“Alternative facts” from the Standing Scientific Committee on Eels

(This post was revised, edited and re-titled in February 2017 – the phenomenon of “alternative facts” pre-dates the current US administration!).

The 2015 report produced by the independent scientific committee on eels is a whitewash to cover up the failure of Ireland’s eel management plan. It contains “alternative facts” that would even make the current US President blush. Questions regarding the “independence” of the scientists who sit on this committee on eels must now be asked.

Surprised by the continuing decline in elver catches at Ireland’s national elver monitoring sites down to negligible levels – particularly during 2012 and 2013 when record elver runs were being recorded at other European elver monitoring sites – we set out to investigate the operation of Ireland’s national elver monitoring sites during early 2014. This was undertaken on a voluntary and self-funded basis. During this survey we showed that Ireland was not operating these sites appropriately. Inland Fisheries Ireland was not monitoring elvers, while an effective trap and transport programmes for juvenile eels at ESB’s hydroelectric stations was not being operated.

The results are very relevant to eel management in Ireland where most of our eel habitats have been lost as a result of drainage works or fragmented by hydroelectric development.
Ireland’s eel management plan has been designed to protect the interests of the ESB, and not those of the European eel and the traditional fishermen who used to fish for it. Ireland’s eel committee seems to be neither “independent” nor “scientific” and, in my opinion, is first and foremost there to protect the interests of the ESB.

The 2014 season turned out to be another record year which surpassed the previous two seasons. On the River Severn elver fishery, which is the most reliable indicator of elver recruitment in Europe, over 30 million elvers were captured during the 2014 season –  meaning the 2014 level of recruitment was the same as the early 1980’s. The ongoing collapse of recruitment of eels in the Shannon catchment over the past few years is down to bad management, and not due to the absence of juvenile eels in recent years.

One of the most disappointing findings of our investigation was that the ESB’s elver trap at Ardnacrusha was not operating when we visited here in May 2014. The main elver run on the River Shannon was during April in 2014, and was this was missed by the ESB. Indeed, it is our opinion that the Ardnacrusha elver trap (along with the one at Parteen weir) was only set up as a reaction to the sustained campaign which we ran on social network sites and websites.

Meanwhile we also exposed a major elver kill at the ESB dam on the lower River Erne, which may otherwise have been covered up. Our investigations were not to undertaken to embarrass any individuals or organisations, but because we passionately care about the eel, and other migratory fish species on the River Shannon. We knew that the low reported recruitment during 2012 and 2013 on the River Shannon (and other national elver monitoring sites) just did not add up. We proved that inadequate efforts were being made – beyond question – with a series of photographs and observations during 2014. However the ‘Standing Scientific Committee on Eels Report 2014’ tried to cover-up our findings by providing “alternative facts” and exposed themselves as being neither independent or scientific.

We are particularly concerned by the following paragraph on the operation of the elver trap at Ardnacrusha during 2014 which can be found on page 92 of the ‘Standing Scientific Committee on Eels Report’:-

“Monitoring of elver migrating at Ardnacrusha (Shannon) and Cathaleen’s Fall (Erne) is undertaken by the ESB (Fig. 7.2). Indications are that recruitment remains low. Compared to the average for 1980-’95, the Erne recruitment increased by 10.8% in 2013 and by 33% in 2014. The Shannon Ardnacrusha data show little change. The Ardnacrusha trap was in operation from the 4th April. Maintenance was carried out between 1pm and 3pm on Friday 2nd May (low tide). This two hour period is the only time the trap was not in service between the 4th May and when closed down at end of season (1 Sept 2014). Even though the trap was operational in April and visited daily, no elvers were captured”.

If the elver trap at Ardnacrusha is not operated elvers, currently classified as a critically endangered species, cannot pass upstream on the River Shannon and will die in the tailrace of this hydroelectric station. The trap is also one of Ireland’s key juvenile eel recruitment monitoring sites, and data from this location has an influence on international datasets for European eel recruitment.

