European Eel Populations in a Parlous State
Friday 22nd September, 2017
Last week we sent out an e-news urging you to respond to a Welsh Government consultation on open access to our rivers. This week, it’s a petition to DEFRA, the UK government and the European Union for a precautionary short-term closure on the commercial export of internationally-endangered European juvenile eels taken from their home waters.
The Severn estuary has long supported a commercial fishery for elvers – juvenile eels migrating from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea. In some years the amount taken from the estuary has been as high as 50 tonnes. Most elvers are destined for far eastern markets where they are a delicacy, with over 300 million of them exported there in the past few years from UK waters. In the same period, a further 300 million have been exported to Scandinavia, Russia and other European countries for stocking purposes. And these are just the legal catches.
European Eel populations have fallen by 95% over the last 25 years. This year’s elver fishing season ended in May with the total catch from the Wye (part of the Severn estuary fishery) amounting to just 1 kilo. In the Lugg and Arrow catchment, two eel traps caught 187 silver eels (migrating adults) in 1988. Since then there has been a steady decline with the traps catching just 2 eels between them in 2014 and nothing in 2015.
This worrying situation has led the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to place the European Eel on their red list. However, licences to catch elvers for export are still being issued by the Environment Agency.
This species has been part of our aquatic landscape for millennia and they are crucial to the ecology of our rivers. Eels are an important food source for many predatory fish, along with aquatic birds and mammals such as otters. Without them, these predators will put more pressure on other prey species and/or decline in numbers themselves.
On Tuesday next week, WUF trustee Tony Norman will be delivering the petition to No.10 Downing Street. In the meantime, we urge everyone to support him by signing it. Also, please encourage anyone you know to sign it too.
All the best from WUF.
The petition can be found here.