The Environment Agency’s fisheries team is stocking nearly 70,000 elvers at two locations in Yorkshire and Derbyshire to give a helping hand to this increasingly threatened species.
On Monday 26 March officers will stock the River Aire at Rodley with 63,000 elvers, and a further 6,000 in a lake at The Avenue Washlands Nature Reserve in Chesterfield.
European eel stocks have been in major decline since the 1970s and the number of young eels reaching our shores are thought to have fallen by more than 95 per cent.
Habitat loss has had a major impact on eel populations. Weirs, locks and pumping stations which have been built across the country form barriers, stopping the elvers from reaching their ideal habitats.
Elvers are young eels, and are around 7cm in length, but can take up to 20 years to reach maturity. The elvers have spent at least a year drifting across the Atlantic in the Gulf Stream. They then swim up rivers to find a suitable place to live and grow, and when they mature, they return to sea and swim across the Atlantic to spawn south-west of Bermuda.
Jerome Masters, fisheries officer at the Environment Agency said: “Stocking eels into waters that they can no longer reach by themselves will increase the number of eels returning to their spawning grounds. Stocking is very important for local biodiversity and eels form an important link in the food chain as both predators and prey.”
The elvers have been supplied to the Environment Agency by UK Glass Eel Ltd, and were caught in the Severn Estuary. The large tides of the River Severn act as a funnel, sweeping in larger numbers of elvers than the river can cope with, so despite the general decline in eel numbers, elvers can still be taken from the Severn without harming the ecology.
The Environment Agency has funded £9,000 for the elvers. The project is in partnership with Rodley Nature Reserve Trust Limited, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, the East Midlands Development Agency and UK Glass Eel Ltd.
More elvers will be stocked at The Avenue Washlands Nature Reserve next year as part of an extensive restoration programme at the former coking and chemical works site.
This work is part of the Environment Agency’s National Eel Management Plan, which aims to survey and provide safe habitats for eels to live. For further information please see http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/subjects/fish/286019/312590/?lang=_e