Call for ban on fishing of declining eel

The call has gone out for England and Wales to follow the example of Scotland and bring in a blanket ban on all forms of eel fishing.

The current population of the European eel (Anguilla Anguilla) stands at a mere five per cent of 1980 levels, a steep decline blamed on over fishing along with possible subtle changes in the gulf stream due to climate change.

Key legislation has brought in bylaws that impose a six month close season from October to April on commercial nets men while anglers may weigh in the wrigglers at the end of contests but none taken home for the table.

Now anglers and some commercial interests insist these measures are not enough to protect this endangered species and that a moratorium on all eel fishing in England and Wales should be in place to give the fish a fighting chance of pulling back from the brink of extinction.

Tony Gibbons, chairman and fishery consultant of the influential Norwich and District AA, whose organisation was the first to disallow eels in match fishing, supports a total ban.

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'In our broads and rivers eels are integral in the balance of nature,' he said. 'Historically, anglers have taken eels for the pot and for predator baits. It is only right these practices are outlawed during this present crisis.'

'At present frozen eel baits are lawfully traded and available to predator anglers and that can not be right either if we are to allow this species a chance of surviving'

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Ron Westgate, an 80-year-old Broads eel fisherman who retired from the business at the end of the summer season, laid his first home made eel trap 72 years ago.

'There was a ready market for eels due to food rationing and one or two eel sets were strung across our tidal rivers to trap eels during their autumn migration to the seas,' he said. 'These activities did not affect stocks in the broads. This changed dramatically when a Dutchman brought in the new fyke net system in 1966 and from then on eels were caught by the thousands week after week from spring to autumn.

'Any person could license eel nets as it was a free for all when there should have been a zoning arrangement. The greedy took over and that is precisely why our valuable eel stock was wasted.'

He concluded 'I agree now that only a total ban will correct this dire situation and benefit the eels, anglers and the fishermen in the long run.'

The late Tom Cable, in his book 'Broadland Tom, The Trials of a Norfolk Water Bailiff', forecast the decline of the eel with acute accuracy.

He wrote 'By the end of 1960's people from all walks of life jumped on the band wagon and the Broads became a second Klondyke. None cared that it took years for an elver to reach maturity and they took every one irrespective of size'

Now eel men are often gazing at half a dozen under size wrigglers in their fykes and most match anglers now wonder whether they should free any they catch instantly to offer them a better chance of survival rather than retaining them for weighing.

With a ban in force through out the UK anglers and others may eventually renew their acquaintance with jellied or smoked eel.

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