Eels have been caught in record numbers in France for the third year running, leading conservationists to suggest their decline may have bottomed out. Quotas in three of the main eel rivers in France have been met so rapidly that there are now forecasts that record numbers will reach the UK. After major yearly fluctuations observed in the 20th century, the number of young eels reaching the European coast collapsed in the 1980s, falling to 1% of average numbers in the past. The species is now considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the IUCN.
In 2013 the number of glass eels – the juvenile form that reaches the European coast after migrating across the Atlantic – seen arriving in the Severn and other UK rivers was the best for two decades but 2014 now promises to be even better.
Here at the European Eel Consultancy we observed major runs on the River Shannon in 2013; however glass eel and elver fishing is banned in Ireland even though it could help maximise the use of these runs in restocking habitats inaccessible to these eels, including the River Shannon upstream of the Shannon scheme. We have argued that the River Shannon should be managed following the Sustainable Eel Group standard.
According to the Guardian newspaper link provided below, glass eel quotas for the Adour River in south-west France were completed within 11 days of the season starting in November 2013, compared to three months in 2012.
This report also notes that the Gironde’s season opened on 15 November and the 3.7-tonne quota was filled in eight days compared to six weeks in 2012 and three months in 2011.
The article below also says that it had been hoped that fishing in the Loire, which has a bigger quota, would confirm the early hopes of a third bumper year in succession but fishermen have decided to delay their season because of a slump in the market price.
Hopefully this will be a turnaround in the fortunes of the European eel. However the failure of Ireland to maximise use of these resources needs to be examined.
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