The SEG approach needs to be employed on the River Shannon

The Sustainable Eel Group (SEG) have just published their 2013 newsletter and it makes very interesting reading. The SEG is a Europe wide conservation and science led organisation working to accelerate the recovery of the European eel.

In their newsletter they report on exciting evidence that suggests that another exceptional season for glass eels and elvers may be on the way for 2014. The SEG newsletter reports that major glass eel catches have already been made on Southern European rivers, and this suggests that 2014 may even be a better year for elver runs than 2013 obviously was. However, it is disappointing to know that almost nothing will again be done in Ireland to maximise the use of these young eels for restocking, and the failure of the ESB and Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) to do anything significant on the Shannon to help glass eels and elvers is particularly frustrating.

Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Station
Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Station

The SEG newsletter also calls for the ‘red listing’ of hydroelectric schemes which do not take a sustainable approach to eel management. We propose to add the Shannon Scheme and Ardnacrusha to this list for the wildlife crimes of blocking the upstream migration of millions of elvers into the largest river catchment in Ireland, and killing thousands of silvers eels migrating downstream each year. We have previously argued that ESB’s eel management plan is inadequate to meet the requirements of the endangered European eel on the River Shannon with programmes like the silver eel truck and overland transport scheme being little more than public relations stunts, in our opinion. Nothing significant is done anymore to allow escapement of elvers into the Shannon lakes.

The SEG newsletter also says that views on eel management in Europe are now moving away from the simplistic approach of just banning all eel fishing – and doing practically nothing else – which is at the core of IFI’s lazy approach to management of eels in Ireland. The ORSRG fully support the SEG approach and advocate that the SEG management approach be applied in Ireland, and in particular on the River Shannon, for the benefit of both eels and local communities. There needs to be a major review of ESB’s activities in relation to eels on the River Shannon, and other hydroelectricity generating rivers (i.e. Lee, Liffey and Erne).

River Shannon elvers; abundant over the past two years but nothing significant is being done to help them over the ESB dams
River Shannon elvers; abundant over the past two years but nothing significant is being done to help them over the ESB dams

Doing practically nothing in terms of moving and assisting elvers upstream, as the ESB and IFI are doing, is wasting the opportunity of maximising the use of the current huge upturn in glass eels and elver numbers arriving into the Lower Shannon and other Irish rivers. This increase in elvers in our rivers may be a temporary cyclical event only and to not have optimised these runs though sustainable management threatens the survival of this endangered species.

The SEG newsletter can be downloaded from the link below:

Also make sure to visit the website for all the latest developments in relation to eels.

According to the Environment Agency, continued fishing for eel offers a number of positive attributes:

  • Providing economic and social returns in remote rural areas and in areas with low levels of income;
  • Maintaining a substantive, vested interest in eel as a commodity and not simply representing a species of specialist conservation interest;
  • For glass eel/elver fishing, contributing to the relocation of eel to newly improved/accessible habitat giving potential to extend natural eel production
  • Generating and maintaining data on the status of eel that otherwise would be challenging and costly to obtain;
  • Maintaining access to (EU) funding sources to support action for eel that are available only where connected with economic activity.

The Environmental Agency see addressing non-fishery sources of mortality as being their highest priority, while seeking to maintain a sustainable and economically viable eel fishery. In the United Kingdom eel fishing is therefore regulated to levels assessed as meeting the need to restore and conserve stocks. In Ireland we do nothing to help the eel, except close all the ell fisheries and allow the ESB get away with providing a ‘truck and overland transport’ scheme for eels which is little more than a cynical public relations stunt in our opinion.

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