Falling eel stocks a concern

ON a visit to the royally-endorsed English Market, in Cork, globetrotting TV chef Rick Stein was pulled, as if by magnetic force, to the seafood corner, as are many.

Falling eel stocks a concern

There he chanced upon marine delights which he clearly enjoyed, especially the smoked eel.

Once plentiful in many waterways, like countless other species, eel is now regarded as a rare-enough delicacy. No longer found in many rivers, numbers have fallen dramatically and the need for conservation has been highlighted in recent years.

There’s been a collapse in eel populations in Europe, shown by a huge reduction in the number of young eels returning to our shores from the Sargasso Sea. And, while the reasons are probably varied, some experts believe global warming has affected the Gulf Stream and steered young eels away from our coast.

Eels have been fished to eat for thousands of years and were the food of kings and ordinary folk alike. They were also linked to monastic sites in this country and many of the oldest eel fishing weirs are close to such sites.

The EU has been grappling with a drop in eel stocks and brought in regulations, in 2007, to reverse the decline. Member states were obliged to put management plans in place by July 2009.

Management measures were agreed in Ireland, involving the closure of commercial eel fishing, the ESB, plans to ensure the passage of juvenile eel upstream and improvement in water quality. According to Dr Ciaran Byrne, of Inland Fisheries Ireland, a huge amount of work has been done on the research and management side to ensure targets are met.

The management plans were first reviewed in 2012 and will again be reviewed this year. While there has been some slight improvement in the return of juveniles in the last two years, the overall percentages are tiny, Dr Byrne writes in Sherkin Comment.

There’s still a ‘’big hill to climb’’, he says. Juvenile eels which come into our system will migrate as silver eels at about 20 years of age, he says.

‘’Thus, juvenile eels which came into Irish rivers and lakes when Jack’s Army were in full swing at the World Cup in the USA will migrate as silver eels this year. However, since that time, there has been a 90% to 95% reduction in the number of juveniles coming into our systems,’’ he says.

And, even though the situation doesn’t look too healthy for eels, Dr Byrne is optimistic, saying we must continue to improve our understanding of science as it relates to the eel and enhance management plans if the eel is to have any chance of surviving. All countries must work together to conserve the stock, he stresses.

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