Following the prosecution of an angler for killing eels by the Environment Agency last week, the Angling Trust has renewed its call for an urgent ban on the commercial fishing of eels and elvers, which have experienced a decline of some 95% in the last decade.

Angling’s representative body agreed to support a ban on the taking of eels by rod and line three years ago, asking at the same time for a complete ban on the commercial exploitation of the stock.  Eels have a lifecycle of between 10 and 40 years and very little is known about the factors affecting their numbers so it is just not possible to know whether a commercial harvest is sustainable. 

Eels are a vital part of the aquatic ecosystem and a favourite food of cormorants and otters.  It is thought that the decline in eels may have contributed to increased predation on other fish species.

Eels are highly valuable and it is thought that far more eels and elvers are taken than the licences allow.  The continued licensed commercial fishing of eels and elvers makes enforcement more difficult; if it were banned entirely then anglers would be able much more easily to report any eel or elver fishing as being illegal, and puts remaining stocks at risk.

The Trust’s view is that elvers should only be caught for the purpose of supporting dedicated re-stocking programmes.The Angling Trust and Fish Legal campaign and take legal action to tackle pollution, over-abstraction, migration barriers and damaging hydropower schemes which are being promoted and licensed by the Environment Agency.

The 2007 EC Eel Regulation required member states to develop and implement eel management plans to restore the escapement of silver eels to at least 40% of historic, “pristine” levels.  Plans were published in 2009 covering each of the 11 river basin districts in England and Wales.

The EC Regulation required states to report on the latest condition of eel stocks and on progress in delivering the management plans in 2012 and at 3-yearly (until 2018) then 6-yearly intervals.Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said: “we were recently asked for a view of the Environment Agency’s eel management plans at the England & Wales Fisheries Group which oversees the work of the Agency in this area and we emphatically called again for an end to commercial netting and trapping of all eels and elvers. “There is some good work being done by the Agency to build fish passes and to stop eels being sucked into water intakes, but its value is diminished because they are still being slaughtered and exported.  To prosecute an angler for killing three eels while licensing the harvest of many tonnes of eels each year by commercial fisheries is wrong.  All commercial fishing for eels and elvers must stop, and it must stop now.”