Low elver catches at ESB dams despite upturn

The ESB have released their elver catch results for 2014, and confirm that the “elver run for the Shannon saw 354kg of elvers caught in total“. This is a very poor catch considering that this was a record year for juvenile eel catches and restocking across Europe. While other European Rivers recorded catches as high as the runs of the 1980’s, the ESB missed most of the record elver run on the River Shannon and achieved a catch of less than 5% of the peak 1980’s catches. Indeed it is was less than 10% of some of the catches from the late 1990’s when I operated these traps. Moreover, the catch would represent only about 10% of what would be needed to restock the Shannon catchment with juvenile eels. It is clear that this low catch is an anomaly when compared to what has been achieved on other European rivers this year.

The low elver catch on the River Shannon this year is down to an inadequate effort by the ESB – as opposed to an absence of young eels

Due to the Shannon hydroelectric scheme, eels cannot pass upstream by themselves. They have to be caught and transported around these dams. ESB have a statutory obligation to do this work. As I reported previously on this website, the ESB did not commence elver trapping at Ardnacrusha and Parteen in time for main elver run this year. Indeed the traps were not operational until the second week of May – despite the peak of the elver run taking place almost a month earlier. I have also identified that these traps – even when operating – are inefficient, with poor water supply and low attraction a major problem. Among many other issues, elvers are also attracted to a leaking spillway at Ardnacrusha, but cannot ascend here. The low elver catch on the River Shannon this year is down to an inadequate effort by the ESB – as opposed to an absence of young eels.

When I visited Ardnacrusha in early May there were no elver traps operating. The ESB did not commence elver trapping here until the second week of May. The main elver run was in April.
This is the derelict ESB elver trap at Ardnacrusha on the 1st May 2014. This photo shows that there is no water supply, no climbing medium, and no predator protection installed. After I published this photo online the ESB got the trap ready and it was operating on the 8th May. However, the main elver run was in April and was missed.
parteen elver trap
This is the derelict elver trap at Parteen weir in late April 2014. This trap is not operational, and it is clear that the ‘bent’ ramp behind it is also not operating as a trap.

It is noted that there were also record elver runs across Europe during 2012 and 2013. However, the ESB’s elver catches were insignificant during these years. We believe that the ESB’s elver catches are only a bit higher this year, when compared to 2012 and 2013, because they were forced to act when issues on the River Shannon and a fish-kill on the Erne were exposed by us.

The ESB have also reported that the elver catch on the River Erne for 2014 was only 532.91KG. I believe that a catch of several tonnes could have been realised here and transported upstream to Lough Erne – such was the abundance of elvers present in 2014. Instead, ESB allowed over 300,000 elvers to die here. We exposed this fish-kill on our Facebook page and it attracted international media attention. The ESB turned what was a Europe-wide good news story into a national embarrassment. It is understood that elvers climbed up into traps – that were not even being operated – and died over the Easter bank holiday weekend. In the ESB report it is cynically stated that “Although the Erne has shown an improvement, these remain a long way off the historic catches” without acknowledging the inadequacy of juvenile eel management at this and their other elver trapping sites.

A formal complaint to EIFAAC/ICES WGEEL and the EU Commission regarding this matter is currently being prepared

The elver catches at the ESB dams on the Rivers Lee and Liffey have not been reported, presumably due to the insignificant catches that have yet again been made at these sites. It is notable that we were unable to visit these sites this year and investigate management practices – which are undoubtedly also poor with reference to previously reported negligible catches.

ESB did not report the elver catches made at other dams they control such as Iniscarra on the River Lee, and Leixlip on the River Liffey. It is expected that the catches at these installations were negligible due to very poor trapping efforts.

The ESB elver traps on the River Shannon, Erne, Lee and Liffey have not yet registered the scale of the pan-European upturn in elver runs due to a partial and inadequate effort. The inconsistent and inefficient operation of elver traps on ESB rivers undermines the credibility of these sites as national elver monitoring sites. It also represents a lost opportunity in relation to restocking these catchments with elvers to secure the future of the eel and its fisheries in Ireland.

The absence of an operating elver trap on the River Shannon during April and early May this year is also a significant breach of ESB’s obligations under both Council Regulation No 1100/2007 and the Shannon Fisheries Act, 1935, in our opinion. A formal complaint to EIFAAC/ICES Working Group on Eel (who compile European catch statistics) and the EU Commission regarding this matter is currently being prepared, and will be submitted shortly.