“Two European countries, Ireland and Norway, have already banned all eel fisheries.”

But not in Northern Ireland.  [Partitionist! – Ed]  Indeed.  Here the regulation of eel fisheries is the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure – and the current Minister, Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín.  As is salmon fishing…

There was a brief flurry of press statements last week as the NI DCAL Minister suddenly threatened to throw the kitchen sink in front of “potential EU proposals to suspend eel-fishing”.  From the first ministerial press release [14 Feb]

Responding to a request for DCAL’s position, Minister Ní Chuilín has today written to DEFRA in London stating that she will not consider any such proposals without:

  • additional independent scientific evidence;
  • a full Equality Impact Assessment under s.75(1) of the NI Act 1998;
  • full consultation with all stakeholders; and,
  • appropriate compensation packages for all those affected in the event of any suspension.

Minister Ní Chuilín is writing to the North’s three MEPs and will be making a statement to the Assembly next week.

And, after an apparent prompt from a Sinn Féin MLA who is also a candidate in the forthcoming Westminster by-election in Mid Ulster, there was a second ministerial statement [14 Feb].

“I have also agreed to urgently meet with a delegation from the Lough Neagh Eel-Fisheries Co-operative to discuss this issue, as I make a statement to the Assembly next week. I will be asking officials to make the necessary arrangements immediately.

“It would not be appropriate to make any further detailed public comment in advance of making my Assembly statement next week.

Lough Neagh Eels were granted protected geographical indication status in 2011.  The eel fishery, based in Toome, is reportedly the largest in Europe – between 400 to 600 tonnes per year.

As far as I can tell, we haven’t had that promised Assembly statement yet.  Having moved from“[asking] the Minister to facilitate an early meeting between [himself] and representatives of the Eel-Fishing Co-operative” to “[facilitating] an emergency meeting between Minister Ní Chuilín and representatives of the Lough Neagh Eel Fishermen’s Co-operative”, Sinn Féin MLA Francie Molloy now informs us that

Together with Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill, Minister Ní Chuilín is convening – at my request – a roundtable stake-holders event this Thursday to consider a broader strategic plan for opposing this damaging, counter-productive and illogical proposal from some elements of the European Parliament. [added emphasis]

The Ministers may have been unavailable for comment…

The European Commission adopted European Eel Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007 on 18 September 2007 directing Member States to prepare an Eel Management Plan.

The objective of each Eel Management Plan shall be to reduce anthropogenic mortalities so as to permit with high probability the escapement to the sea of at least 40 % of the silver eel biomass relative to the best estimate of escapement that would have existed if no anthropogenic influences had impacted the stock. The Eel Management Plan shall be prepared with the purpose of achieving this objective in the long term. [added emphasis]

In 2009 the European Commission approved Ireland’s Eel Management Plan, which included four main Management Actions.

an immediate cessation of the commercial eel fishery and closure of the market, [added emphasis]

– mitigation of the impact of hydropower, including a comprehensive silver eel trap and transport plan,

– ensuring upstream migration of juvenile eel at barriers and

– the improvement of water quality in eel habitats.

The implementation of Ireland’s Eel Management Plan was reviewed and a consultation on the next three years completed in 2012.

In the UK, 15 Eel Management Plans covering River Basin Districts in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, were approved by the European Commission on 4 March 2010.  In their submission, DCAL argued that [pdf file]

2.0.5 The spawner escapement target is calculated to meet the requirements of the European proposals as established through the silver eel mark/recapture operation.

Estimates of potential escapement from Lough Neagh are in the range of 400 to perhaps 600 tonnes per annum, given historical high natural glass eel supplies. This range would suggest the required 40% level at around 160T to 240T. Current annual average estimate over 2003 to 2008 is of escapement past the fishery approaching 360T, above the required range.

2.0.6 The management options available, should the targets fail to be met at any future point, are listed along with an approach to post-evaluation of the effectiveness of any measures adopted.

2.0.7 It is proposed that to curtail fishing effort for silver eels in the uniquely managed situation pertaining in the Neagh/Bann basin could actually reduce escapement in the long term, contrary to the aims of any such restrictions, due to removal of the funding source for stocking and management activity. It is seen as imperative to retain and reinforce the present management structure.

The subsequent Eel Fishing Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 is here.

As with Ireland, the implementation of the UK’s Eel Management Plans were reviewed in 2012.  The UK Implementation Report [pdf file] notes the “best estimates of silver eel escapement from each of the EMP management units”.

For the Neagh/Bann basin it is given as 30.9%.

As for Francie Molloy’s welcoming of “the Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín’s refusal to support European proposals for a unilateral suspension of eel-fishing”,  “this damaging, counter-productive and illogical proposal from some elements of the European Parliament.”

It’s a draft report to the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries by rapporteur, Isabella Lövin, a Swedish MEP.  From the draft report [pdf file]

There is one single European eel stock. The same year the EU Eel recovery plan was being adopted in 2007 the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) was included in CITES Appendix II.  The listing entered into force in 2009 and it was clearly recognized by the experts that the species qualified for an Appendix I. In 2010 the European eel was classified as critically endangered by the IUCN, and in 2011 ICES for the first time stated that glass eel stocking programmes are unlikely to contribute to the recovery.

The most recent scientific advice from ICES for 2013 states that the stock is at an historical minimum and that there are no signs of recovery. Additionally, ICES never evaluated the 40% escapement target in the EU recovery plan, and has for ten years recommended zero catches of this endangered animal.

In the light of all the above, and the alarming signs of increasing illegal exports of glass eels, the rapporteur asks: if the status of this particular stock is not serious enough to close the fishery – when is the EU going to deem a situation serious enough to take such a difficult decision?

Two European countries, Ireland and Norway, have already banned all eel fisheries. It is the view of the rapporteaur that until the measures are in place that ensure recovery of the eel stock to abundant and biologically safe levels, all European eel fisheries should be suspended. [added emphasis]

And here is the latest International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) scientific advice on Eels for 2013 [pdf file]

ICES considered the updated time-series of relevant stock status indices and repeats the advice from last year:

The status of eel remains critical and urgent action is needed. ICES reiterates its previous advice that all anthropogenic mortality (e.g. recreational and commercial fishing, hydropower, pollution) affecting production and escapement of eels should be reduced to as close to zero as possible until there is clear evidence that both recruitment and the adult stock are increasing.” [added emphasis]