River Shannon eel report

The report ‘Biology and Management of European Eel (Anguilla anguilla, L) in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland‘ is now available on-line at this site.  This report was originally submitted as a PhD thesis to the Zoology Department, National University of Ireland, Galway, in 2003. This document was formatted for on-line publication  during February 2014. Only minor changes have been made to the document so, with the exception of formatting changes and the substitution of some figures and photographs, it is identical to the original thesis originally completed by Dr. William O’Connor. This report contains much information that remains valid today and could be of significant use in informing the management approach for eels in the River Shannon and beyond.

Biology and Management of European Eel (Anguilla anguilla, L) in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland
Biology and Management of European Eel (Anguilla anguilla, L) in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland

Despite being one of the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind ever undertaken in Ireland, Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) did not consider the current study or consult with its author during the preparation of Ireland’s Eel Management Plans. The important work contained in this thesis was therefore omitted from all consideration in the Shannon International River Basin District Eel Management Plan. This was despite the fact that Ireland’s eel management plan considers a range of unpublished research material from the periods immediately prior and subsequent to this work on the River Shannon.  I believe that the omission of my work has undermined the Shannon International River Basin Eel Management Plan, and I do not understand why this approach was taken by IFI. However, this is not about me it is about management of eels on the River Shannon, and we need to adopt the Sustainable Eel  Group approach to eel management in Ireland.

Current ESB fishery management programmes are always designed (i.e. Bunowen PIT tag project) to avoid the ‘elephant in the room’, which is the absence of effective fish passage facilities at Ardnacrusha and Parteen, and the inadequacy of the compensation flow for the Old River Shannon

In particular, I have in the past discredited elver trapping indices used by Inland Fisheries Ireland at sites which I worked at exhaustively during the 1990’s. I also regularly campaign  for better conditions for eels and other diadromous fish on the River Shannon, and it is hoped that the more general release of this report will help to deliver more sustainable management on the lower River Shannon, for both diadromous fish and also the general ecology of the Old River Shannon. See my website www.OldRiverShannon.com for more information.

This study remains one of the most important research projects on eels ever undertaken in Ireland, and it is hoped that by making this report more freely available on-line that it may be of use to eel workers in countries where genuine efforts to restore eel populations are being made.

Parteen Weir, River Shannon, February 2014
Parteen Weir with water is being spilled due to flood flows. This may have, unintentionally, increased escapement of silver eels. However, much more could be done for eels on the River Shannon that is currently the case.

As we enter into what will be perhaps the third consecutive year of a major glass eel and elver runs to our shores, virtually nothing is being done on the River Shannon and other parts of Ireland to maximise the use of this (potentially only temporary) increase in abundance of juvenile eels available for restocking and safeguarding the future of the European eel. The ESB fisheries management programmes have been an absolute failure with escapement of salmon to above the Shannon dams currently at levels of less than 5% of the escapement target. Although much work has been done on the Shannon in relation to eels, this work has provided little practical benefit to the eels themselves. There is an urgent need for a ‘hands on’ based approach to eel management on the River Shannon, and the provision of suitable downstream bypasses for silver eels and effective glass eel and elver trapping programmes, extending out into the estuary itself. Current ESB fishery management programmes are always designed (i.e. Bunowen PIT tag project) to avoid the ‘elephant in the room’, which is the absence of effective fish passage facilities at Ardnacrusha and Parteen, and the inadequacy of the compensation flow for the Old River Shannon. As we have said before, we just don’t believe that enough is being done for eels on the River Shannon.

In the future the requirements of diadromous fish must come first, water requirements for the Old River Shannon to meet the objectives of the EU Habitats and Water Framework Directives must come second, and the priority of hydroelectricity generation must fall into third place. The Shannon scheme is owned by the people of Ireland and the current ban on eel fishing, and virtual absence of salmon above the dams has reduced the quality of life for hundreds of people formerly engaged in traditional and recreation fishing in this area.  It is time for some new thinking on the River Shannon, and actions that will benefit all of the catchment residents and safeguard the future of the European eel and other species and habitats on the River Shannon.

To access the report just click on this link: ‘Biology and Management of European Eel (Anguilla anguilla, L) in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland‘.

The Sustainable Eel Group website is here.