Eel moves to stop falling numbers

THE season for eel fishing closes on Friday and it will become illegal to set nets to catch them.

For the first time the Environment Agency has imposed a six-month close season to protect eels that are migrating down rivers and out to sea on their way to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.

It is estimated that the return of young eels (elvers) into rivers has already fallen by more than 95pc in Europe as a whole. The European Commission is so concerned that all member states are required to take immediate steps to protect eels and halt their decline.

Starting in October, fisheries enforcement staff will be out searching for illegal nets and other instruments for eel catching and any found during the closed season will be confiscated and their owners will be liable to prosecution.

The Environment Agency is also working on new legislation to cap the number of eels allowed to be caught and anglers who catch eels by rod and line already have to return them.

In East Anglia work is ongoing to improve migration along rivers and into wetlands to increase access to eels’ preferred habitat and so far more than 50 elver passes have been installed. Pumping stations and abstraction points that are not adequately screened have already been identified where remedial action is needed.

Roger Handford, Regional Fisheries Strategic Specialist said: “ We have seen the numbers of eels in our rivers fall over the last few decades, it is vital that we act now to reverse the decline and ensure there are healthy populations of the species in the future.

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“As well as our own planned bailiff activities, if members of the public observe illegal nets in a river we would encourage them to contact the Agency’s emergency hotline 0800 80 70 60 with this information.”