The “independent” “scientific” committee on eels are saying that this trap was just not operating for 2 hours, which is false. This is an “alternative fact” that would put Donald Trump to shame. We visited the trap (with an independent witness) on the evening of the 1st May 2014 and the photos we posted here were taken in the evening (at 6:30pm). Another witness (former IFI manager) saw us launching the boat that evening and was updated with the findings at the time. We published the post online at 21:15 on the 1st May 2014, and this is recorded by the WordPress servers on this site with the date and time of publication clearly shown. This can be independently verified by WordPress. The photos we took have dates in the file information, and we have three other witnesses that will corroborate that we visited the traps when we said we did.

We also checked the trap again on the 2nd May 2014. On subsequent days the traps were also checked by an associate. It was not until the 8th May 2014 that this trap was operational – and we have photographs, witnesses, emails and other material that will support this fact.

ardnacrusha-elver tarp
This is Ardnacrusha elver trap in the evening of Thursday 1st May 2014. This trap is derelict, and it was a week later (Thursday 8th May 2014) before the ESB had this trap operational.
This is the Parteen elver trap on the morning of Sunday 20th April 2014. This trap is derelict and claims by ESB that this trap had been operated since the 11th April and was only out of operation for a few hours on the 4th may are false.

The ESB did not get this trap operating in 2014 until we exposed their failures on this website. This explains why the 2014 upturn in eel recruitment – the best since the 1980’s – was not registered at Ardnacrusha. The above paragraph is clearly written to counter our evidence. IFI and the “independent” “scientific” committee on eels have written this account to provide “alternative facts” and cover-up our findings. They did this without ever consulting us or undertaking an independent investigation.

In relation to the other dam and elver trap on the Shannon. We visited the elver trap at Parteen weir on Saturday the 20th April 2014 and took the photo above. The trap in the foreground is clearly derelict and the trap to right extending into the salmon pass is bent and broken. These traps are not operating and there were no traps at the opposite side of the river where I was standing. But on page 98 of the “independent” “scientific” Committee report the following “alternative fact” is provided:-

The Parteen trap was in operation from the 11th April. Maintenance was carried out on Saturday 4th May, when new supports were fitted to the slope. This was the only time the trap was not in service between the 11th April and when closed down at end of season on 24th September“.

This paragraph is again clearly written to counter our evidence. Parteen trap was not operating until early May 2014. This was again written without consulting me or investigating this issue. The elver traps were derelict on the 20th April and this is clear from the photos.

In our opinion this ‘Standing Scientific Committee on Eels Report 2014’ is nether independent nor scientific and is a whitewash to cover up the failure of Ireland’s eel management plan. Their “alternative facts” just do not stand up to scrutiny – this is not “eel science”.

The absence of an operating elver trap on the River Shannon during April and early May 2014 was a serious breach of ESB’s obligations under both Council Regulation No 1100/2007 and the Shannon Fisheries Act, 1935, in our opinion. However, what is more worrying is that the so-called “independent” “scientific” committee on eels have attempted to cover up this failure in the recently published activity report.

Monitoring of eel recruitment is critical to evaluating the overall success of the eel regulation and feeds into European stock assessment indices. We have, over the past two years, demonstrated that Ireland has failed to monitor eel recruitment accurately or effectively. The photographic evidence I have collected speaks for itself.

After wasting an opportunity to restock the Shannon and Erne with juvenile eels over the past three years, IFI start a recent letter to former eel fishermen with the line “European eel stocks are in crisis and the number of juveniles recruiting to freshwater is at an all-time low“. We know already what they have planned for the next 3 years…

PS: The ESB did upgrade their traps on the River Erne and River Shannon and got them going in time for the 2015 season. But they were embarrassed into doing this after their failure to operate traps and handle elvers correctly being exposed on this website last year. However, there is also much potential to improve the efficiency at these sites. Although the ESB produce numerous models in relation to silver eel escapement (which I believe underestimate turbine mortality) they largely ignore the issue of elver trap efficiency.  Inland Fisheries Ireland have again failed to monitoring eel recruitment during 2015.