to the sea to spawn suffer high mortality rates. In the case of the UK the decline in recruitment is estimated at about 70% of base line (prior to 1980). It is therefore necessary to protect this resource in order that the river basins are populated with adequate numbers of recruiting eel, and that adequate numbers of eel survive to spawn.

The Environment Agency has a responsibility to protect the eel stocks of England and Wales and is in the process of producing Eel Management Plans on a river basin district scale.The river Usk falls within the Severn RBD, along with theWye and theWelsh Valleys rivers as far west as the Ely, as they discharge into the Severn Estuary. It is currently estimated that eel stocks in the Severn RBD are close to or failing their escapement target (number of eels escaping the rivers to spawn at sea). There are a number of factors which will be involved with this failure to reach the target, and these include, but are not limited to, reduced access to habitat, reduced habitat quality, reduced survival at sea, parasite infections (Anguillacola crassus), increased predation and fishing.

Much research is in process to try to understand these influences, and to determine ways to mitigate. Several projects are underway to improve access and habitat, e.g. all EA fish passes are now designed as suitable for use by eels as well as salmonids.

On a RBD level, it is currently not thought that eel fishing is the major factor in the decline of stocks, and that improvement of habitat and access to this habitat would be the most significant positive influence. That is not to say that eel and elver fishing may not have a significant local impact, and we would welcome any information that anyone would have on catches specific to a river, or even a beat.

The Severn Eel Management Plan is going to the EU to be  signed off by the end of the year and hopefully we should e able to publish it shortly afterwards. In the meantime, we are working towards improving eel stocks on a local evel, as well as improving the data that we have.

Steve Barker, our Senior Enforcement Officer reports that elver runs have been particularly sparse this season eflecting a market price of £230 per kg. He also reports that fewer than 150 eel licences have been sold this year inWales, the majority in the Severn Estuary.


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