Eels in serious decline

At one time, our rivers and streams had abundant eel stocks and, as boys, we can remember turning over stones in attempts to catch slippery eels, writes Donal Hickey.

Eels in serious decline

We’re told a phenomenon dubbed ‘citizen science’ is becoming popular — people who are not scientists working with experts in scientific projects. It means highly-qualified professionals can tap into the knowledge and expertise of generations of local people, in fishing for instance.

Oran Roche, from Clashmore, on the Cork/Waterford border, was toasted recently by Inland Fisheries Ireland which has been working on the delivery of a scientific eel fishery in the Munster Blackwater. He is among 11 fishermen in the programme.

Commercial eel fisheries have been closed for years and stocks are still critically endangered according to the EU, which has directed each member state to come up with a management plan to save the European eel. Stocks have reportedly fallen by 95% since the 1980s.

Oran Roche has been fishing for almost 30 years. His father, Tommy, fished for eels many years ago and it was from his father and uncles that he learned the trade. Since last year, Oran has helped Inland Fisheries Ireland fish for eel in a conservation-focused manner and to gather information which will help protect the species long-term.

In 2016, Inland Fisheries Ireland set up a network of scientific eel fisheries. The aim is to increase the knowledge of eels ahead of the next EU review of the species and to provide a basis for the management of declining populations. Head of research Cathal Gallagher said the partnership with fishermen would improve knowledge of the eel populations and ensure their conservation.

At one time, our rivers and streams had abundant eel stocks and, as boys, we can remember turning over stones in attempts to catch slippery eels which invariably fell from our grasp. Eels have disappeared.

Numbers of other fish, such as trout and salmon, have also fallen massively though not, it seems, to the same extent as the eel. In many cases, the reasons put forward for the decimation of stocks are the same, including pollution, loss of habitat, climate change, river obstacles and predation.

Some people suspect the reasons for the demise of the eel may lay much further afield and could be due climate change in the Atlantic and the warming of the Gulf Stream. Further research on all of that is awaited. The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas says all recreational and commercial fishing, hydropower, pumping stations, and pollution should be reduced to, or kept as close to zero, as possible.

Based on professional advice and a 2015 review, the Government has decided to continue with the existing eel fishery closures and conservation measures to mid-2018, when another review will be needed.

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