No operating elver traps at Ardnacrusha, May 2014

Further to our previous posts about Ireland’s national elver monitoring stations and traps not being operational, we were genuinely astonished this evening when we visited Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Station on the Lower River Shannon. Elver traps at this location were also not operating, and there was no way for juvenile eels to pass upstream at this location. We are now at the peak of the elver run on the River Shannon – a  run which is widely thought to be the largest since the 1980’s. An opportunity to restock the River Shannon with eels is being squandered by the ESB and Inland Fisheries Ireland.

The current absence of an operational assisted migration programme for juvenile eels on the River Shannon, at either Ardnacrusha or Parteen, is a failure of International significance

We have now visited five of Ireland’s 10 national elver monitoring sites. Four have no operational traps and one had only a badly placed trap. No elver traps or elver passes are available to eels migrating upstream on the River Shannon. This could be considered to be a wildlife crime.

There is just simply no excuse for this. ESB is a company that appears to do everything to the highest of standards. Therefore its failure to provide elver passage on the River Shannon can only be deliberate, it would seem. We must conclude that it has been decided that it is not in ESB’s interests to have eels (or salmon) in the River Shannon; since passing eels upstream is only creating the problem of downstream passage of silver eels though the turbines in the future. Fish bypass systems are expensive and if there are no fish then these systems would not be needed. However, this apparent approach has been exposed and the current absence of an operational assisted migration programme for juvenile eels on the River Shannon, at either Ardnacrusha or Parteen, is in our opinion a failure of International significance.

Ardnacrusha-elver-trap-(2)
Location of the elver trap at Ardnacrusha with the fish lock and spillway to the right, and (one of four) penstocks and the control room to the left.
Ardnacrusha elver trap (1)
Derelict elver trap at Ardnacrusha hydroelectric station, 1st May 2014; more time has been spent painting these bars with ridiculous GAA colours than actually running a vital elver trap.
Ardnacrusha-Elvers
No climbing media, no water supply and no predator protection – a derelict trap

Eel fishing on the River Shannon has been banned, but there will never be eel populations or eel fishing in the future on the River Shannon if there is no recruitment. The runs of juvenile eels on European rivers at present are considered to be the best since the 1980’s. There is every indication that the run of the River Shannon is also the best in decades. Yet nothing is being done in Ireland to maximise the use of this upturn to safeguard the future of the European eel in Ireland and restore its fisheries.

We are now at the peak of the elver run on the River Shannon – a run which is widely thought to be the largest since the 1980’s

It is simply just not acceptable that no effort whatsoever is being made here by ESB to provide upstream passage for juvenile eels. There is no natural way for elvers to pass the dams on the River Shannon.

The trap at Ardnacrusha, even when operated, is not ideal. The ramp is too steep and it is not located in an optimal location. It was built in the 1950’s and is in need of an upgrade. However, the fact that it is not even being operated is really incredible. Elvers are also attracted to many dead ends in the tailrace of Ardnacrusha. For example elvers are attracted to the spillway at this site but there is no way upstream here. They will die of exhaustion, starvation or predation trying to climb up here. However, all of the tailrace of Ardnacrusha (and below Parteen) is currently an absolute dead end for upstream migrating young eels, and they are dying in their tens of thousands below the Shannon dams at present.

We are now at the peak of the elver run on the River Shannon - a run which is widely though to be the largest since the 1980's
We are now at the peak of the elver run on the River Shannon – a run which is widely thought to be the largest since the 1980’s
Poorly sealed spillway at Ardnacrusha; an unnecessary attraction for elvers
Poorly sealed spillway at Ardnacrusha; an unnecessary attraction for elvers; a site for future elver traps?
Ardnacrusha elver trap (3)
Spillway – an elver death trap. Elvers will be attracted to here but cannot ascend. They will die of exhaustion, starvation or predation.

Ireland’s national elver monitoring index traps have not yet registered the extent of the current upturn in juvenile eel numbers. Why? because the traps are not there. Ireland sends data to European bodies which is compiled into European juvenile eel recruitment statistics. These traps are not even being run so data from the ESB/IFI juvenile eel monitoring programme is useless with data from Ireland undermining international European Eel recruitment statistics.

According to Ireland’s Eel Management Plan, “monitoring of recruitment is critical to evaluating the overall success of the eel regulation and is required by the joint EIFAAC/ICES WGEEL for stock assessment“. So, we have exposed a failure to address a critical component of Ireland’s Eel Management Plans yet again today. However the most important issue here is the lack of any practical action in Ireland to make the most of the current, perhaps only temporary, increase in juvenile eel numbers.

And what about the salmon passage? There are virtually no salmon in the River Shannon upstream of the Shannon hydroelectric scheme. Don”t think that things are done right for salmon either. The fish lift (or lock) at this site never worked properly and very few salmon find the entrance to this badly designed fish pass at this stage. At Parteen the fish pass is closed and fish are directed into a small pipe. However, this is only opened later in the year to avoid the hatchery having to hold brood stock over the summer. Most wild fish never find this pipe. So you will find that the ESB are also not providing free passage for salmon at the Shannon dams.

PS: Another one of our staff visited the River Maigue at Adare this evening and he reported that there were still no elver traps present at this national elver monitoring location.