Rivers across Europe are currently experiencing a phenomenal increase in the runs of juvenile eels, or elvers. The numbers that have arrived into rivers such as the River Severn in the UK have simply been staggering. It is widely being accepted that the run during 2014 is the largest that has been seen since the 1980’s. This follows on from another remarkable year during 2013; with the current upturn starting in 2012.
The reasons for the current turnaround in the fortunes of the European eel are unknown, but it is clear this may be just a temporary opportunity to help the eels up past dams and other obstacles to restock our lakes and rivers. On rivers such as the River Shannon juvenile eels cannot pass upstream by themselves, due to the presence of Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power station and Parteen Regulating Weir. These eels can only pass through the process of assisted migration, which involves catching the elvers in traps and transporting them around the dams. ESB has a statutory obligation to operate this type of an assisted migration programme.
Despite 2014 being the third consecutive year of record elver runs, Ireland’s national elver monitoring index traps have not yet registered this upturn in juvenile eel numbers. This situation is particularly bleak on the River Shannon; and according to the Shannon Fisheries Partnership Report (2013) a total of only 73.8KG of juvenile eels was captured by the ESB at Ardnacrusha hydroelectric station and Parteen Regulating Weir during 2013. The SFP Report (2013) notes that “The results of the 2013 elver catches again show the Shannon catch to be in decline (along with the European trend). Despite this decline the trapping of juvenile eel will continue in 2014“. However, this was not the European trend and 2013 was a record year all across Europe for juvenile eel runs.
Our hypothesis was that the ESB were not running their elver traps appropriately and bad management of the traps was to blame for the poor catches. As part of a review of all of Ireland’s national elver monitoring sites we investigated the traps on the Lower River Shannon during late April and May 2014. We found that by the start of May 2014 the ESB still did not have operating elver traps on the Lower River Shannon. The trap at Ardnacrusha had no climbing media in place; meaning that the elvers cannot climb up the trap. There was also no proper water supply in place, meaning that elvers will not be attracted to the trap. Moreover there was no predator protection in place. The situation in Parteen was unbelievably worse, with no evidence that these traps will be operated any time soon. This is all despite that fact that we are now at, or shortly after, the peak of the elver run on the River Shannon. Even if these traps were run optimally they are badly designed, represent an insufficient effort for these sites and are long due an appropriate upgrade. However, it is clear that in their current state the current upturn in elver runs will not be “indicated” by these derelict traps. The ESB dams are dead ends for juvenile eels as the ESB elver traps on the River Shannon are currently derelict.
So after travelling all the way from the Sargasso Sea, a journey of over 5,000km, these juvenile eels select the River Shannon and swim upstream; and end up, at the dead ends that the ESB provide for them at Ardnacrusha and Parteen. This is a failure of international significance and an illustration of how ESB are failing to meet their statutory obligations in maintaining the fisheries of the River Shannon.
Ireland’s national elver monitoring index traps have not yet registered the current upturn in juvenile eel numbers because the traps are not being operated and a critical part of Ireland’s eel management plan is not being implemented. In addition to providing management data, which goes into International eel recruitment statistics, we are also missing out on a real opportunity to use the current abundance of juvenile eels to restock our lakes and rivers therefore securing the future of the eel in Ireland and restoring its fisheries.
When questioned about this situation the following reply was received from the ESB:-
I’m pleased to say that ESB is not ‘neglecting it’s statutory obligation’ as the Ardnacrusha trap is currently operating and has been since March. Currently the catch stand as 1kg but we are hopeful that it may increase significantly. The Erne elver traps have shown a recent run of elver in the past week and hopefully something similar may occur on the Shannon.
Dr. Dennis Doherty | ESB Fisheries Biologist | Fisheries and PAR | Generation & Wholesale Markets| Ardnacrusha, Co. Clare, Via Limerick |
T: +353 86 8970901 | http://www.esb.ie
When questioned about this situation the following reply was received from Inland Fisheries Ireland:-
Dear Mr. XXXX,
IFI are satisfied that the elver traps are operational at Ardnacrusha.
These traps are in operation on a constant basis and regularly checked by fisheries officers. There have been 8kg of elvers trapped and released upstream to date this year. This is low numbers so far but IFI expect the run of Elvers to increase by mid May when rising temperatures and tides coincide.
IFI have also seen a slow migration to date in our own elver index sites which are lower down the river systems but also expect numbers to increase as the water temperatures rise.
I trust this offers you assurances that IFI are monitoring Elvers on a regular basis.
Inland Fisheries Ireland – Limerick
Iascach Intíre Éireann
Inland Fisheries Ireland
Tel +353 (0)61 300238
Mob +353 (0) 86 3942461
Fax: +353 (0)61 300308
Ashbourne Business Park, Dock Road, Limerick, Ireland.
Help Protect Ireland’s Inland Fisheries
We find the above replies incredible, unexplainable and unprecedented. It is clear that the elver traps are not being run at either of the subject sites and it has also been established that the Inland Fisheries Ireland are not running any other traps on the River Shannon downstream from here. We would ask followers of this site and our social media pages to complain directly to the ESB and Inland Fisheries Ireland regarding the current status of these elver traps, and also perhaps more importantly the obvious inaccuracies / misleading content in the replies received above.
For further information also see these article below:-
- Major upturn in juvenile eel numbers
- No operating elver traps at Ardnacrusha, May 2014
- Sustainable Eel Management for the River Shannon
- National elver monitoring sites not operating
- Millions of glass eels in the Shannon estuary
- Glass eels in the Shannon estuary
Also, if you have queries please do not hesitate to contact us.
For more on this story see this post entitled “Success in our campaign on the River Shannon“. In response to our campaign on facebook page and our websites, ESB finally commenced operating the elver trap at Ardnacrusha by the second week of May 2014.