Anglers who for centuries have caught a few silver and yellow eels to eat – smoked or jellied or in a pie – won’t be doing so for much longer.
Stocks of the young slippery creatures have “crashed by over 95 per cent” in rivers and estuaries across England and Wales, according to the Environment Agency. The story, they say, is the same elsewhere in Europe.
So the agency is to order anglers to immediately put back any they catch and limit commercial eel fishing.
No one is sure what caused the problem or how long the ban will last.
The Angling Trust representing recreational anglers, is demanding the rules go farther by asking European lawmakers to stop all eel catching.
“Our members want a total ban and for those catching and processing eels commercially to find new ways to earn their living,” said the chairman, Mike Heylin. ”Consumers can help, too, by not buying eel products.”
At present the agency plans only to refuse future commercial licences to catch eels at sea, to reduce and toughen up licences to catch them in freshwater, and introduce a close season.
Eels in British waters are immature. When they begin to reach maturity they change colour to silver and swim off to the Sargasso Sea in mid-Atlantic to breed but they never return.
The tiny elvers they produce make their way back to Europe to develop into eels and remain in fresh and salt water for 20 years or more, before themselves returning to mate in the Sargasso Sea.