Tour of ESB’s and IFI’s elver traps, Summer 2014

In response to our work earlier in the year where we showed that ESB were not operating elver traps on the River Shannon (at either Ardnacrusha or Parteen) by the first week of May, a tour of local elver trapping facilities was organised by ESB/IFI in late June/July 2014 to show invited individuals that these bodies were in fact  – contrary to our evidence – operating these trapping facilities. We were not invited!

However, it is important to note that the main elver runs in Ireland occur during the period late March to early May. We reported previously that the elver trap at Ardnacrusha was not operating until at least the 7th May 2014 – therefore missing the main elver run in a record year. It clearly does not matter that the traps were working at the time of this tour in late June/July; what is important is that the traps were not operating when the peak of the elver runs took place in the late spring and early summer. The bottom line here is that the ESB missed the River Shannon elver run this year. The main elver run for 2014 was already over before the ESB commenced elver trapping on the River Shannon. Therefore an opportunity to restock the Shannon catchment with this year’s record run of elvers was missed.

Ardnacrusha elver trap working in late June 2014. Clearly still not enough of a water supply or attraction. Key issue is however that no trap was operating here during April 2014.
Ardnacrusha elver trap working in late June 2014. Clearly still not enough of a water supply or attraction. Key issue is however that no trap was operating here during the entire month of April this year when the main elver run took place.

And it is not just about turning on a water pipe and throwing on a mat. It is time to upgrade these traps and put in a suitable overall effort, and it is clear that the catch efficiency at Ardnacrusha could be improved significantly. The trap here was built in the late 1950’s and is long due an upgrade. Elvers find the trap here by accident, and are also attracted to the turbine outflows and the dead-end of the nearby spillway. It is clear from the above photo taken during late June 2014 that there is not enough water flowing down the ramp, and not enough flow to provide an attraction for the elvers. An upgrade of this trap, and the provision of new alternative traps in this vast tail race, are measures that should be urgently considered. We believe that similar upgrades are required for all of the ESB’s dams. Traps should also of course commence operating by early March each year.

We believe that  the ESB also failed to get the elver traps at Ardnacrusha and Parteen operating in time for the 2013 run, and that this explains the very low catches that were recorded last year also. It is noted that 2013 was also a record run for elvers across Europe however conspicuously low catches were achieved by the ESB at the Shannon dams indicating that a suitable effort is just not being made. In 2013 the ESB only caught 46Kg of elvers at Ardnacrusha and we would say that the traps were also not operated in time / correctly last year. Based on evidence we gathered this year, and with reference to the low catches achieved in 2013, this is almost certainly the case.

This is the tidal stretch of the River Maigue where IFI's elver traps are located. This is not a suitable site for a national elver monitoring programme. When the traps are flooded twice each day the elvers can escape.
This is the tidal stretch of the River Maigue where IFI’s elver traps are located. This is not a suitable site for a national elver monitoring programme. When the traps are flooded twice each day (as in the photo) the elvers escape.

The tour in late June/July also took in some of IFI’s elver trapping sites. Inland Fisheries Ireland’s elver traps on the River Maigue (at the site shown above) will not provide an index of recruitment at this site as (1) the traps were put in too late with the first part of the run missed, (2) elvers will pass these traps at high tide with the traps flooded over twice a day as is apparent in the above photograph, (3) any elvers that are caught on the rising tide will escape back out at high tide, and (4) at one of the these traps the elvers will drop back into the river as there is no collection bag or box (even apparently during the July tour). We don’t think that this site is suitable for use a National elver monitoring site. The tour also took in the River Inagh – a site which is also unsuitable for trapping as part of a national programme (see comment on this link). The trap here was again late getting started and was not working in late April when we visited here.  In our opinion these elver trapping sites currently provide an index of incompetence rather that an index of elver recruitment.

Elvers are trapped or monitored at 10 “index” sites in Ireland as part of the National Eel Management Plans. However none of these sites apart from the Erne – where the ESB let over 300,000 elvers die this year – make significant catches, despite the current upturn in numbers of elvers.  We are quite sure at this stage that none of these sites are being run correctly, despite this tour of sites that took place recently to attempt to counter the criticism that we made when the elvers were actually running at these sites.

For more comment see the following posts:-

So what about next year? We had proposed a conference  / workshop in association with the Institute of Fisheries Management and the Sustainable Eel Group for this summer. However, both the ESB and Inland Fisheries Ireland turned down this opportunity. Perhaps we will be fortunate enough to get yet another record run of elvers next year. However, will Ireland’s state bodies who are charged with monitoring and managing these runs fare any better in 2014 – even if all of these sites were working in time?