Sustainable Eel Group approach needed for Ireland

We believe that it is time for Ireland to adopt the Sustainable Eel Group approach; particularly on the River Shannon. As we enter into what is probably going to be the third consecutive year of major glass eel and elver runs in the Shannon estuary, it is time that something significant is done on the River Shannon and other Irish rivers to maximise this opportunity for securing the future of this species and it’s fisheries in Ireland.

Parteen weir, February 2014. Spilling water due to flooding may have helped silver eel escapement in 2014. However, this was unintentional.
Parteen weir, February 2014. Spilling water due to flooding may have helped silver eel escapement in 2014. However, this was unintentional and eels may also get damaged passing under this gate.

All Ireland has done for eels under their eel management plans is close down all eel fisheries; affecting the lives of hundreds of people previously involved in eel fishing while simultaneously threatening the survival of the European eel. We should be maximising the use of the current upturn in glass eel / elver returns for restocking purposes. Instead, virtually nothing is being done for eels in Ireland, in our opinion, apart from banning all eel fishing. We believe that this is the wrong approach, and was only taken to protect the interests of the ESB and their hydroelectricity power plants.

We believe that eel fisheries on the River Shannon, and Ireland in general, should be opened again and run to the Sustainable Eel Group standard. According to the Environment Agency, allowing eel fishing to continue offers a number of positive attributes, as follows:-

  1. Providing economic and social returns in remote rural areas and in areas with low levels of income;
  2. Maintaining a substantive, vested interest in eel as a commodity and not simply representing a species of specialist conservation interest;
  3. For glass eel/elver fishing, contributing to the relocation of eel to newly improved/accessible habitat giving potential to extend natural eel production;
  4. Generating and maintaining data on the status of eel that otherwise would be challenging and costly to obtain;
  5. Maintaining access to (EU) funding sources to support action for eel that are available only where connected with economic activity.

The Environmental Agency see addressing non-fishery sources of mortality as being their highest priority, while seeking to maintain a sustainable and economically viable eel fishery. Ireland, did the opposite of this and just banned eel fishing and did almost nothing else to help the European eel. Inland Fisheries Ireland allow the ESB, which essentially operates as a private corporation, to get away without providing screening or fish bypasses at the their hydroelectric schemes. The ‘trap and transport’ scheme for eels which ESB provide is is little more than a cynical public relations stunt, in our opinion.  This scheme catches less than 30% of the silver eels migrating down the Shannon, with rest subjected to turbine mortality. The eels are captured in coghill nets which damage the eels and have, almost certainly, a significant associated lethal and sub-lethal mortality rate. The ESB do virtually nothing significant to assist eels and other diadromous fish past their dams –  salmon escapement though the Shannon dams is now less than 5% of the conservation target. The elver traps are used for student projects only.

We observed an abundance of elvers in the River Shannon last year. However, nothing is being done to maximise the use of these juvenile eels for restocking.
We observed an abundance of elvers in the River Shannon last year. However, nothing is being done to maximise the use of these juvenile eels for restocking.

I believe that Inland Fisheries Ireland excluded my own research out of Ireland’s Eel Management Plans because it had a positive finding, i.e. despite the downturn in eels stocks that enough glass eels could be sourced in the Shannon estuary alone to stock the eel habitats of Ireland with determined and focused effort. It is in the ESB’s interests of course not to have any migratory fish on the Shannon

For more information on the Sustainable Eel Group please see the following link.

http://www.sustainableeelgroup.com/

Other stories that may be interest in relation to the above are as follows:-

Also, feel free to contact us to discuss any of the above. Also, see our other website www.OldRiverShannon.com where we campaign for more sustainable management of the Lower River Shannon.